Here Jane Smith, Senior Conservator tells us about the work she and the team have been undertaking on the Caffoy curtains and Pelmet from the Kings Room at Knole.
The curtains are made from a stamped wool velvet with wool and silk trimmings down each side and they date from 1670. The curtains are lined with linen and measure just over 4 metres long and about 130cm wide.
We started working on the curtains and pelmet in July with photography, documenting construction and vacuuming with a conservation vacuum on low suction.
Previous repairs, done in the 1960s, had been to glue patches, both in velvet and cotton fabric, behind holes. There were two small patches of velvet on each curtain and on the right curtain there were some cotton patches. The glue had discoloured and was brittle.
Acetone was used to remove the glue, which was likely to have been shellac. Masks and air extraction was used to protect conservators from the fumes and only small areas were treated at a time. Acetone was poured on which softened the glue and this was then blotted off with white cotton sheeting and blotting paper.
The curtains and the pelmet were dirty so they were wet cleaned in our wash bath with conservation detergent, Dehypon LS45 and in one wash bath denatured alcohol (IMS) was added to help release the greasy dirt. The patches were treated in the same way.
The washing was very successful and it was lovely to see the dirty burgundy colour become a clean pink/red.
The velvet patches were reinstated and the curtains were given a full support of linen. This was dyed in two colours to colour match the differing colours, due to light damage, across the surface of the velvet. The linen was attached to the reverse of the velvet with lines of running stitches.
Linen support on the reverse
The fabric on the lower edges was very weak with holed areas. These were supported with lines of couching and then further protected with a layer of dyed net over the top.
The curtain trimmings were supported onto dyed, narrow, cotton tape and any loose hangers and tassels were stitched to the tape to secure them. They were then reattached to the curtains.
The linen linings have been put back onto the curtains, after treatment.
There were some small areas of glue on the linen linings which were removed by the same method as above and they were then dry cleaned.
Due to the fragility of the linen they were encased in undyed net before being placed onto the reverse of the curtains. Lines of running stitch, down the length, were worked to attach the linen and herringbone stitch was used around the edges.
New woven wool linings will be attached over the top of the linen as they would have had wool linings originally.
The pelmet measures about 3 ½ metres long and is 60cm deep. It is made from the same wool velvet as the curtains and has a narrow silk fringe at the top. Along the lower edge and sides there is a wool tasselled fringe.
As with the curtains the pelmet was fully documented and then deconstructed and vacuumed.
After vacuuming the velvet was wet cleaned, as the curtains.
Small holes in the velvet have been patched with dyed linen and couching stitches worked to further strengthen the area.
The wool trimmings were very dirty and black so wet cleaning gave very good results with brushes being used to help release the dirt. To avoid the wool matting together a hairdryer was used to fluff out the tassels.
Several of the hangers required rethreading, so the tassels were hung on a raised bar to aid treatment.
A new wool thread was inserted through the original hanger before a polyester thread was wrapped around the new woollen hanger and the loose original threads to secure it.
There were 304 tassels needing this treatment and 3 needed to be reattached.
The pelmet has been reconstructed. The silk fringe along the top was too fragile to put back onto the pelmet as the fibre was continually shedding. It was decided to store this and a new fringe has been made, to the original design, by Clare Hedges, a local passementerie maker.
The original wool tasselled fringe was reattached, along the lower edge.
The next stage is to attach the new wool lining, woven by Context Weavers, to the curtains and pelmet, ready for the curtains and pelmet to be rehung at Knole in February, 2017.
Look out for an update on the finished project next year.
Find out more about the Inspired by Knole project here.