Gideon through time

An excellent way to show how light damage and other factors affect tapestries.

Textile Conservation Studio

Have you ever wondered what our tapestries would have looked like with their original unfaded colours?

Take a look at this brilliant digital representation of one of the 16th century Gideon tapestries from Hardwick Hall. See it fade from it’s original colours through to what we see now – 450 years later.

There are 13 of these tapestries, 10 have been conserved with the 11th currently in the studio and fundraising for the remaining two ongoing to preserve them for the next 100 years.

Thanks to our colleagues at Hardwick Hall and Rusty Monkey Ltd for this video and to Chris Tims who took the original photos.

Video and digital colour restoration by Rusty Monkey Ltd

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Conservation trial for the Spangled Bed continues.

Following the removal of the two curtains from the proper left side of the bed back in October last year (Phase 1), (view the blog about that here),  the curtains went to the National Trust Textile Studio.  Now read what was discovered as the curtains were removed and what happened next, a report from our conservators:

To facilitate removal the proper left and outer foot valance also had to be removed. This revealed alterations to the foot posts which appear to have been cut down to allow the bed to fit into the room, but most importantly the foot post had dramatically bowed outwards. This observation, in tandem with the previous dislocation of the proper right cornice, would seem to confirm the suspicion that pressure was being exerted onto the bed structure from the ceiling above. This has triggered further investigation into the ceiling structure. No further removal of textile elements will be undertaken until more is known.

It also became evident that the head and foot curtains had been swapped around in the past. It was decided that rather than treat one curtain, a pair should be examined together in order to cover all possible issues in terms of conservation treatment.

Phase 2 –  Examination, photography, documentation and research

 It is important to become familiar with the object before embarking on treatment and the team has taken time to think through the various processes, weighing up what can and cannot be done, and revising treatment options and costs. Professional photography before conservation will allow comparison after treatment has been completed.

The proper left side head curtain before the conservation process begins.

The proper left side foot curtain before conservation.

Head curtain detail showing original colour and spangles beneath the net covering on a side border. The border fabric matches that of the bed coverlet and headcloth and is a different design to the vertical appliqué panels of the rest of the curtain and the foot curtain below.

Foot curtain showing light damage at the left side and original colour at the centre and right side.

Detailed documentation of the make up of each curtain, the materials, fabrics and stitching patterns found will mean that their original appearance is becoming better understood.

Careful examination is revealing the complexity of the structure of the curtains which, in conjunction with research on their history before they came into the possession of the Sackville family, may help provide a clearer understanding of their original use.

Research has been undertaken into the removal of the animal based adhesive which had been used in a previous repair attempt to hold areas of applied decoration in place on the silk satin and which is now discoloured. This is on going.  Several small pieces of silk satin are in store at Knole and these will be used to carry out initial tests. Wet cleaning is now being considered for both the figured silk linings and the embroidered silk satin, where the dust has become ingrained into the fabric.

Phase 3 – Deconstruction

Coarse red net encases both curtains and work has started on unpicking this and the stitch repairs which are worked through all layers. The linings are extremely fragile and very rare early damask and have been dated to between 1585-1610.  The plan is to remove the linings, wet clean them and mount them onto a support fabric whilst further tests are undertaken on the silk satin.

Conservators removing the heavy net layer

The fragile and splitting damask lining of the head curtain.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

The King’s Closet – now you see it, now you don’t!

The King's Closet.

The King’s Closet.

Over the winter as a part of the last phase of our external building works, roof repairs were carried out to the flat lead roof above the Kings Closet. We were concerned about plaster and dust possibly falling into the room and damaging the fragile textiles that hang on the walls and ceiling.  So the decision was made to remove the textile on the ceiling and walls.  However before the textile conservators could come in to take down the textiles we had to clear and pack all the other contents of the room. Most of the object have gone up to our store room, but there were a couple that we could not have removed to the store room, such as the very heavy cassone and the day bed.

Removal of the textiles safely and in such a confined space was a complex operation requiring the conservators to create ingenious solutions!

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

A ants eye view of the ceiling textile. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

The image above shows a purpose-built frame for the space so the ceiling textile could be detached and have a surface to rest on. Zenzie Tinker, textile conservator, and her colleagues spent several days planning and then taking down the textiles.

