Continuing on from earlier posts about the conservation work we undertook on the Reception of an Embassy tapestry from Powis Castle here is the fourth in a series of bulletins we sent to the property. This bulletin dates from June 2014.
The relative silence from the Studio has been due to us tackling the challenging vertical cut that ran through the whole length of the tapestry. This cut had been crudely re-stitched and was coming apart so conservation was necessary for aesthetic and structural reasons.
I have just calculated that based on 5½ warps per cm and a total height of 370cm that we inserted over 2,000 warps. This section took us 360 hours to stitch, by far the longest in the whole tapestry.
All the new warps inserted across the long vertical cut which runs the full height of the tapestry.
Once all the new warps were in place we could begin to stitch them in place with brick couching in stranded cottons and wools to match the missing weft. In some areas there was loose original weft still remaining. In these areas the warps were woven in and out of the weft to mimic the original weaving technique.
Detail showing the failed stitching along the vertical cut.
Detail showing the warps inserted across the vertical cut.
The vertical cut went through the Latin inscription ‘EX FERRO/FI(V)NT/QVE/DVRATVRA/PER EVVM’, which translates as ‘out of iron come things that will last forever’, on the banner over the striped doorway and a letter was missing. This was the letter ‘V’ in FIVNT. In order to replace the letter a tracing was taken of another letter ‘V’ in the inscription onto Melinex, a clear polyester sheet. This tracing was used to determine the positioning of the couching stitches that would make up the missing letter.
New warps have been inserted across the vertical cut and a tracing of existing letters made to fill in the missing letters.
Part way through couching with cream and dark brown wool to recreate the missing letters. The missing letters filled in.
The other major challenge that we have faced in the second half of the tapestry has been some of the crude re-weaving that has been carried out in the dark brown wool areas.
The dark brown wool weft is particularly vulnerable to degradation due to the iron salts that were used to mordant (fix) the dyes originally. These iron salts accelerate the degradation of the wool fibres with the result that the dark brown wools are often lost.
In the Powis tapestry the re-weaving has been crudely executed in a yarn which is black rather than dark brown to match the original. A small sample of the re-weaving yarn was taken from the reverse of the tapestry and examined under a microscope to determine what type of fibre it was – it proved to be 100% acrylic! Having said this the re-weaving was very extensive, so in areas where it had been reasonably well executed the decision was made to leave it in place, blending in any further weak areas with new brick couching in wool. In the areas where it was very crude, causing distortions and the black colour was visually disturbing the decision was made to remove it. The decision as to which areas to leave and which to remove was made at the outset of the treatment with the whole tapestry laid out so that specific areas could be examined against the overall effect.
The striped archway once the crude acrylic re-weaving had been removed and replaced with dark brown wool brick couching.
The final five sections of the tapestry are in better condition, so we are feeling like we are on the homeward straight now. The next job is to order the weaving of some new brown galloons with which to edge the tapestry. When the tapestry was taken down for conservation it had a blue linen fabric edging all four sides, when this was removed the original dark brown galloons were revealed on the two side edges. The decision was made to have new galloons woven for all four sides to give a crisp outline to the whole tapestry. The original side galloons will be protected beneath the new replacement ones.
The tapestry will then be lined with down proof cotton cambric to protect the conservation stitching and to reduce the movement of air through the tapestry and consequently the soiling. We currently propose to re-use the popper tape to re-hang the tapestry from as it is in good condition.