In Spring 2015 we finished and returned a large 6 x 9m chenille carpet from Cragside House in Northumberland.
The Cragside dining room carpet is a Chenille wool faced carpet possibly manufactured by Templetons around 1870-80 specifically for the room. It is an Axminster construction with a wool warp and weft foundation, with jute stuffer yarns. The top layer of wool chenille which forms the pile is held in place with additional cotton catcher warps.
In February 2013 a condition assessment and treatment estimate was undertaken on the chenille carpet. After initial tests it was decided that a full conservation treatment of surface cleaning, wet cleaning and conservation stitching would be possible. It had originally been hoped that conservation work would take place in situ, onsite, but this proved to be very difficult and so the carpet was transported to the Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling.
In February 2014 a week was spent onsite at Cragside to surface clean the carpet and roll it in preparation for transportation to the Studio.
Stages of work onsite included:
- The carpet was gridded out into 1 metre square
- Each square metre of carpet was carefully brushed with a soft rubber brush to remove lint and fluff from the surface of the pile.
- Miele vacuum cleaners were used with the large flat head tool attachment at 90mb suction for 16 minutes per metre square section.
- Where possible webbing patches adhered to the reverse of the carpet were removed.
- The carpet was then rolled and at the same time the reverse was vacuumed at 90mb suction.
The carpet arrived at the Studio on Wednesday 5th March. Working in conjunction with Glyn Charnock of the National Carpet Cleaners Association, tests were undertaken to identify cleaning methods and equipment which would be effective whilst preventing damage both during and after the clean. In particular, the jute stuffer yarns were of concern as they are brittle and very sensitive to moisture.
Although the carpet had been meticulously vacuumed whilst onsite, there was still an amount of gritty deposits deep within the pile of the carpet. Gritty dirt can be quite problematic, wearing away at the structure of the carpet over time.
Tamping or back beating the carpet with latex paddles is the usual way to deep clean gritty deposits from carpets, but as this carpet measures almost 6 x 9 meters a less labour intensive method was developed using a rotary beater bar vacuum cleaner and a piece of sacrificial carpet.
The method used for tamping:
- The chenille carpet was laid face down on the studio floor.
- A sacrificial carpet was placed face up on top.
- The pile of the sacrificial carpet was vacuumed using a rotary beater bar vacuum vibration causes grit / dust to fall from historic carpet below.
- The chenille carpet was lifted and debris vacuumed up each time (a new bag was used & kept to weigh debris.)
- The process was repeated as necessary.
- Finally the front was vacuumed again and the pile groomed.
Once fully dry, each metre square was then vacuumed again for 5 minutes to remove loosened particles of grit, as seen under the microscope after testing.
The cleaning method was very successful at removing the soiling and grit from the carpet. The carpet now looks considerably cleaner and the colours brighter. The flattened pile of the carpet has been lifted and it now has a rich and luxurious appearance.
Following on from the cleaning, testing will be undertaken to find a suitable solvent to remove historic adhesive from the reverse of the carpet before attaching a new linen tape. Then conservation stitching will commence.
Adhesive removal and yarn selection
Tamping and cleaning of the carpet allowed an assessment of the condition of the reverse. It was found that hessian tapes had been glued onto the reverse of the carpet in many places to provide support. These were applied not just around the edges where the weave had begun to fail due to moth attack, but also in many areas where previous repairs had been worked through to the back. There were two adhesives present; a glassy, crystal like, yellow adhesive thought to be shellac and a firm, gummy, cream coloured adhesive which was latex.
Due to the hard nature of both of these adhesives they needed to be removed to allow a needle to be passed through the carpet for conservation stitching.
Extensive tests using different solvents, solvent mixes and poultices were undertaken. It was discovered that, although the shellac adhesive was easily activated with a few solvents, the main problem was removing the softened adhesive from the woollen weave and fibres of the carpet.
Different application methods of the solvents were tried. These included applying the solvents through Sympatex® (a breathable waterproof material that allows only vapours through) and the use of a Laponite® poultice (clay like substance that holds the solvents allowing slow evaporation)¹. Unfortunately none of these processes helped to draw the adhesive from the surface of the carpet and the problem was compounded by the Laponite® which was also difficult to remove from the weave. In both cases, once the solvent evaporated, the adhesive redistributed, becoming very hard so that a needle could not be passed through.
As a result the initial approach was to manually break the shellac adhesive by applying pressure with hand tools and removing the dusted shellac with a vacuum.
