You can read all about Knole in Kent in this edition of the National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual. The article on page 35 by Edward Town and Elizabeth Fryman features research into the origins of the Spangled bed that we are currently conserving.
Spangled bed discoveries Part 1
Since late 2013 we have been working on the bed curtains from the Spangled bed from Knole in Kent. This series of posts will update you on the work we have done to date.
This beautiful bed, which is covered in delicate gold and silver spangles, has been a voyage of discovery it is thought to date from the 1620’s and appears to have been commissioned by Lionel Cranfield in about 1621 and eventually arrived at Knole through the marriage of his daughter Frances to the Earl of Dorset.
It is important to become familiar with an object before embarking on treatment and the team has taken time to think through the various processes, weighing up what can and cannot be done.
Detailed documentation of the make up of each curtain, the materials, fabrics and stitching patterns found will mean that their original apprearence is becoming better understood. Careful examination is revealing the complexity of the structure of the curtains which, in conjunction with research on their history before they came into the possesion of the Sackvill family, may help provide a clearer understanding of their original use.
Coarse red net encases the curtains and work started in early 2014 to unpick this net and the stitch repairs which have been worked through all the layers. The linings are extremely fragile and are very rare early damask which has been dated to between 1585 and 1610. The initial plan was to remove the lining, wet clean them and mount them onto support fabric whilst further test are undertaken on the satin silk.
Conservators removing the heavy net layer (left) and the fragile and splitting damsk lining of the head curtain (right)
Spangled bed discoveries Part 2
By April 2014 the coarse red net had been removed from the back of both curtains, previous stitch repairs had been removed and the curtains had been carefully deconstructed into their lining and crimson silk satin.
Removing the linings was a slow process due to their fragmentary nature and ‘crisp’ handle, and several areas required netting and tracings taken prior to removal.
This has revealed several fascinating finds. The curtains have been patched with six different types of damask patches, a linen patch and a plain silk patch. All of the patches appear to have had former uses. There is evidence of seams, lockstitches and darning repairs which are unrelated to areas in the curtain.
Green damask patch seamed to yellow patch
Satin patch adhered upside down
The position of the patches at the top of the curtains suggests that the curtains have been turned around with the patched damage having been originally at the hem. This is confirmed by the discovery of previous ring attachments at the bottom of the curtain, above the lower border. These would have been the original ring fixing points used to hang the curtains, and they may also be the original ring fixing from a previous use, thought to have been wall hangings (see image below, the white squares indicating ring attachment points).
There are several types and styles of seams throughout both curtains, including machine stitching, indicating there are several periods of repair and reconstruction.
Another yellow damask, of a different design to that used for patching the foot curtain, was also found at the heading of the head curtain as pieces, and attached to the right side lining panel as a narrow strip finishing as a wider panel at the hem. It suggests that the yellow damask was originally a full length panel seamed to the two colour damask lining and was cut away during a later period of repair and reconstruction.
Phase 3 – Humidification and wet cleaning
After documentation it was time to start the treatment. The first step was to lay out the linings and satin inside a humidity tent created from a metal frame (a strawberry cage!) with a polythene sheet over to enclose the lining. A humidifier was set up inside to pump a fine water spray into the tent.
The linings were allowed to reach a humidity of 95% to allow them to relax. As the object was starting to relax glass weights were applied and it was then allowed to dry flat.
Humidification resulted in the linings and satin to regain some of their lustre and body.
After testing a variety of methods, detergents and buffer solutions, each piece of lining was washed in the wash table, pinned out flat and left to dry.
An IMS : Acetone : Water (40:40:20) mix was used at the beginning of the wash to remove greasy soiling, followed by a wash bath with Dehypon LS54 (a conservation grade detergent) without a buffer and also with a buffer with a pH of 6. The linings had an initial pH of 3.2 and was very acidic, so by introducing these different wash baths and using a buffer, which is a means of holding the pH at a steady level, we allowed the pH to be increased slowly.
The soiling was very bound within the fibres, probably due to acidity, and proved difficult to remove through wet cleaning. Some dye loss also occurred although prior to cleaning it was noted that the ground of the silk was ‘cloudy’ where the dye had run from the crimson into the cream areas. This was probably due to the high humidity which, in combination with historic atmospheric pollution at Knole, had caused the silk to become more acidic and de-stabilised the dye. After wet cleaning there was still some greyness to the object with striations of grey but overall the linings had improved immensely.
Once washed, the damask linings had regained some of their handle and were less fragile. However they were much split and required an even, all-over support but could not withstand extensive stitching. An adhesive support was selected as the most appropriate treatment. Fine silk crepeline, a very fine gauze-like fabric, was dyed to match the damask and the crepeline was stretched out on polythene (which makes a backing film) and a 25% solution in soft water of Lascaux adhesive, (360HV and 498HV in a 2: 1 ratio) was applied with a small roller. This creates a fine adhesive backed fabric.
The damask panels were laid out and aligned and small ‘plasters’ of crepeline were used to hold distorted areas in place. Panels of adhesive crepeline were cut to shape and then applied using a roller system and laying the film evenly on to the reverse of the damask. The panels were turned face up and loose fragments were re-positioned.
The adhesive film was then activated using a heat suction table and once cool the adhesive was set and the silk fixed to the support. Both linings had to be activated in two parts as they were too wide for the table.
The final stages of the treatment of the linings are to apply a dyed silk support to the reverse and dyed conservation net overlay using support stitching. This will take place once the proper right curtain linings have reached the same stage.
Find out more about the Spangled bed from our National Trust Collections online.