Tonsorial Tips from the 16th Century

Here at the Studio we thought that we could do our bit for ‘Movember’, the charity that has been set up to raise awareness of male cancers. The campaign asks men to take action by changing their appearance by growing a moustache for the 30 days of November, to spark conversation and raise funds.

DSC06863We are conserving a 16th century tapestry from Powis Castle in Wales. The tapestry is entitled ‘The Reception of an Embassy’ and it has been described as the most enigmatic tapestry in the Trust’s collection. It is uncertain what historical event the tapestry depicts and there are many possible suggestions. However, the accurate architectural details identify the location as Damascus, and it is thought that the scene represents a Venetian diplomat meeting officials from that city.

One fact that is certain, however, is that the figures in this tapestry are very ‘on trend’ and are pretty much all sporting fine moustaches and beards.

The tapestry had many problems that have been addressed during the conservation, but one that occurred throughout the piece was the decay of the dark brown wool wefts. This is due to the iron salts that were used to mordant or fix the dyes, which hastens the breakdown of the wool fibres. This loss of brown wool has resulted in loss of outlines and some crude re-weaving. In some places this has happened in the gentlemen’s moustaches and we have had to use some well placed conservation stitches to return them to their former glory.

Hope that these gentlemen will encourage you in your pursuit of hirsute perfection and should you wish to find out more about the Movember cause please follow the link.

Or to find out more about this tapestry: National Trust Collections – Powis tapestry.



This buff coat and doublet has come to us from Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland and according to the note stitched to it belonged to Sir Jacob Astley (1579-1652), Baron Astley of Reading who served as a Sergent Major to King Charles 1st in the Civil war. He fought at Edgehill and Naseby and after surrendering to the Parliamentarians in 1642 he eventually retired to Maidstone and died in 1652.

This piece is currently being conserved through a donation by the Peoples Postcode Lottery and should be back on display at Seaton Delaval for the 2015 opening season.

Comings and goings in the studio

img_7226.jpg Each year we produce an annual report for our activities in the studio.

Our latest report covers the years 2012 to 2014 and gives you a concise glimpse into the last two years of the studio and our work within the National Trust.

Annual report 2012 – 2014

Further reports can be found on our annual report page

A brief history of the needle

Following on from our post earlier this year from Julie, who was looking to change career and become a conservator and was on a work experience placement with us.

In July as well as conservation students Fiona and Anna we had the pleasure of hosting work experience to Ruth, a student at a local high school. Ruth has very kindly written this post for us.

My name is Ruth and I have just finished my first year of a-levels. I am really interested in textiles and wanted to find a work experience placement in that area. I sent a letter off to the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio, just down the road from where I live, and was overjoyed to get a placement there for eight days.


Below is a small project that I did on needles and I was surprised there was so much I didn’t know!

A brief timeline of the history of needles;

  • 17500 B.C – first needles with eyes
  • 7000 B.C – Copper needles
  • 2500 B.C – Bronze needles
  • 1195 B.C – Secret of hardening iron reaches Europe
  • 500 B.C – drawing plate used for producing wire
  • 60 A.D – Phrygier discovers embroidery
  • 1200 A.D – The needle enters China
  • 1496 – Leonardo da Vinci constructs a machine to point needles
  • 1615 – Aachen makes needles from fine, pure steel
  • 1730 – Stephan Beissel founds a needle factory in Germany
  • 1755 – First ever patent for a needle with eye
  • 1790 – Thomas Saint applies for a patent for a machine to sew shoes
  • 1811 – Abel & Michael Morall constructs a device for the pressing of eyes
  • 1845 – Elias Howe & Singer invent the sewing machine

Some types of needles include;

