Gideon – preparing for battle part 2

Whilst we are quite used to handling large objects we have passed on the specialist task of washing our tapestries to a specialised tapestry wet cleaning facility in  Mechelen, Belgium.

Prior to this, we prepare the tapestry for cleaning and document it in our studio. For projects such as the large set of Gideon tapestries at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire this can be a longer process as we look for the differences between the previous tapesties which we have already conserved.

Here is the bulltein for the latest and largest tapestry.

The preparation stage began with the separation of the top border from the mainfield, the lower border was removed on site. The later hessian lining was removed revealing original lining with the same CH monograms found in the top corners of the other top borders.

Much of the original lining was present on the reverse of the left hand side but due to its poor condition and the fact that it would impede the washing it was removed in part, after documentation, cutting around all vertical stitch lines which were left in place.

The front and back of the three separated tapestry elements were surface cleaned removing large amounts of blackened soiling and loose wool and silk .

During the documentation process we noted three small differences in the construction of this tapestry compared to the other conserved tapestries. The first difference was in the way that the original lining had been stitched onto the back of the tapestry. On the other tapestries a pretty regular spacing of vertical lines averaging 23 cms apart was used to stitch the lining to the back of the tapestry. On this extremely large tapestry, however, the average spacing between the lines is 31cms.
The second difference is that the CH monogram on the top border proper right hand side has been turned 90° clockwise.
Finally the dark brown frame around the mainfield has been woven on the borders rather than in the mainfield. These are all small differences but they show the very human element of making the tapestries, the fact that errors were made and that processes were adapted.

Once prepared, the tapestry was sent to a specialist wet cleaning facility in Mechelen, Belgium for wet cleaning. Rachel, one of our textile conservators attended the process, which went smoothly but required additional cleaning with brushes due to the extreme amounts of black, sooty soiling on the surface. Afterwards the tapestry appeared much cleaner.


Noble Woman Lucretia Rehung

Hello, my name is Terri Dewhurst and I am the new Levy Intern at the Textile Conservation Studio. I feel very lucky and extremely excited to take on this new role working for the National Trust. Prior to joining the team at the studio I studied conservation at The University of Lincoln; I also worked for Leicestershire County Council’s Museum Service and on freelance conservation projects with my business partner in Lincoln and across the East Midlands. Over the next two years I hope to gain experience in many different areas of textile conservation not previously explored, tapestry conservation and conservation science are my main internship missions to crack! So in the next coming months or two years you may read posts from me again writing about these subjects.

photo-of-terriPhoto caption: That’s me!

But back to the main topic of the day…The beginning of my second week as textile intern for the National Trust involved working on-site at my favourite NT property (sorry all other properties), Hardwick Hall. This property is very dear to me; it’s the first one I ever visited as a youngster, being just down the road from where I grew up and because it’s quite literally full to the brim with important historic textiles (yes, lucky me!).

View of the west front of the Hall, seen from the Gatehouse, at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. The Hardwick Estate is made up of stunning houses and beautiful landscapes.So there I was, driving up towards that magical glistening house, pinching myself, partly because this was a dream come true, to be working at Hardwick Hall and partly because there was an important job to be done! Myself, two other colleagues from the studio, two men from Hangman Ltd, the Hardwick Hall house team and curatorial staff came together to rehang Lucretia. This is the second ‘Great Hanging’ from a set of four to have been conserved by a team at the studio. The first one, Penelope was rehung in June 2014, around this time Lucretia was taken down ready to be worked on, to see the conservation process (which was followed for Lucretia) see blog posts relating to Penelope

Lucretia had been carefully packed by staff at the studio the week prior to rehanging, then transported back to Hardwick in readiness for our arrival on Monday. Our first job was to unscrew the custom made Corex box so that the top and the leading side were removed.

blog-unpackingThe above photograph shows the hanging being slid from its box onto the ready prepared and constructed case back board. The securing Velcro® tapes were removed and the hanging carefully unfolded and turned so that it was face up, this required the use of padded rollers as can be seen in the photograph below.

rolling-to-right-side-upThe top layer of Melinex® (an archival quality sheet of polyester film) was then removed. Next a narrow strip of the same Melinex® was cut and placed under the top edge of the hanging to prevent the two strips of Velcro® (attached to the reverse of the hanging and the top of the back board) from sticking together before we had it perfectly in place! The hanging was correctly aligned on the board, the Melinex® strip cut in the centre then slowly removed from either end and pressure applied to the Velcro® to secure the hanging in place.

removing-lower-melinex-layerThe bottom layer of Melinex could then be carefully removed by slowly rolling it up, many hands were utilised for this job as can be seen in the photograph above! The sides and bottom edge of the hanging were secured by Velcro® in the same way as for the top edge, again using the Melinex® strip one edge at a time. The hanging was now safely and securely in place on the board. Next the Bondina® (a non-woven conservation grade fabric with a smooth surface) that had been used to protect the surface of the hanging could now be removed. This was a very exciting moment for the Hardwick Hall team, as it was the first time they’d seen the hanging since it went away to be conserved.

