Volunteer Experiences

We’ve been very lucky recently to have been joined by a new conservation volunteer at Knole who’s spent a few months with us to lend a helping hand. He has very kindly written a little about his experiences with the team!

Volunteering at Knole

The single greatest and most interesting part of being a Conservation volunteer at Knole has been the immense variety of tasks and small projects that are undertaken by the conservation team.

Involving everything from cleaning 18th century caffoy fabric to waxing the lead fish tank in stone court, it is hard to say that being a Conservation volunteer at Knole entails two even similar days. With the nature of the larger restoration project at Knole, as well as the day to day running of any property of Knole’s size the outlets for conservative work is seemingly endless.

The Monday deep cleans are the best chance to work on the items which are either vast or extremely precious, requiring more time and specialist equipment than many other of the usual but by no means insignificant objects. Utilising specialist material brushes as well as museum vacuums in my opinion the most fascinating part of the deep clean has been the work on the Orangery statues as well as the Roman busts of stone court. Whilst the cleaning of the Great Screen using cloth and ladders is also spectacular, if you think the screen is not amazing enough.

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The Great Screen was built c.1605-08 when Thomas Sackville did much to create the Knole you see today. The impressive edifice is bristling with heraldic symbols.

Being involved in the caffoy cleaning project was also highly rewarding. Once again the opportunity to use specialist conservation equipment and follow the stringent methods used to transform the fabric highlighted how precious Knole’s textiles really are. This time it was novel to use smoke sponges and once again low power vacuums to restore the caffoy. I can say that the process of removing a few hundred years’ worth of grime from the fabric was the most rewarding part of all of the mini projects which I have helped with over the last two months.

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

Another untold perk of being a volunteer in the conservation team here at Knole is that you truly get to experience the full character of the property, through objects, the different conditions and periods of each parts of the house, some of which is publicly accessible. Being able to see items which the team have restored or conserved is also fulfilling and history creating in itself.

All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed what seems like a very short couple of months at Knole with the conservation team and cannot overstate how fundamental they are to the condition and running of Knole as one of the country’s greatest properties. I would recommend to anyone who has even a slight interest in conservation or history in general to give conservation volunteering at Knole a go.

-Matthew

 

Which is Witch?

Here at Knole we are blessed with many fantastic volunteers. Our volunteers contribute in all sorts of ways; whether it be Room Guiding, helping the conservation team, admin or mucking in with our Premises team, they’re always here to help.

One of the more little known contributions of volunteers at Knole is in the field of poetry! There is a strong literary tradition at Knole with Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset and man most responsible for Knole as you see it today, being a respected poet in his day. From Thomas in the 17th century right down the generations to the 20th century. Vita Sackville-West was a successful writer and poet and her cousin Eddy a novelist and music critic.

Today some of our volunteers take up the mantle of poet with Clare Fallows, a 42 year veteran of Knole producing several wonderful poems about the place.

Clare has been a stalwart here at Knole and has recently written a fantastic poem about the witch marks we are continuing to uncover here at Knole. She has kindly allowed us to share it with you here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

 

Which is Witch?

Now down at old Knole there are witch marks galore

And each day, it seems, we are finding yet more,

But are these strange symbols what they seem to be?

Let’s look into the past and perhaps we shall see.

 

It’s 1605 and the whole house is humming;

With numerous labourers going and coming

The great Thomas Sackville to please is their task

So they must obey him, whate’re he should ask.

 

He fervently hopes that King James shall one day

In this beautified dwelling be willing to stay,

But all must be flawless, the peak of perfection,

And naught left to chance for the monarch’s protection.

 

For at night could come witches with evil intent

With spells and with curses on wickedness bent.

So Sackville’s commanded that marks must be made

Convinced that these signs will such beings dissuade.

 

His men will comply, for they’re filled with alarm

And dread a dire fate should the king come to harm.

Thus on panels and doorways the witch marks they leave

So the house will be fit a royal guest to receive.

 

But among them’s a rebel; Luke’s known for his jokes

And he has devised an impertinent hoax.

He scoffs at these witch marks, at sorcery jeers

Deriding his workmates, dismissing their fears.