  1. Embroidery needles - long eye which makes it easier to thread multiple embroidery threads as well as thicker yarns.
  1. Betweens or Quilting needles – have a small rounded eye. Used for making very fine stitches on heavy fabrics.
  1. Milliner needles – useful for basting (tacking) and pleating. They are also used in millinery work (designing and manufacturing of hats.) 
  1. Curved needles  Some of their uses include sewing awkward seams and are especially good for box making. They are also useful in textile conservation.
  1. Beading needles – very fine and have a narrow eye which allows them to fit through the center of beads and sequins.
  1. Chenille needles similar to tapestry needles and are useful for ribbon embroidery. They have a large long eye and very sharp point.
  1. Tapestry needles – a large eye which allows them to carry a heavier weight yarn. Have a blunt tip which is usually bent at a slight angle from the rest of the needle.


Stitches used in Textile Conservation;

Couching stitch

Self-couching stitch used to secure torn, frayed or weak areas to a new support fabric. Quite a common stitch used in textile conservation. Worked parallel to either the warp or the weft. 

Support stitch

Support stitch – used to hold large textiles to a new backing fabric while distributing the weight of the thread evenly. Usually the support stitch is applied in a staggered pattern parallel to the warp.

Herring bone stitch

Herring-bone stitch – quite a simple interlacing stitch, similar to cross-stitch. It can be used to join two layers of fabric while maintaining flexibility. Also used to hold down single-fold hems or the edges of patches.

Slip stitch


Slip stitch –almost invisible on the right side. It is used for blind hemming and to attach linings to textiles.


Whip stitchWhip stitch – used to join backing fabrics to main piece. When the fabric is opened up, a flat joint is created which avoids seam build up.

Images taken from Canadian Conservation Institute website.


During my time there I was given a variety of tasks to do, including stitch exercises, labelling pieces from the Le Char de Triomphe tapestry from Castle Drogo, cleaning a rare lampshade from The Argory and I even got to help out with some of the tapestries too! I have really enjoyed my time at the studio and have learnt so much from this experience!

Studio tours – Heritage Open Day

Heritage Open Day Tours 2014On the 13th September, as part of Heritage Open Days, we are giving you the opportunity to join a free tour of the studio. These tours are limited in numbers so booking is essential.

The tours last for around 1 hour and give you a chance to see what our conservators are working on and see some of the National Trusts beautiful textiles up close.

We will also be providing tea and cakes for donations to the National Trusts ongoing conservation work.

Gideon – preparing for battle

You may have read our blog of May last 2013, about the rehanging of a large tapestry  in the Long Gallery of Hardwick Hall. Since then, National Trust central funding has been secured to conserve the eleventh tapestry of this set of thirteen. This tapestry is very fragile and the largest of the set, being a whopping 6m high by 9m wide.

The eleventh tapestry before conservation
The eleventh tapestry before conservation – “Gideon choosing his army”

Although we have successfully used tower scaffolds to take down and put up the other ten tapestries already conserved, we wanted to revisit the method due to the increased size (and weight! ) of this one. An earlier site meeting between textile conservators, the stonemasons and the direct labour team at Hardwick got everyone thinking of a new approach. It was decided that the same vertical roller method of removal would be used but importantly with staff working from a fixed scaffold. Additional adaptations include the construction of a ‘railway track’ between the wall and the scaffold in order to level the floor, with a trolley to support the roller tapestry that ran along the track.

The final adaptations were made to the roller itself with the addition of turning handles and a plug and loop for final lowering.

The tapestry was originally woven in three pieces so, as with the previous tapestries in the set, the lower border was removed first from the mainfield. By doing this not only is the weight reduced but the handling of the larger pieces on the trolley mounted roller is much safer and easier.

With the lower border removed it was time for a full team briefing and health and safety run down before everyone got themselves into position on the scaffold. There were a number of photographers and two staff filmed the whole procedure. No pressure then!

Velcro was pinned down one side of the tapestry lining and the 6m roller, with a corresponding strip of Velcro attached was raised to meet it.

Extra rows of Velcro were added to the top of the roller to correspond with pinned tabs at the top of the tapestry to help prevent the tapestry from slumping down the roller while being removed from the wall.