While the work to remove the adhesive was being undertaken a thorough search for woollen yarns was carried out. The yarns will be needed to infill the many worn and lost areas of chenille pile on the front of the carpet. In most places, where there is now very little of the pile and pattern remaining, the yarns will be laid down flat with couching to secure in place. Where the pile is still good but small areas of damage exist it is hoped that the yarn can be inserted like tufts to infill losses.Many different yarn samples were acquired and their qualities were compared. The yarn selected was the double knit Blue Faced Leicester supplied by the West Yorkshire Spinners. It is thought that this yarn will provide good durability and strength. It also proved to dye well when sampled.
Consolidation of the reverse and conservation stitching on the front
With the removal of the shellac and latex adhesives from the reverse of the carpet, it was evident that there were many areas where the brown woollen wefts had been damaged or lost due to wear and moth attack. In order to stabilise and consolidate the carpet conservation stitching had to be undertaken.
Laid couching was used, running the laid stitches parallel to the existing wefts with holding stitches catching both the new laid thread and the original broken weft. This stitch helped to realign and reattach the loose wefts and consolidate areas where the weave had become broken down.
Broken and missing woolen wefts Producing the couching stitches
Area of damage consolidated with couching stitches
Dyed linen patches were applied to the reverse of the carpet in areas where both the warps and wefts of the weave construction had been damaged creating a hole. These patches were stitch secured in to place provide a stable support for conservation stitching once working through from the front.
Area of damage to both warps Dyed linen patch stitch secured over
and wefts creating a hole area of damage
Once work to the reverse of the carpet had been completed the carpet was rolled and set up over tables so that conservation could begin on the front.
Carpet set up in Studio for conservation
Coloured yarns for the conservation of the damaged carpet are all purpose dyed so that they match the many varying colours, stains and areas of wear seen on the surface of the carpet. So far 70 different sample colours have been dyed along with 23 bulk colours. These figures will continue to grow as work carries on across the carpet.
Samples – dyeing wool yarn before, during and after
Damage and wear to the surface of the chenille carpet varies. While there are many areas with very little or light wear to the pile there are larger areas with widespread wear and loss of chenille strands. In places where the condition is at its worst, the loss of chenille strands (that make up the pile and design of the carpet) are extensive revealing large areas of the brown sub weave. These areas appear very untidy with light cotton threads laying loose over the surface.
Conservation techniques are being combined to conserve the carpet and provide an aesthetic infill to imitate of the carpets design.
Channelled into the carpet, coloured yarns are laid across areas of loss. The colours of these yarns are changed to reintroduce elements of the design. In conjunction a neutral coloured polyester thread is stitched over the coloured yarn catching under the brown woollen weft within the weave. Spaced at 8mm intervals, the stitching follows the original construction weave of the carpet reintroducing what would originally have been a light coloured cotton catcher holding the chenille in place.
Before and during inserting coloured yarns to recreate design
After conservation – Coloured yarns held with polyester catcher stitches
The technique of introducing coloured yarns is worked less intesively in areas of better condition.
In areas where only the pile is worn there is still a risk of the original fine cotton catchers failing, and therefore the same polyester catcher stitch is used. The spacing is spread to 16mm (every other weaving line) into areas where the condition improves.
Thoughout the carpet there are historic repairs, these vary in stabilitly, condition and aesthetic appearance. These repairs are assesed on a case by case basis and those that are unstable are removed and the area conserved.
To work the conservation stitches, the carpet had been devided into 45 sections measuring 20cm deep by the width of the carpet (580cm).
The colours of these yarns are changed to reintroduce elements of the carpets original design. In conjunction with this a neutral coloured polyester thread is stitched over the coloured yarn and under the brown woollen weft within the weave. Spaced at 8mm intervals, the stitching follows the original construction weave of the carpet, reintroducing what would originally have been a light coloured cotton catcher warp holding the chenille in place.
Area of damage before, during and after conservation
In some areas the pile of the carpet has been completely lost and the foundation weave has been worn away exposing the Jute ‘stuffer’ warps sandwiched within the complex weave of the carpet. In these areas the jute ‘stuffer’ warp had to be reintroduced along with the worn or missing brown woollen weft.
Yarns for the conservation of the damaged carpet are all purpose dyed so that they match the many varying colours and shades of the chenille, including stains and areas of wear seen on the surface of the carpet. 129 samples and 58 final colours and shades of wool have been dyed.
Selection of some of the purpose dyed yarns