 

So when evening comes and the labour must cease

Luke lingers awhile and when all is at peace

He takes up his tools, finds a chisel and blade

And in no time at all, many “witch marks” he’s made!

 

There are scratches and circles and lines to be seen

But Luke alone knows what those characters mean.

His sweetheart and sisters’ initials are there,

The circles their faces, the grooves for their hair.

 

His friends see the work and are somewhat impressed.

They’ve seen many witch marks and these are the best.

About their creator there’s much speculation

But Luke remains silent and hides his elation.

 

He’s proud and he’s gleeful, of that there’s no doubt,

Yet anxious as well, lest his mischief’s found out.

He’s beginning to dread that the men are suspicious

When Sackville arrives at a moment propitious!

And seeing the symbols, he’s happy and thrilled

That his wishes have all been so ably fulfilled.

 

I am sure that Luke’s work is at Knole to this day

But which marks are witch marks? Can anyone say?

Clare Fallows, May 2016

 

This is such an inspiring reaction to archaeology and our ongoing conservation project it’s just one of the many reasons we’re so lucky to have our volunteers.

To hear Clare talk about her four decades of service here at Knole click here:

http://www.knolestories.org.uk/content/working-at-knole/volunteers/clare-fallows

 

To find our more about witch marks and medieval graffiti have a look at these links below:

http://www.medieval-graffiti-kent.co.uk/

http://www.knolestories.org.uk/content/working-at-knole/ibk/nathalie-cohen

 

The Great Store

Now that we have emptied the second half of the Showrooms we need to find somewhere to put it all. Considering Knole is one of the largest houses in England it should be simple to find somewhere to put all these things, right? The big surprise for many about this sprawling mansion is just how tight storage space can be! After centuries of being lived in and crammed full of wonderful objects there’s just not much usable space left.

The fragility and value of our collection means that it needs very specific conditions for its continued wellbeing. We have been working very hard to reorganise our current conservation store rooms to create space for as much as possible. Even this is not enough.

To make up for our lack of space we have been able to create a couple of ingenious extra storage spaces. These are the Old Kitchen and the ‘Great Store’ (formerly the Great Hall!).

In December a huge scaffold was erected in the Great Hall at Knole. It comprises two stories with plenty of storage space.

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The empty top floor ready to receive.

The empty painting rack watched over by Thomas Sackville, the man who did so much to make Knole what it is today.

The empty painting rack watched over by Thomas Sackville, the man who did so much to make Knole what it is today.

The first objects begin appearing from the Ballroom.

The first objects begin appearing from the Ballroom.

Ceramics from the Ballroom are safely nestled in their temporary home until they find their permanent place on the store.

Ceramics from the Ballroom are safely nestled in their temporary home until they find their permanent place on the store.

The largest paintings will be stored in their own racking on the Hall dais.

The largest paintings will be stored in their own racking on the Hall dais.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

Special lighting appears to show off the glistening collection.

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NT staff carefully lifting a bust of the Duke of Wellington into place.

With the help of volunteers and specialist art movers the store gradually fills up. The Great Hall is now full of items from the Showrooms ready for visitors to enjoy from a completely different perspective.

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Now that everything is in we can add layers of protection such as these screen doors to protect against the dust.

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And this blackout material to protect the vulnerable items from harmful light levels.

Blackout material protecting vulnerable items

Blackout material protecting vulnerable items

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The detail of the Russia chest now in the Great Store. This pattern will be making another appearance very soon!

There is one more finishing touch to be added just before we open to the public. Then the store is complete.

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The finished Great Store provides a brand new perspective on fantastic objects. Letting them shine in new surroundings.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peak at the Great Store. Be sure to come and see it when we reopen again in March 2016!

Knole Conservation Team

Our Favourite Objects – Part 10!

The latest entry in our favourite objects series is from Hannah who is one of our wonderful conservation volunteers here in the house. Keep reading to find out what she thinks is best about Knole!

As Knole is such a big and beautiful house full to the brim of interesting objects the idea of choosing one favourite piece presented a difficult task, one which I tried to approach from a variety of angles. I looked for the most grand object, the oldest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most detailed etc. (the list goes on). Over my month of work experience back in 2013 my favourite object changed from week to week – from the portrait of Frances Cranfield hanging in the ballroom, to the stunning silverware in the King’s Room, to the royal bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room; and yet, there was something about each of these objects that did not quite stick.

