Cotehele, Studio life, Tapestry

Leander’s journey through tapestry conservation

The tapestry, ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ (c. 1660-90) has been at the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk since March 2015. 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, which has been infilled using a digitally printed photograph on a linen fabric. More information on the digital patches can be found here.

The stitched conservation of the tapestry began in August 2016.

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The National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk
(© National Trust images/Chris Lacey)

The team of conservators on this project (Aimée, Nadine, Stella and Yoko) have been working on the mezzanine level of the Studio.

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A conservator unpicking an old repair in an area of loss

Framing Up

Before a tapestry can be placed on the frame for stitching to the support fabric, there are several stages of preparation it must undergo.

One of the most important is finding a straight line and the centre of the tapestry. This can be quite difficult as none of the edges of the tapestry are straight due to distortion from hanging.

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The tapestry laid out for framing up, using a giant set square to determine a
straight, vertical line at the mid-point of the tapestry

During a process called ‘framing up’ the tapestry and the linen scrim fabric are placed on rollers that fit into frame ends. The linen scrim is the support fabric that the tapestry is secured to and all conservation stitching goes through the tapestry and the linen support.

Conservators work from one end of the tapestry, on measured 20 cm sections and only tapestry within this section is worked at one time. The linen scrim has a little bit of fullness in it and doesn’t lay flat on the back of the tapestry (about 0.5-1cm more scrim than tapestry is measured out). When the support stitching is worked into the tapestry and support, the scrim linen does not become too tight as the stitching takes up the excess fabric.

To secure the tapestry to the linen scrim, we spend a lot of time working under the tapestry frame itself! This ensures that our pins are placed correctly to keep the grain of the linen scrim straight.

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Pinning from underneath the tapestry frame

Conservation stitching

Before treatment, the tapestry was distorted and weak, where the wool and silk had been degraded by pollutants, light damage and the tensions caused by a previous hanging method.

The tapestry has a lot of silk in the sky and sea and brown wool in the trees. These areas have suffered much loss of cream-coloured silk weft and the dark brown wool weft. This has degraded due to light damage and the brown wool was dyed with a natural dye that has an iron mordant to help fix the colour. Unfortunately, this mordant accelerates the degradation of this brown wool. As the weft has weakened or been lost, the tapestry is left with bare wool warps or areas where the remaining weft if not held securely in the tapestry.

In order to support these loose weft or to infill colour / design, we stitch using a spaced couching stitch (2-3 mm apart).

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Conservation stitching

If warps are broken or missing, the holes are re-warped with new wool dyed to colour match the original warps.

Before and after Cotehele
Small hole in border, before and after rewarping and couching (using blue wool and golden stranded cotton)

The conservation stitching has been worked in new wool yarns (either dyed at the Studio or bought from a supplier) or stranded cottons (in areas of missing/weak silk) are used to infill the design and support the warps. The stranded cottons (like those used in cross stitch kits) are easily available in a wide range of colours, are less expensive than silk yarn and have a duller quality that we require. New silk tends to be too lustrous.

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Area of conservation stitching through the scrim, as seen from under the frame

All slits (areas where colours in the tapestry change) were re-stitched with a polyester thread in a range of neutral colours.

Just over half of the conservation has been completed. The third, and final, tapestry from this set at Cotehele is at the Studio and will be worked on by colleagues at the Studio next year.

 

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