Seal bags from Westminster Abbey

Jane Smith one of our Textile Conservators tells about about some 12th and 13th century items she has recently worked on for Westminster Abbey.These beautiful objects are currently on display at the V&A’s Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery exhibition.

I recently worked on two seal bags from Westminster Abbey. Seal bags were used to cover the wax seal attached to documents.

The embroidered silk seal bag below dates from 1140. It needed minimal work but a small area of loose threads and detached braid were secured with stitching. It was also micro-vacuumed on a low suction and a silk pad was inserted to provide support.

img_2079Silk embroidered seal bag dating from 1140, 12cm x 12cm

_mg_2056 Micro- vacuuming the seal bag

The other seal bag (below) is still attached to the document with the seal intact inside. There is a silk cover protecting the document. The seal bag is made from woven wool fabric and embroidered in wool and silk and dates from 1280. It was cleaned with a micro-vac, a small curling area was humidified so that it lay flat and a padded support was made enabling the silk cover to be rolled and supported whilst revealing the document.

Bridget Mitchell, Arca Preservation, made a box for the document to be displayed and stored in.

img_1088Wool seal bag embroidered in wool and silk, dating from 1280, 14cm x 12.5cm

img_2231The document with seal bag in its box after conservation

See both these items at the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery exhibition at the V&A, until Sunday 5th February 2017.


Production of a printed photographic infill patch

The tapestry, ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ (c. 1660-90), is from the King Charles Room at Cotehele, Cornwall, and has been at the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk since March 2015. It is one of three tapestries in the ‘Hero and Leander’ set at the property, measures 285cm high x 579cm wide and is woven from wool and silk. The tapestry is currently having a stitched conservation treatment, having already undergone full documentation, adhesive removal and wet cleaning. Removal of the 1960’s adhesive patch treatment resulted in the exposure of large areas of tapestry loss, where the damaged or weak tapestry had been cut away. This required an infill for structural and aesthetic reasons and a printed photographic patch was chosen, having used this method successfully in 2009 on the ‘Leander swimming the Hellespont’ tapestry.

combo-blended-adj-shpThe ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ tapestry after wet cleaning and adhesive removal. Areas of tapestry cut away in the 1960’s can be seen clearly. (©National Trust/ Chris Tims Photoworx)

On the left, another version of the ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ tapestry at Hardwick Hall (© National Trust/Robert Thrift). This was photographed to provide details for the missing area of the Cotehele tapestry, as seen on the right (© National Trust/Chris Tims Photoworx).

Working at the Studio with a local photographer, high resolution digital images were taken of the tapestry (which had been wet cleaned and attached to a piece of black fabric for easier handling). As seen in the image below, the tapestry was hung from one of the electric hoists that we have at the studio. We could not hang the tapestry horizontally (as it is normally displayed) as it was too weak.

img_7221At Hardwick Hall (a National Trust property) a photograph was taken of their ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ tapestry, which hangs on the great main staircase. It dates form 1648-1660 and was also woven at Mortlake.


Both tapestries are a similar design, the main differences being the blue clothing of Leander and the plain design of his mother’s dress (red clothing and a floral dress on the Hardwick tapestry). These differences were dealt with using computer- aided design (CAD) work at Zardi & Zardi, the company who were commissioned to produce the printed patch.


Zardi & Zardi provided a white coarse linen fabric. Initially, this fabric was dyed a dull yellow ochre colour prior to printing onto it (the tapestry has a general yellowed appearance). The printers sent test samples (see image on right) but they felt that they did not achieve such a high quality print on this pre-dyed fabric. Further test prints were undertaken on the white linen.


A scale was included in the original photographs taken by the photographers, so it was easy for the printers to produce the patches to the correct size.

Each time a new test patch arrived, conservators working on the tapestry discussed the results with colleagues. Requests were made to the printers to alter certain colours to enable the patch to blend into the surrounding area of the tapestry.

Obtaining the correct colours on the printed patch was extremely difficult. The image on the left shows the blue sandal of Leander and the plain dress of his mother. Unfortunately, no shadows had been inserted on Leander’s knee and beneath the figure, so these were added on request.

img_5848These shadows were not the correct colour. Due to time and cost restrictions, it was decided that to achieve this, the patches would be painted to tone down and alter the colour. Matt acrylic paints consisting of pure, lightfast pigments and an age resistant acrylic binder (Lascaux Sirius® acrylic colours) were brushed onto the surface of the printed patch.


Conservators checking the final version of the patch before applying it to the tapestry.

The printed patch for Leander’s father’s leg (left), as seen from the front of the tapestry during insertion (centre) and stitched in place on the reverse (right)

img_7280After applying the patches to the reverse of the tapestry using a herringbone stitch (see image above, right), the tapestry was turned face up.

The conservator used a curved needle to stitch regular gridlines through the tapestry and patch (above, centre), which temporarily held both layers secure whilst the tapestry is mounted on the tapestry frame.

The stitched conservation of the tapestry began in August 2016 and will take nearly 18 months.

All images ©National Trust/Textile Conservation Studio unless stated.

Post written by Nadine Wilson, Textile Conservator.

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.

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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!

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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 unique chance to see some National Trust 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.

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