A team of nine volunteers assisted by the Conservation Team spent two weeks at the beginning of November carrying out some essential preliminary conservation work to three of the five 17th century Flemish tapestries from the Spangled Bedroom. Representing stories from Ovid, they came to Knole at the end of the 17th century from Whitehall Palace. Therefore, they are highly significant, but centuries of hanging in the Spangled Bedroom have taken their toll, and these tapestries are now one of our highest priorities for conservation.
The tapestries show signs of substantial wear and tear and light damage. They are extremely brittle to touch and encrusted with dirt. To ensure their survival they require full conservation treatment which will include surface cleaning, washing and re-lining. To be washed they are being sent off to the De Wit tapestry conservation studio in Belgium.
The work we were to carry out before going to Belgium was to remove the existing linings, vacuum clean the front and back of each tapestry and document the tapestry, including taking thread samples, recording damage and earlier repairs. Thankfully we weren’t going it alone. For the first day we were instructed by Ksynia Marko (NT Textile Conservation Advisor) and Rachel Langley (Senior Conservator) from the NT Textile Conservation Studio.
The tapestries are very vulnerable to further damage and have already torn in many places where the textile fibres have deteriorated. To prevent further tearing during transport and the wet cleaning process Rachel showed the team how to sew in holding stitches.
The process of wet cleaning the tapestries was patented by the De Wit in 1991. The method involves lying the textile flat on a suction table. The suction applied to the fabric is constant and uninterrupted and keeps the tapestry in this position until cleaning and drying has been completed. A cloud of steam, to which a very small proportion of detergent has been added, is produced above the entire fabric and is sucked through it.
Thanks to our volunteers, Alexandra, Alice, Andra, Bekki, Jo, Lolly, Sue, Val and Vicky for all your hard work.
Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena.