Light

Over the centuries, many visitors have found Knole to be a dark house. Back in the 1600s, the diarist John Evelyn was apparently so depressed by greyness of ‘this great old fashioned house’ that he had to hurry out into the sunlight. Today, some of our visitors still comment on the Knole’s often shadowy interior.

 

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A house that ‘smoulders rather than sparkles’.

 

Many find this atmospheric lighting an integral part of Knole’s unique charm. But for the Conservation team, monitoring and controlling the light levels in the house is a key part of how we look after our fantastic collection. Obviously, we want our visitors to be able to see the beautiful objects. However, displaying our collection while minimising the damaging effects of light, is a constant challenge.

 

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This suite in the Brown Gallery was once a vibrant purple colour but has heavily faded in the light. 

 

When light falls on the surface of an object it provides energy. This induces a chemical reaction in the molecules of the material, which causes physical changes including the structural weakening of the fibres and a change in colour. The damage caused by this reaction is cumulative and irreversible. How vulnerable different materials are to light varies, but textiles particularly are highly light sensitive. We have the largest collection of English Stuart furniture in the world to have survived. It is internationally significant and we want to ensure that these magnificent pieces can be enjoyed for generations to come.

A key part of our work involves monitoring the light levels in the show rooms. If you look carefully at some of our furniture, you may notice small rectangular cards with a square of blue wool in the centre. These are called dosimeters and we use them to monitor the effects of light. They are placed on or near light sensitive objects and left in position for a year. Part of the blue wool is exposed while the other part is protected. When the dosimeter is removed and sent off for analysis, a measurement is made of the degree of fading. How much the blue wool has faded depends on the amount of light it has been exposed to. The conservation team also conduct regular checks to measures both the UV and the intensity of the light (lux) and we have two Hanwell LUX/UV monitors on the east and south sides of the building, which send back information to a computer in the office.

 

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Knowing the fade rate of the blue wool allows us to accurately measure how much light objects and rooms are exposed to.

 

 

The most effective way to protect our collection is by preventing it from being exposed to too much natural light. We now have case covers on the furniture in the Spangled Dressing Room, to protect the incredibly fragile and deteriorating fabric. Historically, case covers have been used to protect special pieces of furniture in grand houses from the ill effects of light and dust. Should an important person come to visit the covers could be removed to reveal the textile underneath. Our red custom cotton case covers have been carefully made by upholstery conservator Heather Porter to ensure that each piece of furniture gets the individual protection that it requires.

 

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One of our brand new case covers in the Spangled Dressing Room

 

The most damaging part of the light spectrum is ultraviolet (UV) and sunlight contains a high proportion of UV. Where possible we try to filter UV out by using a film on the windows of the show rooms. The light levels in the rooms are kept low and we only expose the rooms to light when it is necessary. However, the current electric lighting in the show rooms is inefficient and ineffective, meaning our collection is often poorly lit. This is something being addressed by the project. A scheme for new lighting has been designed by Sutton Vane Associates. Historic light fittings will be fitted with LED bulbs, which will not only significantly improve the presentation of the show rooms but will also help protect our collection.

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This is from a trial conducted at Knole in the Brown Gallery. You can see how the proposed LED lighting will not only protect the vulnerable materials but really highlight our fabulous collection.

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Cleaning Caffoy!

For the last two weeks the conservation team, along with a group of volunteers, have been busy cleaning a section of the caffoy from the Cartoon Gallery. This was removed by specialist textile conservator Zenzie Tinker, as part of the work to decant the second half of the house last winter.

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The caffoy in its original position in the Cartoon Gallery.

 

 

Caffoy is a rich, red coloured wool fabric, similar to velvet, with a floral pattern stamped into the pile. It dates from the 18th century and was used for wall hangings and upholstering some of the items of furniture that we have in our collection. This particular piece covered the wall at the east of the Cartoon Gallery.

 

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The east wall of the Cartoon Gallery after being cleared of the caffoy.

The back of the caffoy was lined with course linen. Interestingly, in the areas covered by paintings, large rectangular sections were cut out of the caffoy to reveal just the linen. This practice was a way of ensuring that the expensive fabric would not be wasted behind areas that would not normally have been seen. However, it did mean that over time, as and when the picture hang changed, sections of caffoy had to be added to fill in the exposed areas of the linen lining. There are 56 such pieces, some regularly shaped and fixed neatly with stitching, others placed haphazardly, cut in irregular shapes and fixed with tacks. This indicates that there were at least two different picture schemes, as well as the original plan, for that one section of wall.

While these small patches of caffoy have been taken offsite for specialist conservation work, the front and back of the main piece of textile has been carefully cleaned by the team here at Knole.

The caffoy was very dirty with a layer of dust, cobwebs and insect debris on the surface.

 

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Melinda, a member of the team, cleaning with a low powered vacuum.

Following the advice and training of Zenzie and her team, the textile was divided into workable sized sections, roughly 35cm by 35cm, marked out with pins and white thread. We then worked on each of these sections in turn, making sure that we kept a careful eye on the timing so each area received the same level of cleaning, ensuring we didn’t get any patches that were cleaner or dirtier than the rest of the textile!

 

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The has been separated into individual squares for precise and even cleaning.

First, each section was vacuumed using a conservation standard vacuum cleaner with a small brush attachment. The suction on the vacuum was set to a specified pressure to avoid causing any damage to the textile fibres.

Next, a smoke sponge, made of vulcanised natural rubber, was used to remove soot damage and general dust.

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A clean piece of smoke sponge against a piece already used to clean a section of caffoy.

Finally, the surface was vacuumed to remove any sponge residue.

You can see the results!

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A clean piece of linen against a dirty piece.

 

 

Next week, the back of the caffoy will be vacuumed to remove any dirt and dust before the whole thing is rolled and put into storage ready to be reinstated, along with the small patches that have been removed, in the Cartoon Gallery next year.

 

The other sections of caffoy which cover the walls in the rest of the Cartoon Gallery, as well as those in the Reynolds Room, will be worked on, in situ, by the conservation team before the second half of the house is open to the public next year.

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We’re looking forward to seeing it back home!

Constructing Case Covers

The Spangled Dressing Room at Knole is home to a wonderful set of c.1670 walnut furniture that includes six stools and two chairs. These pieces were originally housed at Whitehall Palace until they were brought to Knole by Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638 – 1706).

Having sat in the poor environmental conditions at Knole for over 300 years the delicate silk damask material is in a pretty bad state. It was decided that in order to protect the incredibly fragile and deteriorating fabric that protective case covers needed to be made.

If you look closely you can just about see conservation netting. A fine colour matched net that has been added to attempt to stabilize the fraying silk.

Historically case covers have been used to protect special pieces of furniture in grand houses from the ill effects of light and dust. Should an important person come to visit the covers could be removed to reveal the textile underneath.

Our 17th century furniture in the Spangled Dressing Room is in such a fragile state that many of the red threads have faded completely to beige. With dust from generations of visitors and light streaming through the windows the stools and chairs the silk has powdered on the surface in places.

You can see here the fading and shredding of the delicate silk.

New case covers have been made over the past several months to protect the fabric of the seats. Red custom cotton case covers have been carefully made around the furniture by upholstery conservator Heather Porter. Each case cover has been custom fitted in situ at Knole so that each piece of furniture gets the individual protection that it requires.

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The newly fitted cotton case cover contrasting with the uncovered pillow.

 

The case cover project was to design and make covers for display that resulted in an improved visitor experience. It did not involve treatment to any part of the extant upholstery.  After the project the fragile condition of the upholstery below remains the same, but with increased protection from dust and light.

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Heather has primarily used a burgundy custom woven cotton fabric to make the covers.

As you can see, the finished results are fantastic. The new case covers not only protect the vulnerable upholstery but really add to the effect of the furniture. The material sets off the rest of the furniture allowing you to appreciate the fine carving of the walnut frame in a new way.

 

Now that we have new covers on this suite it’s always possible more work can be done in the future. Heather has already returned to examine the possibility of doing some work on the upholstery of our Reynolds Room chairs as well!

Keep checking the blog for more.

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Today we’re looking at yet more exciting work in the Spangled Bedroom at Knole. This time it’s all about tapestries! With the bed temporarily living in the Great Hall ready for its own journey away we were able to take down the final two tapestries leaving the walls completely bare. These tapestries went through a careful cleaning and documenting process before being sent off to the De Witt in Belgium. This is a specialist tapestry workshop where the tapestries have been carefully cleaned before being returned to Knole. For a better understanding of how the tapestries were cleaned in Belgium then have a look at our previous blog post ‘How Do You Wash Your Tapestries?’.

The final two tapestries arrived home this morning and have been placed, still rolled and packed, back into the Spangled Bedroom before the next stage of their journey can commence.

Sue and Alice hard at work on one of the tapestries

Sue and Alice hard at work on one of the tapestries

Some of you may remember when we prepared the first tapestries for travel in November 2014. Now that the Spangled Bed has been removed from the room there is plenty of space to work in now. This meant that we were able to set up our tapestry tables right there in the room.

This has a few benefits for us. To start with it means that we don’t have to roll the tapestry, transport it up to the Needlework Room (up some very steep and narrow stairs!) and then unwrap it again. Anyone familiar with the National Trust’s 9 agents of deterioration, to be found in our Manual of Housekeeping will know that the less we move any object the better. Every time an object is handled it increases the risk that it will somehow be damaged.

By taking our tapestries straight down onto the tables to be worked on we reduced the risk and work factor by a lot!

The other big positive about doing this work in the Spangled Bedroom was that we were able to do it in front of our wonderful visitors!

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Sarah and Lolly making a temporary repair to the galloon edge.

We all enjoyed talking to our visitors about the work we were doing. It really allowed people the opportunity to see things that are so often hidden away behind closed doors. Here at Knole we are getting more and more excited about doing this kind of work in front of visitors as we really get going on building our brand new conservation studio! When the studio opens it will provide a unique experience for visitors so make sure you come to check it out in a few years.

The rich colours of the back of the tapestries gives a better idea of how bright and vibrant they would have looked when new.

The rich colours of the back of the tapestries gives a better idea of how bright and vibrant they would have looked when new.

We used special 'Musreum Vacuums' to carefully clean the surgace dirt from the front and back of the tapestries.

We used special ‘Musreum Vacuums’ to carefully clean the surgace dirt from the front and back of the tapestries.

Until then there’s plenty of interesting conservation works to be seen at Knole. Now that the Spangled Bedroom is providing more space you may just see more conservation projects appearing in the near future…

Knole Conservation Team

Dismantling the Spangled Bed – Part 2

Last week we looked at the first stage of dismantling the Spangled Bed here at Knole. This involved dealing with the textile elements of the bed ready for wooden frame to be taken apart.

 

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This is what the bed looked like with all of the textiles removed. As you can see the conservators were not able to remove the textile from the bed posts themselves or the tester (the top of the bed). This can be done at a later stage.

In order to remove the tester from the bed we needed to set up two scaffold towers either side of the bed and rest a platform between them to support the tester after it was removed from the posts.

The bed is constructed using simple pegs and so there was no need to remove glue or any other adhesives. It was a straightforward matter to lift the tester up off the four posts. Four people then supported the tester while furniture conservators used mallets to disengage the posts and slide them safely to the ground.

All we had to do now was lower the tester down to the floor and the bed would be gone. The whole process of getting the bed from this….

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…to this…

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The top of the tester showing the years of dust that had built up.

…took no more than half an hour. Amazing what you can do with a little planning and teamwork!

So now the bed is down and everything is ready to be sent off for specialist conservation.

It’s worth remembering that during the deconstruction of the bed the documentation and recording of the process and different pieces was meticulous. It is so important with historic furniture like this that we know exactly where each and every thing came from. As each part of the bed was removed it was properly labelled so that we could keep a careful track during its various travels.

We’re looking forward to seeing the bed in when it comes back from conservation. Until then we’ll keep you up to date with all the exciting happenings here at Knole!

Knole Conservation Team

Dismantling the Spangled Bed – Part 1

July was a busy and exciting time at Knole. After long a long period of preparation the day finally came when we dismantled the glorious Spangled Bed at Knole. This is one of the three state beds here along with the James II Bed and the King’s Bed. The textiles of the bed date back to the 1620s, roughly 50-60 years older than the other beds. Our first record of the bed at Knole is in 1706 after it came down from Copt Hall (another family house) along with a lot of other furniture.

 The significance of the bed continues to grow as we learn more and more about its origins and construction. As part of our ongoing conservation work the bed has now been taken apart and waiting to be taken away for treatment that will likely take about 2 years.

 Considering this bed has not been dismantled for centuries we needed to plan everything very carefully before we acted. The first stage involved conservators from the National Trust Textile Studio at Blickling removing the hangings and other textile elements to be packed ready to for transport.

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Halfway through the packing process on the Great Hall dais

This involved the construction of bespoke boxes to houses each item safely and securely for their journey. The two mattresses from the bed have been stored safely at Knole whilst the rest of the textiles have been packed and can be seen on the dais of the Great Hall right now.

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Piece of the spangled textile wrapped in acid-free tissue.

The first three days of our bed week were all about the textiles. Once the mattress and textiles had been removed it was time to start thinking about dismantling the woodwork. Look out next week for part two of the Spangled Bed story!

Knole Conservation Team

Bonjour

Following Emily’s farewell post, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce myself as Knole’s new House Steward. My name is Lucy and I am already a familiar face around the property, having joined the Conservation Team in November 2010. Since then I have learned so much both from the team and this remarkable building as well as successfully completing a Master’s degree in Heritage Management in 2013.

I feel honoured to be able to play an ongoing part in the Inspired by Knole project as well as having the opportunity to care for the property on a daily basis. The next few years will be very exciting for us with lots to look forward to. Both the Conservation Studio and Hayloft Learning Centre will open next year, thanks to funding from the HLF. This will allow us to explore new ways of integrating conservation and learning not only for school groups but for lifelong learners as well. New spaces such as the Gatehouse Tower, previously unseen by the public, will be welcoming visitors for the first time and providing the Conservation Team with a brand new set of challenges.

This year we will begin preparing a new storage space to accommodate parts of the collection during the project work. The work will allow us to install improved lighting and conservation heating and give us an opportunity to display the collection in new ways. I’m excited about the redecoration of the Great Hall, due to begin this autumn, as well as assisting specialist conservators to dismantle the Spangled Bed this July, ready for conservation works to take place.

The team and I are looking forward to sharing our experiences with all our blog followers so please watch this space for updates!

Best wishes,

Lucy