The removal of the tassel fringing begins. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Zenzie gets up close and personal with the fringing! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

The red ceiling fabric is a silk taffeta, probably late 18th century and was found to be an old window blind that has been reused. Not an unusual

Zenzie begins to remove the tacks holding up the ceiling textile.  Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

One end of the ceiling textile is unattached and resting on the specially built support frame. One half to go! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Once the ceiling textile was fully detached it was carried out on a supporting dust sheet in to the Cartoon Gallery ready to be packed. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Now to start removing the wall textile.

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

As the wall textile is detached it is carefully rolled on to a supportive tube to prevent as much physical stress to the textile from occurring. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

An unknown door was revealed as the textile came off. Another mystery to solve! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

An unknown door was revealed as the textile came off. Another mystery to solve! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Once on the supportive tube the textile can be safely transported out of the room. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Just the textile attached to the door to go! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

The textiles were extremely dusty and fragile, with holes and areas of insect damage.

The textiles were all taken up to our conservation store where they were surface cleaned and condition checked before being carefully packed for long term storage.

Where the textile has been protected from light and dust the original vivid green colour can be seen.

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Three different green wall textiles have been used in the room, one is late 17th century, another is coarser and c 1720-30 and there is a fragment that is c 1740-60.  Two different braids were found. The earliest is a flat braid, probably contemporary with the 17th century textile; the later is a woollen bobble braid which is probably 19th century.
All the textiles are now safely in store and will be reinstated once they have been conserved as part of the Inspired by Knole project.

Siobhan and Emily

Conservation trial for the Spangled Bed

The Spangled Bed is one of the most significant pieces in the Knole collection. The bed is furnished with extremely rare late 16th or early 17th silk hangings embellished with appliqué strapwork and the spangles from which the bed takes its name.

6 Spangle Bedroom F 68

Research indicates that they may have formed part of a canopy of state acquired by Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, as one of his perquisites as Lord Chancellor. Cranfield, who was a Mercer, went on to acquire the Italian silk satin and floral damask for the curtains. The 1706 Knole inventory first records ‘One Crimson Sattin Spangl’d Bed’ in store with other chattels brought from Copt Hall by Cranfield’s grandson c.1701 and has been in its current location since at least 1765.


Photograph of the Spangled Bedroom in 1906

The Spangled Bed is of outstanding importance to the history of British furniture and textiles for the quality of the textile hangings and the rarity of their survival in complete form. Its significance is further enhanced by its Royal provenance and the duration of its 250 year display with its seat furniture in the Spangle Bedroom at Knole.

Knole Dec 2011_048

The underside of the tester.

The textile is now in a fragile condition with the embroidery worn, the fringing and appliqué damaged and the metal threads and spangles tarnished. Until recently the failing structure of the building at Knole has led to an uncontrollable environment meaning conservation was not possible. Before embarking on the conservation of the whole bed we need to trial the conservation to assess the materials and methods required to clean and stabilise the textiles and structure.

Knole Dec 2011_051

Light damage to the bed textile causing the colour to fade and physical break down of the material.

Since 1980 the regular condition reports have indicated a deteriorating condition. The brittleness of the fabric has been increasing along with the areas of damage and loss to the appliqué. The condition of the spangles are also deteriorating with areas of significant loss. The surface condition of the textile is poor, as the building at Knole had deteriorated the humidity had become uncontrollable resulting in surface dust turning to mudpack and adhered to the textile. If left untreated elements of the bed will have to be retired from display and this astonishing textile lost from public view.

Spangled Bedroom-20

This trial would be the first step in ensuring the survival of this internationally significant object as well as providing an overall visual improvement. Close examination of the bed will also allow us to study the bed in detail for the first time.  Textile conservators set up in the Spangled Bedroom to take down the curtains in full view of the visiting public. The Conservation Team erected the scaffold next to the bed, giving staff a chance to examine it at close range.   Covered between the folds of the curtains for centuries away from light and dust, the inner sides of the curtain retain their original brilliant colours and several of the silver and gold sequins or spangles still shine. Exposed areas have not faired as well.


A section of one of the curtains showing an area thst has been exposed to light and an area that has been concealed.


