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.

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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

2. Spangled bed discoveries

Following on from our previous blog post about the conservation work we are undertaking on the curtains from the Spangled bed in Knole. Here is another update on some of the work that has been completed:

By April 2014 the coarse red net had been removed from the back of both curtains, previous stitch repairs had been removed and the curtains had been carefully deconstructed into their lining and crimson silk satin.

Removing the linings was a slow process due to their fragmentary nature and ‘crisp’ handle, and several areas required netting and tracings taken prior to removal.

This has revealed several fascinating finds. The curtains have been patched with six different types of damask patches, a linen patch and a plain silk patch. All of the patches appear to have had former uses. There is evidence of seams, lockstitches and darning repairs which are unrelated to areas in the curtain.


Proper Left Foot curtain – (viewed with the top of the curtain at the bottom of the page) showing seven types of different patches.

The position of the patches at the top of the curtains suggests that the curtains have been turned around with the patched damage having been originally at the hem.  This is confirmed by the discovery of previous ring attachments at the bottom of the curtain, above the lower border. These would have been the original ring fixing points used to hang the curtains, and they may also be the original ring fixing from a previous use, thought to have been wall hangings (see image below, the white squares indicating ring attachment points).


There are several types and styles of seams throughout both curtains, including machine stitching, indicating there are several periods of repair and reconstruIMG_1490ction.

Another yellow damask, of a different design to that used for patching the foot curtain, was also found at the heading of the head curtain as pieces, and attached to the right side lining panel as a narrow strip finishing as a wider panel at the hem.  It suggests that the yellow damask was originally a full length panel seamed to the two colour damask lining and was cut away during a later period of repair and reconstruction.

The next stage of treatment is to construct a humidity chamber to relax the curtains and linings before wet cleaning is carried out following further tests.

Find out more about the Spangled bed from our National Trust Collections online.

Comings and goings

IMG_6325Earlier this year, after 25 years of combining her roles as Studio Manager and Textile Adviser, Ksynia decided to hand over the day to day running of the Studio. Under Ksynia’s leadership the Studio has grown from a staff of four to thirteen including an intern and contract staff and moved from rooms above Blickling shop to a specially converted barn on the estate. Ksynia’s career-long commitment to training conservators has seen sixteen interns and numerous students on work placements pass through the Studio doors. The Studio staff are proud and delighted that she was awarded the Plowden Medal last month in recognition of her efforts and achievements. (See previous blog post).

However we are still able to draw on Ksynia’s vast knowledge and experience as she continues with her role as the National Trust Textile Conservation Adviser.

DSCF8554As of 1st June we welcomed Maria Jordan as our new Studio Manager, bringing with her valuable experience from the worlds of finance and heritage.

Maria Jordan_2013

After an initial career in finance, Maria retrained at the Textile Conservation Centre and graduated with a PGDip in Textile Conservation from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2000. Following her training, Maria worked for Historic Royal Palaces for 16 years, in their textile conservation studio based at Hampton Court Palace, where she supervised and managed the conservation of tapestries, furnishing textiles and costume.

Welcome to the team!

Plowden Medal winner – Ksynia Marko

We are delighted to let you know that Ksynia Marko our Textile Conservation Advisor has been awarded by the Royal Warrant Holders Association the prestigious Plowden Medal 2016 for her outstanding contribution to Britain’s cultural heritage. You can read more about the award  here.

250-year-old tapestries are checked for pests at Osterley Park

250-year-old tapestries at Osterley are checked for pests by textile conservation advisor, Ksynia Marko, from Norfolk. Photo © Johnny Green/PA Wire

1. Spangled bed, Knole Kent.

Since late 2013 we have been working on the bed curtains from the Spangled bed from Knole in Kent. This series of posts will update you on the work we have done to date.

This beautiful bed, which is covered in delicate gold and silver spangles, has been a voyage of discovery it is thought to date from the 1620’s and appears to have been commissioned by Lionel Cranfield in about 1621 and eventually arrived at Knole through the marriage of his daughter Frances to the Earl of Dorset.

25556It is important to become familiar with an object before embarking on treatment and the team has taken time to think through the various processes, weighing up what can and cannot be done.

Curtains showing glimpses of damage before the conservation process

IMG_9984conv aHead curtain detail showing original colour and spangles beneath the net covering on a side border. The border fabric matches that of the bed coverlet and headcloth and is a different design to the vertical appliqué panels of the rst of the curtain and the foot curtain.

Detailed documentation of the make up of each curtain, the materials, fabrics and stitching patterns found will mean that their original apprearence is becoming better understood. Careful examination is revealing the complexity of the structure of the curtains which, in conjunction with research on their history before they came into the possesion of the Sackvill family, may help provide a clearer understanding of their original use.


Coarse red net encases the curtains and work started in early 2014 to unpick this net and the stitch repairs which have been worked through all the layers. The linings are extremely fragile and are very rare early damask which has been dated to between 1585 and 1610. The initial plan was to remove the lining, wet clean them and mount them onto support fabric whilst further test are undertaken on the satin silk.

Conservators removing the heavy net layer (left) and the fragile and splitting damsk lining of the head curtain (right)