As the current Levy Textile Conservation Intern I have had many opportunities to learn and progress on my journey to becoming a fully-fledged textile conservator. (If you’re interested in what I’ve been up to in my first year as Intern pleased read this blog … and this one… )
To kick off my second year as Studio Intern I have just completed a two day workshop organised by ICON and upholstery conservator Heather Porter. The workshop was called ‘Upholstery: Approaching it Differently’ and was held at Knole House in Kent, a National Trust property which I have also been very lucky to work at on numerous occasions during my time at the Studio. The workshop was held inside the newly opened conservation studios, on the second floor in the Hayloft Learning Centre which is available to hire for events and meetings: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole/features/the-hayloft-learning-centre-
To begin the first day Heather presented each one of us with an upholstery tool or material, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say what we thought the tool/material might be used for. Luckily for me I had an easy one, a two sided hammer, which I correctly (phew) guessed was a tack or nail hammer, one end magnetised in order to pick up steel tacks or nails (Heather told me that bit!).
It’s amazing just how many different tools and materials are involved with upholstery conservation, from different thicknesses of twine to a plethora of tack and nail sizes, various stuffing materials, webbing tape, staple guns, springs and much, much more.
Next Heather took us through upholstery structures and provided a very comprehensive, yet concise history of upholstery through the ages. She discussed styles, techniques and materials in regards to each period. For example, she showed us the different types of springs that have been used and when each kind came into existence. Moving on nicely from this, Heather then showed how springs are attached to webbing tape and then tied together in order to prevent them from moving in different directions or springing up too far into the seat of the piece of furniture.
During our lunch break we had the chance to see the new Knole Conservation Studio (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole/conservation-studio) and, more specifically the upholstery projects being undertaken. It was really good to use our new found knowledge of upholstery structures and styles and apply it to a ‘real life’ object, currently being worked on by Heather.
On the first day we also got the chance to do something hands-on, using upholstery tools and materials we learnt how to attach webbing tape and linen base cloth fabric to a chair frame. I particularly enjoyed using the pneumatic staple gun!
Myself and Rebbeca Bissonnet from Hampton Court also had a go at creating an edge roll using a stitching technique with twine and a long double ended needle and a tool called a regulator which regulates the stuffing material. All new techniques, terms and tools…fascinating!
The second day focused primarily on the conservation of upholstery and started with discussing some upholstery projects which delegates had brought in for the group. Jefta Lammens (Freelance Textile and Wood Conservator) talked through her experience of conserving some Art Deco chairs from Brussels Museum. Her approach was pure conservation, the projects discussed following this highlighted work from a more curatorial perspective, working with clients’ needs and upholstery techniques from a restoration stance.
Over lunch we got the chance to stretch our legs again, this time during a visit to the house. This was very exciting for me as I got to see the newly re-opened Knole showrooms, the last time I saw these rooms’ major works were being completed and the collections had been decanted into storage. Everybody, and myself included was stunned by the house, the incredible collection of furniture, textiles and art and not forgetting the captivating room stewards.
Back at the studio we discussed upholstery conservation techniques where I learnt many useful snippets of information, for example it is preferable to use staples where possible over tacks or nails as these cause less damage and produce much smaller holes. Even more conservation focused is the technique whereby removable upholstery is applied over the original frame, therefore omitting the use of staples or tacks altogether.
During the afternoon session we were shown how to interpret upholstery, how to look for evidence of previous work and how to determine its date. Heather then talked to us about conservation grade upholstery materials such as Nomex® to prevent damage to the chair frame and fabrics and Ethafoam™ which is used as a conservation material to recreate the look of original stuffing material.
The workshop was concluded with a run through of upholstery conservation documentation, which was a useful reminder for all of us who regularly complete object reports and condition assessments.
The two day workshop was extremely informative and I feel a lot more confident in knowing not only how to describe upholstery but also how to better understand how they may have been put together and so therefore ultimately how to approach conservation. It was also a fantastic opportunity to meet a lovely bunch of people interested in the same topic, I feel as though we learnt a lot from each other as well as from Heather.
All that was left to do was to say goodbye to my new friends, the house and to the deer and drive back to Norfolk!