A box of secrets

This mid 17th century, elaborately decorated, stumpwork box would have been the ideal place for a young girl to keep her personal belongings.

IMG_5120conv aThis type of work was often a culmination of a girl’s needlework skills. It would have been bought in kit form and put together by the supplier. The techniques involved padded appliqué, needle weaving and detached button hole stitch to produce a raised effect.

This beautiful box from Washington Old Hall, Tyne & Wear has recently undergone conservation in our studio.

The exterior stumpwork embroidery depicts biblical scenes.

IMG_5125conv aThis top panel ‘The reception of the Queen of Sheba by King Solomon’ can also be depicted as Charles II, following his exile from France, with Queen Catherine of Braganza and her lady approaching.

IMG_5127conv aThis panel features Eliezer drinking from the jar of well offered to him by Rebecca (Genesis 24:15-21).

More beautiful details

the inside is decorated in silk, velvet and lined with printed paper

IMG_5187conv aSeveral sections can be removed to show hidden drawers and compartments where secrets could be hidden.Loose hinges were stabilised, cleaned using a low suction micro vacuum and loose paper and textiles consolidated.

The original adhesive attaching the silk to the wood structure was animal glue which was gently and slowly reversed with heat and moisture to access the hinges.

The pin hole in the hinge had become too large through wear and tear, and was filled with warmed fish glue and a matchstick dowel before re-pinning the hinge and re-adhering the embroidery.

The raised embroidery was in a poor condition. It was dirty with impacted soiling. Several of the embroidered areas and metal braids were loose, missing or folded back on themselves. These were humidified and re-adhered using fish glue or bookbinders starch paste.

The raised figures required the most amount of work from reattaching loose metal threads and braids with a very fine Skala thread to the complete reconstruction of a ladies skirt.

The female figure on the front of the door required the most attention having extensive damage and loss to the skirt.  After several trials a combination of dyed silk crepeline and Japanese paper was used to support the skirt and infill losses.

There are areas that cannot be conserved and are better left alone including the silk on the hands and faces, particularly their noses where they have worn away.

This wonderful box is still a fragile object and will now be displayed and protected inside a glass box.

Have a look when you next visit Washington Old Hall.