The curtains were padded between the folds to support them during their trip. Any stress on the extremely brittle fabric could cause the 17th century silk to tear further or shatter.


They were supported on a wooden dowel and lowered to the floor on a backing board. Once down, the curtains were packaged for transport in layers of acid free archival tissue, polyester wadding and Tyvek, a conservation grade cloth.



The two curtains will be taken to the National Trust’s textile conservation studio here they will be fully documented and examined. This will allow the conservator to draw up and undertake conservation work on the delicate fabric. This trial and investigation work will give the Trust an idea of the extent of the damage and help to estimate the amount of work that will need to be done when the rest of the bed is conserved. Given the size and detailed nature of the job, the textiles may take 10,000 work hours to conserve.


The two curtains packed and ready to go to the National Trust textile conservation studio.

Siobhan and Leslie (conservation student internship)

Textile cleaning in the Spangled Bedroom

Back in March, Jane Smith, one of the conservators from the National Trust’s Textile Studio in Norfolk came to Knole for 3 days to carry out some cleaning and preventive conservation to upholstered furniture in the Spangled Bedroom.


The X-framed chair and eight stools are covered with the same crimson satin as the Spangled Bed. It is decorated with an extremely rare applique strapwork pattern and originally sewn with small silver spangles, or sequins, now tarnished and viewed today as black dots.

The material is now extremely fragile due to the damage caused by light and relative humidity. Due to the importance and delicate condition of these textiles they are cleaned less frequently than some of the other textiles in the collection, and usually by a member of the Textile Studio team.


An area in the top right corner of the stool after vacuuming showing the removal of the build up of dust.

As well cleaning the textiles on the stools and chair with a conservation vacuum and a micro-vac on low suction, the chair had some netting applied to the back of the chair to prevent loose fibres and threads from coming away. Other parts of the chair had been previously netted a couple of years ago. The net is a mono filament nylon net dyed before hand in the studio to a special recipe to match the colour of the original material. Gutermann polyester thread is used to sew on the netting. Loose pieces of metal thread were also secured in place with bookbinder’s paste.


The netting is held in place with pins until it is secured with thread.

Jane in action!


Thanks to Jane for the photos and information from her report on her work. The Textile Studio have thier own blog to:

Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Zena and Sarah

Winter Clean in the Ballroom

Completing the first room of the winter clean is always a good feeling.  It took 8 days and there were a couple of extra challenges this year.  In preparation for the next phase of external building works the window in the Ballroom is to be boarded up to prevent dust ingress from the work to the window and stone work.

In order for this to be built we have had to take down the pelmet and curtains and the big red blind, as well as move some items of furniture up to the other end of the room and take four paintings down off the wall.  This was definitely a job for the scaffold tower, which was already in use in the room for high level ceiling and picture frame cleaning.

A view of the Ballroom ‘put to bed’ for the winter from the scaffold tower.

Until we got up to the top of the scaffold tower we were not exactly sure how the pelmet was secured in place.  We soon discovered it was simply nailed to a bit of wood!  We used the end of a flat head screw driver and pliers to release the nails.  We also discovered that what from the ground looks like a pelmet that is all of one piece, it is actually in four separate sections.  Which was good news as it made it easier to handle and not as heavy as it would have been in one piece.

The pelmet was nailed in to a wooden shelf attached to the wall with brackets.

The first section of the pelmet down and ready for a surface clean.

The pelmet and curtains are scheduled for cleaning every five years.  They were last done (in-situ) in 2009.  So although they were not due a for full clean just yet we took advantage of the fact that they were coming down to remove any surface dust and debris.

Lucy passes the second section of the pelmet down the scaffold tower to Sarah.

Sarah and Lucy laying out a section of pelmet on Tyvek. Each section has been interleaved with Tyvek to keep dust off them while they are down from the window.

Some of the interesting creatures in the frieze around the top of the panelling.

Lucy uses a soft pony hair brush to surface clean a section of the pelmet, by teasing cobwebs, clumps of dust and debris in to the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner.

The bay window after we had finished preparing the area for the dust protection to be installed.

Paintings from the South wall either side the bay window have been taken down and stored at the other end of the Ballroom while the building work takes place.

You can watch our winter clean work in the Ballroom on our timelapse film.

Emily, Sarah, Lucy and Melinda