Reception of an Embassy tapestry Bulletin 1

Tapestry conservation is a long process – from the initial estimate and bids for funding to the final redisplay can take many years.

We are on the final leg of the Powis Castle ‘Reception of an Embassy’ tapestry and I thought I would share with you our bulletin updates to the property. These give you an insight into some of the work that has been completed and the challenges we have faced.

 Bulletin 1 – Conservation of ‘The Reception of an Embassy’

 Initially the tapestry was surveyed and an estimate for its conservation prepared whilst it was still on display at Powis Castle.

For ease of estimating at the Studio we have made a grid which we can lay onto the tapestry which marks the tapestry into 20cm sections. In this way we can judge the level of damage in each section and make an estimate of how long the conservation will take based on previous tapestries worked on with similar levels of damage. In photograph 1 a conservator can be seen laying the grid over the tapestry as it lies on the ballroom floor.


The tapestry was delivered to the Textile Studio in May 2013. Our first task was to record the condition of the tapestry before any treatment and have a professional photographs taken.

This tapestry has several problems as it has been worked on extensively in the past. At some point during its history it has been cut into four quarters with a horizontal and a vertical cut. The top left-hand quarter is considerably more soiled than the rest of the tapestry with general overall soiling and harsh tide marks from water staining. These four quarters have since been re-joined and the tapestry was displayed as a complete hanging.

One problem that tapestries commonly suffer from is the loss of the dark brown wool wefts. This is due to the iron salts which were used to mordant (fix) the dyes, these iron salts speed up the degradation process of the wool making it brittle and prone to loss.   There has been extensive loss of the dark brown weft in this tapestry which has been replaced by re-weaving. On the whole, when viewed from a distance this re-weaving is not visually disturbing and is sound and will therefore be left in place. In some areas it has been rather crudely executed and appears rather heavy-handed; in these areas it will be removed and replaced with closely spaced couching over alternate warps to support the tapestry and give a more sympathetic colour in-fill.

Before the tapestry can be given its stitched support it needs to be washed. There were several challenges involved with washing this piece. One was to remove the heavier soiling and staining from the top left hand corner so that the whole tapestry has a more harmonious appearance and the second is all the re-weaving in the dark brown wool weft, very often the dyes in the re-weaving prove to be fugitive during wet cleaning.

In preparation for wet cleaned the heavy linen/hessian lining has to be stripped off. A lot of the previous repairs had been worked through this lining so they had to be cut in order to release the lining. The vertical and horizontal joins where left stitched together and the lining cut back.

Removing old lining from tapestry ©National Trust TCS

The dyes used in the original are generally fast during washing although later repairs can be fugitive. Samples of all the wool yarns used in the re-weaving were tested and these all proved to be wet fast although a dark navy linen thread used extensively to re-stitch slits bled dye when tested. It was therefore necessary to remove this thread before wet cleaning.

The Studio has a long standing relationship with a workshop in Mechelen, Belgium which has a specialised wet cleaning facility. The unique features of this facility are that the tapestry can lie flat on a perforated metal base, through which an aerosol of water and detergent can be sucked. This is normally sufficient to release the soiling but with more heavily soiled tapestries additional sponging by hand is carried out.

Due to the specific issues with wet cleaning this tapestry the Textile Conservator went over to Mechelen to oversee the wet cleaning; in consultation with the Director of the workshop it was decided to wash the tapestry at a slightly lower pH as this would inhibit any potential dye bleeding of the repair threads. During the wash process the top left hand corner was give extra sponging and soft brushes were used to reduce the soiling and staining.

The results of the wet cleaning were very successful, although it was not possible to remove the staining completely it is very much reduced and the appearance of the whole tapestry is much more harmonious.

Following the wet cleaning in Mechelen the tapestry was transported back to the Studio for the stitched conservation.


Showing its true colours

Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:

Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082. Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Following a thorough course of treatment, a sixteenth-century tapestry is almost ready to return to Powis Castle. It shows the reception of a group of European diplomats in Damascus. A detailed analysis of the tapestry by Helen Wyld can be found here, but its subject and history still remain enigmatic.

The image above actually shows the back of the tapestry, with its original warm colours.

The front of the Powis Castle 'Embassy' tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley The front of the Powis Castle ‘Embassy’ tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

On the front side the exposure to light caused the yellow dye to fade over time, turning the foliage from green to blue – a common feature of these tapestries.

Detail of a head from the 'Embassy' tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley Detail of a head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National…

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A Hidden History at Claydon House


This gallery contains 1 photo.

The elaborate 17th-century wedding suit of Edmund Verney Rosamund has been busy writing an article for the National Trust Arts Buildings and Collections bulletin about the conservation of Edmund Verney’s wedding suit. Take a look at page 14 for her … Continue reading

New light shines on historic Mortlake tapestries

Textile Conservation Studio:

Some of these Blickling Mortlake Tapestries are ones we have in the past worked on at The Textile Conservation Studio.
It is great that they can now be seen clearly by visitors through the use of LED lighting.

Originally posted on National Trust in the East :

Blickling Hall’s 17th century Mortlake tapestries were the ultimate piece of furnishing one-upmanship in their day and remain one of the most significant items in Blickling’s collection. However, the rich colours in these tapestries have been shadowed in dim light for years to help prevent them from fading. Now, visitors will be able to appreciate the full spectrum of figures and characters on these magnificent tapestries with the installation of LED lighting.


House manager Jan Brookes-Bullen is delighted the tapestries will be seen in a new light…

These eight-piece works chart the story of Abraham and are based on a series of designs first woven in Brussels in around 1540. The earliest known set was bought by Henry VIII in 1543-4 and survives at Hampton Court Palace. The tapestries at Blickling were woven in the 1650s at the Mortlake workshop on the banks of the Thames outside…

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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