We’re on the Map!

Over the last year and a half the Studio has had the privilege of conserving a wonderful tapestry map owned by the Oxford University Bodleian Library. We can now report that it was finally installed last week, and now hangs in pride of place at the Blackwell Hall in the newly opened Weston Building where it can be viewed by the visiting public.

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Depicting the county of Worcestershire, the tapestry is in three fragments. It was woven in England c1590, for Ralph Sheldon to hang in his house in Long Compton, Warwickshire, as part of a set of four tapestries depicting different counties. It is one of a set of three map tapestries, (Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, also in fragments) owned by University of Oxford and a fourth tapestry (Warwickshire) in the set owned by Warwickshire Museum Service.

The designs for the maps are from the Christopher Saxton county surveys, published as an Atlas in 1579. A number of the Saxton maps would have been used for each of the tapestry maps and extra details were also added to the tapestries in the scaling up process.

Not only is the Worcestershire tapestry in three pieces but it is incomplete. The whole of the top and right borders and about a quarter of the map on the right side are missing. It is estimated that the original size could have been approx 430cm h x 680cm w. However despite these losses, the brightness of the colours and the sheer skill of the weavers really shine through and make it a joy to behold.

Conservation work on the Worcestershire tapestry began in July 2013 at the Textile Conservation Studio. Here it was examined, documented and prepared for wet cleaning before sending to De Wit Manufacturers, Mechelen, Belgium for washing.

Before conservation the three large fragments of Worcestershire had previously been stitched to a backing fabric of beige, coarse woven, linen. Most of this was removed before washing. The tapestry was surface cleaned front and back using adjustable suction museum vacuum cleaners.

Thread samples were taken for dye analysis, the results of which will be known later.

After initial Studio work the tapestry was rolled and packed for delivery to De Wit Manufacturers where it was wet cleaned.

The wet cleaning process went extremely well with excellent results.

The tapestry appeared much brighter and stronger to the touch after cleaning.

While the colours on the front of the tapestry are good, the unfaded colours on the reverse were found to be even more vibrant.

In many ways the conservation treatment was not at all a usual one for a large scale tapestry. This is primarily because the tapestry is not a whole piece and there are large missing areas.

During the time spent documenting and becoming familiar with the object it became apparent that an alternative approach needed to be considered.

A meeting was held with Bodleian staff where all options were discussed and decisions were made about the treatment approach.

After careful consideration it was decided that the tapestry be mounted directly onto the mounting fabric and not as is usual, first onto a linen scrim. In this way only one layer of new material would be added, and the method would mean only one set of stitches would be placed through the object and the mounting fabric.

In consultation a mount fabric was chosen, looking at fabric samples in different lighting set ups, viewed from a height and in both flat and hanging positions. A green colour provided a sympathetic background tone that allowed the map fragments to come to the fore. The green was also preferred because it referred to green fields rather than desert lands that the previous beige/brown colour of the backing suggested!

A ready dyed, green, ribbed fabric from Baumann’s (Indiana II) was chosen. After discussion with the Bodleian staff, it was decided that the fabric should be used with horizontal seams. In this way no seams would be visible across the large missing area between the top and lower fragment. The rib effect however would not be running with the weave of the tapestry, but the decision taken was an agreed compromise which avoided having the seams run in a vertical direction.

Working on the Studio’s two tiered table tops, the seamed mounting fabric was laid face up. The tapestry fragments were then unrolled and positioned on top. After placing tacking lines through the fragments only, following a warp, the position of each fragment on the backing fabric was fine tuned.

The central horizontal split through the large tapestry fragment, was felt to need adjustment in order to allow for the missing warps.

After tacking the fragments in place the tapestry was attached to a frame roller and then set up on a frame.

Once on the frame the tapestry was put in a slung position rather than under any tension as the mount fabric had been applied flat. Conservation stitching was worked in 20cm sections. All the grid stitches in these sections were worked through a template that had been created. These grid stitches will give an overall structural support to the tapestry. Long or broken slit stitches were also restitched using a cotton covered polyester thread.

Some of the place names were incomplete. It was agreed with the Bodleian Map Librarian, Nick Millea, which place names were to be reinstated and which were to be left incomplete.

Using laid warps over dyed wool patches the place names were completed. The original Saxton maps were referred to and tracings of other letters in the tapestry used as templates to replace missing letters. It was also agreed that lettering elsewhere on the map was to be stitched with dark brown wool where original weft threads were broken or loose ensuring that the lettering could be clearly read.

 

Long and short stitches or laid and couched threads using a fine cotton covered polyester thread were worked around all the damaged edges of the tapestry fragments, providing localised support.

 

 Before and after oversewing and laid couching the fragmented edges.

 After all stitching had been completed the tapestry was taken off the frame before lining and attaching Velcro™ on cotton webbing tape to the reverse at the top and side edges.

An additional length of Velcro™ was stitched to the top of the central fragment to help keep the tension in the green support fabric and prevent any stretching.

 

Finally, last week, the tapestry was installed in its new case in front of a watching crowd including press and film crews. No pressure then!

If you want to see the tapestry in the flesh and under new lighting then we urge you to visit the Weston Library.

Bodleian Library Sheldon maps

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.

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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

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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.

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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.