Scipio Victorius

The End of an Epic Conservation Project…

Late last year saw the end of a tapestry conservation project that began 29 years earlier, in 1984. The set of eight Brussels tapestries from Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, dating from c. 1580, depict scenes from the campaigns of Scipio Africanus, a Roman General. The final tapestry of the set shows the victory parade of Scipio. A procession of richly-dressed cavaliers, soldiers, horses and elephants entering the gate of the fortified city.  This large tapestry, 3.5m x 5.5m is woven with a large amount of silk weft giving it a lustrous appearance.

The tapestry was extremely dirty, the detail hidden behind centuries of black sooty soiling. After much preparation, the tapestry was sent for specialist wet cleaning in Belgium.

IMG_9753conv a wholeImage ©DeWit

These images show something of the transformation after cleaning.

The samples of dirty wash solution collected during wet cleaning show the progress throughout the treatment.

tn_DSC010481_JPGOne exciting find found beneath the old lining were fragments of playing cards with handwriting on the reverse.

After cleaning, we were able to see the original, unfaded colours on the reverse of the tapestry. The colours we see on the front have faded due to irreversible light damage.

DSC01216b adjBefore treatment, the tapestry was distorted and weak, where the wool and silk had been degraded by pollutants, light damage and the tensions caused by a previous hanging method. It had been attached to the top of the wall with nails.

The main areas of loss were in the yellow/cream silk weft and the dark brown wool weft.

The tapestry was attached to a full support of linen scrim. All slits (areas where colours in the tapestry change) were re-stitched with a polyester thread in a range of neutral colours.

Areas of missing and degraded wool and silk were replaced with colour-matched new wool and silk yarns, some of which was specially dyed at the Studio.

The most damaged part of the mainfield was a horse’s face, which had loss of brown wool weft and the exposed warps were very visible. A spaced couching stitch using new wool yarns was used to infill the design and support the warps.

On the lower galloon (blue edge), a missing area was patched by inserting a piece of blue wool rep fabric under the existing galloon. The galloon was then re-warped and couched.

After the stitched treatment was completed, the tapestry was given a full lining with cotton cambric fabric, to protect the tapestry from dust and insect damage.

Velcro®, machine-stitched to cotton webbing tape, was hand-stitched along the upper edge of the tapestry for re-hanging.

The tapestry will soon be back on display at Hardwick where you can follow Scipio through his many adventures.

Dining Room Carpet

Textile Conservation Studio:

Here is our latest new project the huge Chenille carpet from Cragside, Northumberland. As a start to the project I am reposting from the Cragside House Blog the start of it’s journey from the house.
Ksynia and Aimee went up last week to carefully vacuum and roll the carpet before it’s journey to our studio in Norfolk.

Originally posted on Cragside House:

We spent Monday morning emptying the Dining Room of it’s furniture in readiness for the removal of the carpet. The room looks enormous! The drugget, which is the sacrificial carpet that visitors walk on, was also lifted leaving only the original carpet in the room.


Ksynia, the conservator who will be working on the carpet when it goes away, arrived on Monday afternoon to begin cleaning the Dining Room carpet ready for it to be wrapped. The pile side of the carpet is being  thoroughly (but very carefully!) vacuumed to remove as much dirt as possible before it is wrapped and when it arrives at the conservation studio the other side will also get a thorough clean before conservation work can begin.

The carpet is being transported by a specialist transport company called Constantine which is the first choice for National Trust collection items, as they deal specifically in fine art…

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Chasing a dream

After a number of years teaching chemistry in a secondary school, I decided to embark on a career change and the path into Textile Conservation has been opened up with the help of The National Trust Textile Conservation Studio.

img_7226.jpgSix weeks ago I arrived at the Textile Conservation Studio eager to be immersed in the world of conservation.  After proving my stitching prowess with a stitch exercise, that all novices have to undertake, I was asked to design and make a silk display pad for the recently conserved baldrick from the 17th century wedding suit of Edmund Verney from Claydon House, Buckinghamshire.

During its construction I decided that my mantra was ‘Do it again”.  The pad was too bulky to fit easily into the baldrick, the seams were visible or seams were not straight enough to be passed by the exacting high standards of the studio.  When the pad was finished my sense of satisfaction and pride was immense.