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He was once Vita Sackville-West’s bedroom doorstop!

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Shakespeare at home at the bottom of the Great Stairs

 

 

 

 

 Every time I walked through to the Great Staircase however, my eye was caught by this funny little wooden doorstop, carved in the form of William Shakespeare. I was intrigued by its quirky appearance and when I finally got up close and saw the sentimental quote, ‘We shall never look upon his like again’ carved into a scroll in his hand, I was sold. I still look at him fondly whenever I walk through that part of the house and if there was ever a fire he is the first thing I would save. 

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‘We shall never see his like again’ inscribed on Shakespeare’s scroll

 

He is not particularly grand, large or detailed but he is unique and will always hold a special place in my heart. To me he represents a love of literature and a tribute to those who create wonderful worlds for the rest of us to get lost in. As it turns out, choosing a favourite wasn’t such a difficult task after all.

Hannah

 

Moving House!

One of our fabulous volunteers hsa been inspired by the pest insects at Knole to write this wonderful short story, and we wanted to share it with you all. Kristin also wrote a sonnet inspired by Knole a couple of years ago.

Moving House by Kristin Gill

“ Some females just shouldn’t be allowed to lay eggs and that’s all there is to it!” snapped the outraged woodworm. “ Look where she left them – only in the chair leg nearest the door where all the humans walk in. As soon as they chew their way out they’ll be crushed at once. I did try to tell her when she was laying, but madam Death Watch had to know best – as always.”

“ Calm down,Woody,” soothed a suave vodka beetle, “it’s one of the nicest chairs in the House and you know how all the larvae love crawling round the leg and sliding down the dolphin. It’s the best treat they get, poor little grubs.”

“ That’s no excuse for irresponsible parenting. You know that cushion is covered with dust. It’s only fine stuff, but it could suffocate a little larva. I’m surprised you’re not taking this more seriously. You know she won’t come back, don’t you? Borers are terrible mothers.”

“ Woody, Woody, aren’t we forgetting something here? We came to check on the little   larves, didn’t we, not to argue with each other?” The vodka beetle smiled encouragingly at his flustered, wood-munching friend. “ Here, have a nip of this, you’ll feel better.”

The woodworm wagged a menacing front leg. “ I don’t know why I bother,” she sniffed.

At that moment a handsome russet coloured cigarette beetle crept from behind the front leg of the chair. “ Ciggy!” exclaimed the vodka beetle. “Am I glad to see you, mate! She’s driving me to dust,” he whispered, jerking an antenna at the grumpy woodworm. “Have you come to help with the larves?”

“ Yeah, thought I would. I expect there’s quite a lot of them – when the Death Watches are in the mood there’s no stopping them – she’ll have laid hundreds of eggs and all plug ugly like their Mum, I expect. It’s that messy shaggy look they have that puts me off’ them.”

“ So not like me, then?” A sleek golden spider beetle sashayed into view from behind the other front chair leg. The antennae of both male beetles shot upright.

“ Goldie! It’s good to see you – it’s been a while”. The vodka beetle couldn’t stop his antennae from twitching. He had always fancied the voluptuous golden beetle.

“I know, Voddy, sweetie, but I don’t come up here very often. I’ve moved to the Ballroom – the floorboard under the lion mask table. The food’s a lot better than up here: in fact, I’m on a dried food and freeze-dried animal diet at the moment. All the silks and velvets make me gag these days. The larder and biscuit beetles do a great job of stocking up and it’s always nice and damp. You should come down and see me sometime: we’ve got loads of room and it’s easy to get between the floorboards – at least for most beetles,” she added pointedly, eyeing the woodworm’s dark, rounded tummy. The cigarette beetle sensed danger as Woody’s antennae twitched angrily.

“ We get that freeze-dried stuff too,” said Ciggy quickly, “ the fast-frozen ones, much healthier than the soggy ones trapped in the render.”

“ I thought all that had been repaired,” sniffed the woodworm.

