Another fascinating update from the National Trust textile studio on how conservation work to the Spangled Bed is progressing.
Proper Right Side Curtains
The treatment of the proper right side foot and head curtains began in October 2014. It was decided to commence treatment before completion of the proper left side curtains so that approaches to treatment are consistent across the set. They were photographed and documented before deconstruction. The bobbinet support and silk linings were removed. Seam types, tack and stitch holes, pleats and curtain ring positions (old and current), previous fold lines and remains of previous stitching were recorded, as well as condition. The process feels very much like an archaeological ‘dig’ as layers are peeled away and new discoveries made.
Proper Right Head Curtain
The proper right head curtain during removal of the red cotton netting which was used to protect lining on the reverse (above). Yellow damask (at the foot where a conservator is working) and red wool ‘patches’ became more visible and we began to get hints that something lay beneath.
A large red wool and damask ‘patch’ or overlay (indicated by the red outline) covered most of the central part of earlier lining of very fragile yellow damask. The overlay was probably applied as the yellow damask was becoming very split. Once this lining was released from the satin we found extensive adhesive patching on the reverse. A much smaller piece of the same yellow damask was also found on the proper left head curtain, hidden beneath another pieced patch.
The proper right head curtain with the lining removed revealing crimson satin patches (reverse side up) and yellow damask patches.
We have left the red bobbinet on the face of the curtain to give support to the very fragile applied decoration. This will be removed once the patches have been removed and the curtain is turned for humdification.
Proper Right Foot Curtain
The proper right foot curtain with the satin face up, the heading and lining removed and laid flat showing light damage, soiling and discolouration. The applique embroidered panels are much damaged with extensive loss and previous repair. The arabesque panels of laid metal thread embroidery between are now known to have been not quite as plain as they now appear (see ‘Spangles’ below).
This is just one drawing of many produced as part of the extensive documentation undertaken to record seam types, threads, stitch holes, stain marks, crease lines and constructional features. This is supplemented with detailed photography. The aim is to record condition and structure, but very importantly to develop an impression of the alteration and remodelling that the bed hangings have undergone over the centuries.
The documentation has had to be far more extensive and detailed than we first estimated. However, it is a real opportunity to capture information, which once the bed hangings have been conserved, will be lost for another 50 –100 years. Together with archival research we may, hopefully, gain a greater understanding of the history of the bed.
IR, UV and RTI) photography
Dean Sully, Degree Programme Co-coordinator for the MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums and NT Adviser on archaeological artefacts and Stuart Laidlaw, lecturer in archaeological photography and related imaging techniques, both from UCL came to the Textile Conservation Studio to undertake Infra Red (IR), Ultra Violet (UV) and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). The aim was to see if any of these techniques would help pinpoint where spangles had been originally located by picking up silver sulphide residues, the degradation product of silver. However neither UV or IR fluoresced or picked up residues in the satin ground. However, the IR photography may be useful in making existing marks easier to read.
RTI photography is a technique which is very new to the studio. It is used to map surface variations by means of the manipulation of light across the surface at different elevations. Individual photographs are taken at each elevation (using a special camera with no built-in filters) which, once brought together using specialised software, creates a film showing surface variations.
We are awaiting the final results of this process which we hope will show original stitch holes more clearly, possibly another means of looking at lost applied decoration.
A crease line (above), with stitch holes either side, and spaced metal tack holes runs across most of the width of the proper right foot curtain. A similar line has been found on the proper left curtains. There are a further two (possibly even three) lines of stitch holes in a different pattern across most of the width lying above and below this crease line.
The seam shown above sits just above the hem border. The line of stitching in the satin above the seam and a small and dense group of stitch holes tell us that this was once the heading of the curtain, the line of stitching was where a curtain or heading tape was originally attached and the tight group of holes shows where a curtain ring was positioned.
Spangles (silver and gold plated silver sequins)
On close examination it was found that the curtains had many more spangles decorating the surface than first thought. Close examination of the arabesque panes of the curtains, which has twisted gold and silver threads laid in a formal design of rosettes, was found to have stains and impression marks indicating former positions of spangles (see the images below), the yellow circles indicate the location of impression marks. In many areas no evidence now remains.
On the reverse of the satin stitch holes can be seen showing how the scallop applique detail was originally attached (see below). These scallop edge strips are now mostly attached with adhesive. It also shows that there were three small spangles (silver sequins) at the each point and a large spangle below.
The variety of seams and the way the curtains have been cut and pieced together indicates that the fabrics have been re-used and probably re-modelled. It poses many questions about date, but more importantly, whether the fabrics were originally constructed in their current form. Has it always been a bed or was it something else before? Working with the Curator Emma Slocombe, who is carrying out a survey of inventories from Knole and associated properties, is important in trying to understand the history of these textiles.
A machine stitched seam attached a narrow panel down one edge of the head curtain. This was undone during deconstruction, and could date back to the last quarter of the 19th century. The line of silk thread below it is locking stitches which were probably used to hold a previous lining close to the satin, a technique still used in making curtains today.
Once full documentation of the proper right hangings is complete, we hope to concentrate on devising a treatment plan for the embroidered satin, probably the most complex aspect of the conservation of the bed. Research on potential treatments has been on-going and we now need to apply some of the research findings.
Note: All images © NT Textile Conservation Studio