Sam and Roo from Hangman Ltd attached the outer frame to the back board before the nerve wracking job of lifting the whole thing onto the wall, which again, involved many hands. The frame was then secured to the wall. Back over to us, next we vacuumed the surface of the hanging to ensure Lucretia looked her very best before being sealed in the frame.

terri-vacuumingPerhaps the most amusing moment of the second day on-site, well, amusing for everyone else was the moment when we got to test out our new gadget! The first task of the day was to remove the film from each sheet of Optimum Museum Acrylic® by Tru Vue which was to be the ‘glazing’ for the display case. In order to overcome issues with static experienced when rehanging Penelope we discovered a handy piece of equipment, an anti-static gun. The photo below shows me carefully squeezing and releasing the trigger of the gun, said to neutralise static charges as each section of film was removed. Sam from Hangman Ltd, also seen in the photo, was very patient with us during this process, if not a little perplexed!

anti-static-gunThere were three sheets of Optimum Museum Acrylic® to be slid, one at a time, into the frame of the case with glazing bars to secure the sheets together. Once in place the outer protective film could be carefully removed as can be seen below.

peeling-off-the-filmAnd here we are (pictured below), the very happy team at the end of two days on-site! Lucretia is now displayed at Hardwick Hall facing Penelope; we hope that they will get along. If you’re in Derbyshire do pay them a visit. It is hoped that the two remaining Noble Women hangings Zenobia and Artemesia (also on display at Hardwick), will be conserved after a period of fundraising in order to complete the work.


Summer catch up

Goodbye Pip

After 25 years of working for the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio, we have recently said goodbye to one of our Senior Textile Conservators Pip Sanders.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pip joined the team in 1992, soon after we were turned into a professional studio, and has been a huge part of the team ever since. She has worked on a great number of projects over her years with us including the Gideon tapestry project and recently the Penelope embroidered wall hanging from Hardwick Hall.

We wish Pip all the best in her new journey.

New Signage

We have just had new signage installed at the studio to replace our old signs which had seen better days.

These signs were made by a local wood carver Luke Chapman of LoCarve  and are made from a local oak tree which came from Bessingham in Norfolk. We hope like them as much as we do… and in true National Trust style we have kept the old signage as a piece of our history!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heritage Open Days 2016

In Saturday the 10th September we opened our doors to individual memebers of the public as part of Heritage Open Days. During the course of the day we welcomed around 100 people through the doors on 4 prebooked tours. Visitors had the uinque chance to see some National Trsut treasures close up as they were being conserved and talk to the staff involved and see how we use 21st century techniques to look after historic objects.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Congress of Vienna chair covers

In September 2015 we received the chair covers of ten chairs from Mount Stewart, County Down, Northern Ireland. Only the covers came to the Studio, as the chair frames were being treated at the property.

Room setting before conservation treatment   Chairs in situ before conservation treatment

The ten sets of covers are from a set of twenty-two Empire period chairs used at the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna (a conference of European state ambassadors to set a long-term peace plan in Europe following the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars).  The covers however are a later addition to the chairs and were stitched by nuns in Nantes in the early 1930s.

Each chair has three separate covers: a plain woven outside back and a needlepoint inside back and seat (a total of 30 textile pieces for the 10 chairs). Every inside back is unique, as it represents each ambassador and the seat represents the country they come from. The seats have recurring designs, as several ambassadors may have been sent by the same country.

Clancarty seat, inside back and outside back before conservation

The main objective of this project was to clean the covers and infill the losses, to ensure their future stability and to complement the re-gilded chair frames in line with the client brief. The project is part of the £8 million restoration project at Mount Stewart.

After an initial assessment of condition and damage, the covers were vacuumed to remove the dust and dirt from the surfaces. Following cleaning tests they were prepared for wet cleaning by protecting the edges and weak areas.

 Netting the unfinished edges   Weak silk areas protected with Reemay® on reverse

The wet cleaning was carried out in a made-to-size bath in our wet room. Over the course of one day one set of covers could be washed and laid out to dry overnight. Tests showed that the covers were very acidic and washing in a normal conservation detergent solution did not raise the pH.  A buffered wash solution set at pH5.8 helped raise the pH to a more stable level and also helped reduce colour loss from the silk and wool threads.

20. Bath set up

Set up for wet cleaning

The wet cleaning was carried out in different stages:

  • Pre-soak to wet out the covers
  • 3 wash baths with a conservation grade detergent and buffering chemicals
  • Rinsing after each wash bath
  • Up to 9 rinses after the last wash bath to remove all the detergent

Following tests, it was found that the engrained dirt could be loosened when carefully agitated.  A selection of brushes and a sponge were used for this during the wash baths.
19. Tools for wet cleaning

The tools and equipment used during wet cleaning were:

  • pH meter
  • Conductivity meter
  • Rubber suede shoebrush
  • Rubber dog toothbrush
  • Sponge

The needlework covers were dried on a suction table to prevent colour run from some of the less stable embroidery threads.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wash bath samples

Samples of pre-soak, baths and rinses

39. Seat Duc de Noailles BC - Duc de Dalberg after wet cleaning

Duc de Noailles before wet cleaning and Duc de Dalberg after wet cleaning

In line with the client brief, after wet cleaning the areas of loss were filled in with stitching to bring the covers back to their original appearance. To achieve this the covers were mounted on an embroidery frame. Careful documentation was carried out and photographs taken before and after stitching to identify any new work.


Infill threads:

  • Anchor and DMC stranded cotton for silk areas
  • Gutermann Silk 303 for silk areas
  • Appleton’s Crewel wool for wool areas


 Clancarty seat mounted on an embroidery frame

 ‘Wessenberg’ before and after infill

Following treatment the covers were sent back to Mount Stewart to be reupholstered onto the newly re-gilded chairs.  We are now working on the remainder of the chair covers to complete the set.

Find out more about the chairs from our National Trust Collections online here

Tours tours available as part of Heritage Open Day

Heritage Open Day tourOn the 10th September we are opening the studio for individuals to come and join a group tour as part of Heritage Open Days.

You will get a fantastic rare opportunity to come and see the studio, a close up view of objects during conservation and meet the conservators.

We have limited places available on tours at 10am, 11.30am, 2pm and 3.30pm. Tours are limited to 25 people and must be prebooked.

HOD 2016