“ They missed a bit,” replied the cigarette beetle darkly. “Humans, eh, what are they like?”   You know, I’m not fond of soft centres either; I prefer a bit of crunch myself but when the wife’s laying I just stick to the ciggies.” He shrugged apologetically.

“We can’t stay here all day!” snapped the irritated woodworm. “ Are we going to get these larvae out or not?”

“ Yes we are!” shouted Ciggy and Voddy in unison.

“ Well then, get on with it!”

“ Me?!” they exclaimed together. “ I’m not sure I’d be very good with little ones,” said Ciggy.

“ It’s not really what chaps do, is it?” pleaded the vodka beetle.”

“ That’s a heap of frass and you know it!” shrieked Woody. “ I might have known you two would be useless!

The woodworm was about to shout at them again when an ominous sound came from the concealed cupboard on the landing, right opposite the entrance to the gallery – a sound that only meant one thing: Mighty Em and her team were bringing out their weapons of mass destruction. They uncoiled a smiley little cylinder called Henry, who remained cheerful as the three fearsome humans hauled him up and down and all around the long, dark gallery, sucking up tiny flecks of dried mud from the floor, the crushed bodies of careless beetles and other debris that had been carried in the day before, including tiny chips of stone or grit wedged under visitors’ shoes.

The four mature beetles waited. It was that time of day again. Any moment now Mighty Em would take her long pole and raise the heavy red blinds covering the windows, to reveal light, filmy curtains which allowed the sun to warm the glass panes. The residents in the gallery had mixed feelings about the light, most of them preferring cool, damp conditions as they went about their boring business.

“ Wait until she’s gone,” hissed Woody.

“ Of course they’re going to wait,” snapped Goldie. “ Do you think they’re stupid?”

“ Don’t answer that,” said the vodka beetle hurriedly, not wanting to hear the woodworm’s opinion of them. Ignoring him, the two females started circling each other and flicking their antennae backwards and forwards. There was no love lost between these two. Nobody knew why, but a carpet beetle living in Lady Betty’s said there had been an unfortunate incident with a misplaced dosimeter in the Spangle Bedroom and Woody had been bad tempered ever since.

They all froze as the heavy red blinds went up and waited until Mighty Em had moved further along the gallery to the next set of blinds.

“OK, let’s go!” hissed the vodka, beetle. He crept over to the foot of the ornate chair near the entrance. “ Hello,” he called, “ Anybody there?”

There was a scuffling sound from inside the chair leg. “ I’m Voddy. I was one of your Mum’s friends.” There was more scuffling and he could hear giggling.

“ Prove it!” shouted a cheeky voice. “ Appalling manners,” sniffed the woodworm. Voddy ignored her. “ How can I prove it?” he called.

“What was her favourite joke?”

The vodka beetle smiled. “OK, I know this: two bookworms are making their way through the same volume from opposite ends. When they meet in the middle one says to the other “What was your half like?’ “Boring,” says the other.”

The little larvae giggled; they knew they were wood borers, just like their Mum.

“ Right little larves, it’s time for you to eat your way out of your chair leg and when you’re a bit more grown up you can set up home in any chair, stool, or bed you like, as long as you’re careful. Just one thing you must remember: never, ever underestimate Mighty Em and her team. You may be tiny, but they have cunning ways of seeing and trapping us. No beetle has ever walked off a sticky pad. Understand?”

“ Yes,” chorused all the little larvae, nervous now that they would be leaving the only home they had ever known.

“ OK,” said Voddy firmly, “if you get into three lines and start boring, you should have about a hundred and fifty of you out before the humans see the holes. Now I know it’s a bit scary and you’re nervous, but if you can manage not to…” he paused, wondering which word for ‘defecate’ was common amongst the young these days.

“ Just say ‘shit’, Voddy,’ urged Ciggy, from the back of the chair. “They know

what’s what, don’t you, larves?”

“Yes!” they all shrieked from inside the leg.

“ And if you have to ‘go’ just be discreet,” advised the worried vodka beetle. “If the humans see frass we’ve all had it. Now EAT!”

The little larvae set to work. It felt strange to be boring through the walls of their own home, but they munched their way obediently through the elegant chair leg, last sat in by a king. The adult beetles retreated to the dark paneling to wait behind the furniture.        

