While work is still under way on the second tapestry from the Hero and Leander set from Cotehele, Cornwall, the conservation treatment of the last tapestry Death of Leander has started.
Before any treatment was carried out, the tapestry was fully documented and photographs taken. A professional photographer came to take some overall photos before work began.
Glue has been used extensively on this tapestry – to attach the lining and to attach patches to repair holes and weak areas. This was done in the 1960s, but the glue has now discoloured, become brittle and is failing.
There were 174 patches covering the reverse of the tapestry. Most of these were glued but some also had stitched repairs through them. The glued patched had to be carefully peeled away. This was messy work and masks, gloves and aprons had to be worn.
Once all the patches were removed the tapestry was vacuumed front and back.
Although now removed, the patches had left adhesive residue on the back of the tapestry which had to be removed.
The tapestry was rolled and put onto a frame reverse side up. A suction table was placed under the tapestry to allow the solvent and adhesive residue to be drawn out of the tapestry. 30cm2 sections were treated at a time. Solvent was poured onto the area and cotton sheeting was covered with Melinex® and weighted down to soak up residue.
This was repeated until no more adhesive residue was seen on the sheets. The area was blotted dry with blotting paper.
Some staining remained but the tapestry was no longer rigid with glue and a needle could be passed through it.
Once the reverse had been treated the tapestry was turned and the front flushed through using the same method. This removed any tide marks that the dissolved solvents may have made as the back was being treated.
Health and safety during this procedure is very important. Two conservators have worked on this process doing either a morning or an afternoon. A compressor provides high quality air supplied into the full face masks which are worn to avoid breathing in any solvents.
Conservators wear, as well as the full face masks, gloves and a lab coat and sometimes ear plugs to lessen the noise of the air extraction!
The adhesive removal process has taken 150 ¾ hours to complete, working over twenty days. We have used 60litres 450ml of solvent.
The tapestry is now ready for wet cleaning at De Wit, Mechelen, Belgium. The losses and holes have been supported with tacking lines and net before being packed ready for transporting to Belgium.