Ksynia pinning Velcro tabs to the top of the tapestry before take down.
Ksynia pinning Velcro tabs to the top of the tapestry before take down.

Once attached to the roller at the side, the top edge of the tapestry was carefully released from the old popper tape fixing and the roller turned and moved on the track on its trolley. Slowly but surely the tapestry was released. Once it was entirely on the roller, long Velcro ties were attached around it. A long length of upholstery webbing tape was then tied to the loop at the top of the roller before it was lowered to the floor.

The tapestry was then moved to a clear space where it could be unrolled face down and the outer rotten hessian lining removed. Finally the tapestry was rerolled, interleaved with acid free tissue before covering the whole roller with bubblewrap outer layer ready for transport to the studio.

Later that week the the two tapestry rollers were picked up from Hardwick and we can now report they have arrived at the Studio. The next job will be to document and prepare it for wet cleaning before it is off on its travels again to Belgium where it will be washed. We’ll keep you posted as work progresses.



Levy Internship

A route for development and growth to become a professional textile conservator

Surface cleaning of the velvet Caffory from Erddig. Image ©National Trust

While studying for a BA (Hons) in Conservation and Restoration at the University of Lincoln I knew that I wanted to specialise in the conservation of textiles. As I continued my education to Masters Level I concentrated my studies and work placements in textile conservation, gaining as much experience as possible.

When I saw the position advertised for the National Trust Textile Conservation Levy Intern, I knew I had to jump at the chance! The post was for a two year paid internship with the offer of a third year (if the initial two were successfully completed). I joined the team in September 2010 and since then haven’t looked back.

The internship has provided me with a fantastic chance to develop my technical conservation skills, knowledge and ability to produce professional documentation (i.e. estimates, condition reports, treatment records and surveys). Over the duration of my internship I have worked on a huge array of projects, not just with colleagues in the studio but with private conservators and onsite at National Trust properties up and down the country.

What follows are examples of just a few of the many projects and experiences I have had the privilege to undertake and be part of.

Hardwick Hall Gideon Tapestry – Gideon Destroying the Altar of Baal. Undertaking conservation stitching on the upper border of the tapestry
Hardwick Hall Gideon Tapestry – Gideon Destroying the Altar of Baal. Undertaking conservation stitching on the upper border of the tapestry

Dye training-Dyeing wool material for use as patches within the conservation of the Gideon Tapestry.

Erddig Caffoy Day Bed Squab- Cleaning, conservation and reconstruction

Knole James II Bed- Deconstruction and solvent treatment of one of the silk valances during conservation of the state bed.

Producing an Adhesive film on silk crepeline. Used to consolidate the silk curtains from the James II Bed, Knole.

Claydon Doublet- Conservation and mounting of the doublet ready for exhibition

Surveying a stump work chest within the Snowshill collection
Surveying a stump work chest within the Snowshill collection

The internship isn’t just about practical conservation but preventive conservation too. Pest management and environmental control becomes the responsibility of the intern, monitoring and maintaining the environment within the studio.

Monitoring and recording pests found within studio insect traps.
Monitoring and recording pests found within studio insect traps.

Training, visits and networking are also encouraged. During the internship I have attended many internal and external conferences and training courses as well as undertaking a one week work placement within a National Trust property.

Calke Abbey- One Week Work Placement. Working alongside conservation assistants and volunteers to undertake daily conservation cleaning within the property.

Throughout I have had to maintain full records of the work undertaken and keep a day book documenting the many new skills and techniques I have learnt. At the end of each year I have compiled a portfolio to demonstrate the quality and variety of work I have undertaken.

Being part of a large team of very experienced conservators’ has meant I have been supervised and supported every step of the way. At the end of three years at the studio I am now recognised as a salaried Assistant Conservator. Not only has the internship developed my skills to a high professional level but it has also had a huge effect on my own confidence.