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“I think we’re going to make it,” said the vodka beetle excitedly, as hordes of baby beetles started pouring through the tiny holes made by their siblings, slid down the dolphin and disappeared into a dark gap in the wooden paneling behind their chair.

”Your Mum would be so proud of you,” sniffed the woodworm tearfully, watching the baby beetles slide down the dolphin. “If only my own brood hadn’t got caught up in the fringe of a Queen Anne footstool I might be a great- great grandmother by now.”

The male beetles shuffled uncomfortably. “ Well, if that’s all, I think I’d better be getting back to,,er.. getting back..things to do, you know..” They faltered into silence.

The woodworm glared at them. “ How could you live with yourself if you abandoned these poor larves now? We owe it to their mother to see them safe,” she added firmly.

“Even if you couldn’t stand the sight of her?” murmured the cigarette beetle.

The woodworm shot him a spiteful look, but said nothing.

“ Oh, alright, Woody, of course we’ll help – come on little larves, chomp away,” sighed the vodka beetle. “ Whoa there little bug, you’re heading for the cushion – you don’t want to get lost in there. No sense of direction, these young males,” he murmured to Ciggy, who sniggered in appreciation.

 “Keep on this side, little larves, keep coming,” urged Voddy. “Ignore everything else: just keep eating and keep coming. We’ve been through this too, you know, it’s nothing to worry about.”

 The cigarette beetle raised an antenna in disbelief. “ OK, I frassed myself – once” hissed Voddy. “No need to bring that up again, especially not in front of the larves. “Keep coming, little bugs,” encouraged the vodka beetle, “ you’re nearly all out.”

 The woodworm shot Voddy a look of exasperation. “ You know perfectly well there’s loads of them still in there don’t you,” she hissed, “and the ones coming out are beginning to huddle together. Mighty Em and her thugs won’t miss a wriggling mass like that and the larves are starting to block the holes we bored in the paneling to help them. “

 The adult beetles locked their antennae together and conferred anxiously.

 “ What’s up with you lot, then?” called a breezy voice from halfway down the gallery.

A large-winged orangy brown moth was flying towards them, sweeping gently from side to side and looping the loop until it reached the worried beetles and landed on the arm of the larvae’s old home.

“ Well hello, lovely to see you too,” he said reproachfully to Voddy.

“ Sorry, Tiger old chap, we’re a bit busy at the moment. The Death Watch larves are on the move and we need to get them down to the Ballroom sharpish before ‘you know who’ gets wind of them.”

“ Ah, you’re busy, then. I’ll leave you to it. I’m busy myself, actually. In fact, I’m in love at last.” He sighed heavily. I can’t stop thinking about her. She smells divine – I know she’s the one for me. In fact I must go back to her now.”

“ Wait,Tiger,” pleaded Ciggy, suddenly alert to his friend’s danger. “You don’t want to look too keen. Females don’t appreciate it. Mean, moody, magnificent. That’s what you want to aim for. Trust me, you don’t want to go back up the gallery too soon. Make ‘em wait and keep them keen – that’s the way to handle females, take it from me.”

“Well, if you sure..”

“Tell you what, “ said Voddy, “ Could you take a few larves on your wings and drop them off under the Lion Mask table – Goldie will show you where. It would be a real help and it will take your mind off your girlfriend for a bit. She’ll think you’re a real hero when you tell her.”

“ If you put it like that… let’s do it!”   Tiger was excited now. “ You know what? There was an ugly dark winged moth hanging around my girl before I came down to see you lot. She won’t look twice at him after I tell her I’ve been rescuing baby beetles. Must get on now. By the way, where is the Ballroom?”

“ Is he really that thick?” asked Ciggy when Tiger had flown away.

“ Oh yes, and more. I’m afraid he’s in for a shock when he gets back to his ‘girlfriend’.

Didn’t anybody ever tell him about sticky pads?

Behind the King’s chair, Woody was fretting about the number of larvae milling about, terrified that Mighty Em would spot them.

“ Where should we send them?” she wailed. “ The steps down to the Ballroom are too exposed to be safe.”