I accompanied a senior conservator to Felbrigg Hall to assess the condition of a 19th century Axminster carpet that had just been taken out of storage.  I was then able to assist in the stabilizing of the carpet before it was re-rolled and put back into storage to await the possibility of full conservation in the future.

IMG_3697The studio has just embarked on the conservation of the bed curtains from the Spangled bed, Knole, Kent.  At some point in the recent past the curtains have been daubed with an animal based adhesive.  The glue looks unsightly and needs to be removed.  Nowhere in the literature is there any research into the removal of a gelatin protein from a silk protein fabric.   I have been asked to apply my chemistry training to this problem.  This is an ongoing research project that may be resolved in the near future.

After completing a tapestry stitch test, I have been working on a tapestry from Powis Castle, under the supervision of a senior conservator.

IMG_0058My skills in stitching and science have been stretched whilst training with the studio and my imagination has been fired by all aspects of the conservation process.

Textile conservation is not just about stitching.  It is much, much more.

Julie McBain

A box of secrets

This mid 17th century, elaborately decorated, stumpwork box would have been the ideal place for a young girl to keep her personal belongings.IMG_5120conv aThis type of work was often a culmination of a girl’s needlework skills. It would have been bought in kit form and put together by the supplier. The techniques involved padded appliqué, needle weaving and detached button hole stitch to produce a raised effect.

This beautiful box from Washington Old Hall, Tyne & Wear has recently undergone conservation in our studio.

The exterior stumpwork embroidery depicts biblical scenes.

IMG_5125conv  aThis top panel ‘The reception of the Queen of Sheba by King Solomon’ can also be depicted as Charles II, following his exile from France, with Queen Catherine of Braganza and her lady approaching.

IMG_5127conv aThis panel features Eliezer drinking from the jar of well offered to him by Rebecca (Genesis 24:15-21).

More beautiful details

the inside is decorated in silk, velvet and lined with printed paper

IMG_5187conv aSeveral sections can be removed to show hidden drawers and compartments where secrets could be hidden.Loose hinges were stabilised, cleaned using a low suction micro vacuum and loose paper and textiles consolidated.

The original adhesive attaching the silk to the wood structure was animal glue which was gently and slowly reversed with heat and moisture to access the hinges.

The pin hole in the hinge had become too large through wear and tear, and was filled with warmed fish glue and a matchstick dowel before re-pinning the hinge and re-adhering the embroidery.

The raised embroidery was in a poor condition. It was dirty with impacted soiling. Several of the embroidered areas and metal braids were loose, missing or folded back on themselves. These were humidified and re-adhered using fish glue or bookbinders starch paste.

The raised figures required the most amount of work from reattaching loose metal threads and braids with a very fine Skala thread to the complete reconstruction of a ladies skirt.

The female figure on the front of the door required the most attention having extensive damage and loss to the skirt.  After several trials a combination of dyed silk crepeline and Japanese paper was used to support the skirt and infill losses.

There are areas that cannot be conserved and are better left alone including the silk on the hands and faces, particularly their noses where they have worn away.

This wonderful box is still a fragile object and will now be displayed and protected inside a glass box.

Have a look when you next visit Washington Old Hall.

Textile Training

Textile Conservation Studio:

Next week a couple of our conservators are back up the Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire to finish netting a set of chairs. Check out this post from Ellen Scarlett’s blog View from my Attic about our previous visit to show the Conservation Assistants how to clean their delicate textiles.

Originally posted on View from my attic:

The second week of our closed season was a real treat for us Chaps as we had the textile conservators from Blickling Studios to train us how to clean our more delicate textile covered pieces of furniture.

From National Trust Images

The Lapierre Canopy in the Long Gallery

We cannot clean these objects too often as we risk doing more damage than good by removing the fibers from the fabric. However it was decided that these objects needed cleaning now as the dust was really visible to visitors. Once we are trained then we can clean these objects in-house, and hopefully avoid the unsightly build-up of dust.

The underside of the Canopy

The underside of the Canopy

To clean these objects we needed to build some more scaffolding (yay!) so we could reach them. The first thing we started work on was the Lapierre Canopy in the Long Gallery. We had a tall scaffold tower and a short one…

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