“ Leave that to me,”offered the golden spider beetle. “ I know a back way into the Ballroom, behind the steps. It’s nice and dark so no human will spot them.”

“Are you sure?” fussed the woodworm. “ Believe me, doll, I use it all the time when I’m   ‘entertaining’ “smirked Goldie.

“ I’m sure you do”, relied the woodworm tartly. “”Alright, lead on.”

It took a while, but after many twists and turns behind the steps, the young beetles found themselves on the chapel side of the Ballroom door and slipped under it easily. Goldie guided them to the floorboard under the Lion Mask table, where the Larder and Biscuit beetles welcomed them with wide antennae, delighted at having more beetles to feed and fuss over.

Back in the Brown Gallery, Tiger was hovering distraught over the raggedy remains of a moth. “ She’s dead, she’s dead” he cried in anguish.

“ No she’s not,” said a passing woodworm flatly. “For a start that’s a male moth. She doesn’t even exist. It’s a typical human trick. They make you think you can smell a nice bit of totty, so that you’ll land on the sticky trap and get stuck forever. That poor blighter must have fought hard – he’s almost torn himself to pieces. There’s bits of black wing all over the place. Ugh, I can’t stay here, it’s giving me the willies.”

“You mean that’s a male ?” squeaked poor Tiger. “ That could have been me!”

“ Well, you’ll know for next time, won’t you?” said the woodworm. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I believe my sister’s offspring are moving house today so I’d better go and show willing.”

At the dolphin chair, all was calm. Voddy and Ciggy were sitting companionably on the feet, tired out by the day’s events. “ We did it, we got them all out,” said Voddy proudly. “ We did!” agreed Ciggy. “ We’ll have to tell the girls that none of them can lay in the dolphin chair again – too many bore holes in the legs. We’d all be gassed at once.”

“ Yeah, but it was worth it.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, then the vodka beetle said casually, “ I might just pop down to the Ballroom to see how the larves are getting on.” Ciggy gave him a look.

“ Oh, alright, I just thought it might be nice to say thank you to Goldie.”

“ If you want to thank Goldie it’s not the ballroom you should try, it’s the steps – you heard her.”

“ Yes, yes I did,” agreed Voddy happily, beetling off to the gap in the paneling behind the dolphin chair, where he disappeared.

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Note:   All characters in this story are completely fictitious except for the Beetles and Moths

 

Winter clean part 1 – all wrapped up!

From when the house closes up until Christmas we clean and cover all the furniture and other objects in the show rooms. Then in the new year we return to clean the rooms ceiling to floor.

The Spangled Bedroom put to bed.

The Spangled Bedroom put to bed.

The bi-annual wet cleaning of Lady Betty's China Closet ceramics

The bi-annual wet cleaning of Lady Betty’s China Closet ceramics

For ceramics with over glaze painted decoration and gilding we wet clean with a cotton bud, avoiding the overglazed decorative areas.

The Billiard Room furniture gets cleaned before having their dust covers put on.

A years worth of dust on the upholstery of a campaign chair from the Billiard Room.

The upholstery is cleaned with a low suction vacuüm cleaner to remove the dust.

An exhibition label from one of the campaign chairs.

Cleaning under the billiard table…dust does get everywhere!

The Billiard Room put to bed.

Cleaning the armada chest, inside and out!

Cleaning the armada chest, inside and out!

Once the armada chests are cleaned with apply a protective coat of renaissance wax.

Zena - always happy in her work!

Zena – always happy in her work!

The Cartoon Gallery almost put to bed.

The Cartoon Gallery almost put to bed.

Wishing all of our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Tapestrytastic!

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.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count, this is part of the documentation of the tapestry.

Using a needle you count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

Using a needle to count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

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.

A polyester cream thread was used for the holding stitches. The stitches are quite big and vary where they are sewn in depending on the path of the damage.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Val uses a scaple to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Val uses a scalpel to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Alexandra cuts through the stitching securing the folded galloon edge (the blue border).

The reverse of the tapestry is vacummed once the lining is removed.

The reverse of the tapestry is vacuumed once the lining is removed.

The front of the tapestry is vacummed as we roll it.

The front of the tapestry is vacuumed as we roll it.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end a section at a time, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

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.

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

 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.