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.
Phase 4 – Supporting the lingings
The next step was to support the linings onto the dyed silk support. The damask linings have undergone extensive support stitching. In total, four conservators have worked over 1100 hours to apply the supports and carefully work laid couching in areas of weakness and damage on four curtain linings.
In order to keep our work square to the grain and consistent with each other and across all the linings we have used a stitching grid (see photo below) with 1cm spaced lines.
One of the biggest challenges in supporting the fragile damask has been the scale of the curtains. In order to access central panels we have frequently had to work over rollers in order to reach in and carry out support stitching in these areas.
The next step was to re-join the panels of damask which had previously been deconstructed. One such example of this was the proper left head lining. Small running stitches were sewn to join the panels following the original seam lines.
Netting the damask linings
With repair stitching complete and the damask linings reconstructed the next and final stage of treatment for these important pieces of fabric was for the surface to be netted, using a fine nylon net. As for the silk supports, the net was dyed at the studio to match the crimson and the yellow damask.
Netting the linings has involved laying the dyed net over the face of each curtain lining, taking great care to align the weave of the net to the grain of the silk damask, and pinning it in place. The lining was then hung from a hoist in the studio to allow necessary adjustments to be made. This has been quite an exciting moment, seeing the linings hung for the first time since being removed from the bed.
The net has been fixed in place by working lines of small securing stitches approximately 10cm apart, running from the top to the lower edge of the linings.
Before and After
In the Studio we celebrate the completion of treatment on the damask linings with (what we believe to be) impressive before and after photos.
All of the linings have undergone full documentation, deconstruction, humidification, wet cleaning, adhesive treatment, support stitching, reconstruction and netting. The linings are safely packed away until treatment of the satin is complete and the two layers can be reunited.
Phase 5 – Conserving the fringing
Before the Spangled Bed satin curtains could be treated they had to be deconstructed. The first step in deconstruction was removing the metal fringing along the edges.
The metal thread fringes which adorn the outer edges of the curtains have been examined and documented during the past few months. There are two types of narrow fringes which border the curtains. The yellow-tipped fringe is composed of a woven structure of yellow silk bordering the woven silver metal thread heading and a silver metal thread looped fringe. The red-tipped fringes are composed in the same manner but alternate between silver and gold metal threads. Drawings and photographs were produced to understand the structure of the fringes.
Odd lengths of both fringes had been used to trim the sides and hems of all the curtains. We also found silk attachment threads to the reverse of the fringes, suggesting that they may have had another use before being used to trim the bed curtains as we see them today.
The position of the fringes and their attachment method was also carefully noted. Once the fringes had been documented they were removed from the satin and then surface cleaned using a conservation vacuum.
Our next focus turned to developing a wet cleaning method for the fringes, to reduce heavy soiling and tarnishing. After consulting the Metals Conservation Adviser for the National Trust, we developed a metal cleaning solution similar to commercially available Silver Dip. However, our solution was specifically formulated for the fringes and its strength tested for safety of use. Small sections of the fringe (15cm at a time) were cleaned with a PH buffered wash solution, agitated with a soft bristle brush to loosen dirt and corrosion products. Next, the metal cleaning solution was applied to the section of fringe with a brush, the dirt and corrosion products absorbed by blotting paper. The buffered wash solution was used again to stabilise the PH of the fringe. Finally the whole length of fringe was rinsed four times with deionised water in a shallow tray before being pinned out to dry on a soft board.
Phase 6 – Treating the satin curtains
After conserving the linings it was time to treat the four satin and cloth of silver/cloth of gold curtains. A similar approach was taken as with the linings, but a lot more work was needed to conserve the appliqué and metal threads as well as the satin.
The original adhesive used (in a historic repair) is, in most cases, water soluble, therefore if the curtains were washed the glue would soften and the pieces of applique would detach from their original positioning.
To avoid the head-scratching jigsaw, it was decided to replace the water soluble adhesive with non-water soluble adhesive (using BEVA 371 film) which is heat or solvent activated and won’t allow the appliquéd areas to detach during the wash process.
The treatment method was as follows:
Agarose gel was applied to areas of appliqué where stitching did not exist or had failed and had been adhered with animal glue and wheat starch paste. The moisture in the gel softened the glue. The piece of appliqué could then be eased off using a thin spatula and placed right-side-down on blotting and the back cleaned with de-ionised water and a cotton bud removing all traces of the previous adhesive.
The area where the appliquéd piece has been taken from was also cleaned, as often residue from the adhesive remained.
Once the consolidation of the applique on the proper left head curtain was complete, preparation was made for wet cleaning. The bath was made on the floor and a team of 6 conservators sponged the fragile surface to make the process as quick as possible.
The number of conservators dropped to four when the rinsing began. The aim was to do one wash bath with detergent and six rinse baths. More rinsing was needed to remove the detergent and the process had to be as short as possible to stop the curtain becoming too soft and fragile. The curtain was dried on a table and weighted to keep it as flat as possible.
To strengthen the satin curtain panels support fabrics were dyed and applied to the reverse. Firstly an adhesive crepeline film was applied to stabilise the weakest areas. It was then activated on the hot suction table and fixed in 2 minutes at 70°C under 60mb of suction.
To make the curtains more structurally sound, a full support layer of silk habotai was dyed and attached to the reverse and secured with spaced lines of running stitches, or ‘grids’.
The curtain was then turned over and work was begun from the front side. The stitching was worked through the support, securing the metal outline threads in place with small stitches and using laid-couching in the severely damaged areas.
The last step before reconstruction was covering the front of the curtain with dyed conservation net. The net was stitched on with evenly spaced vertical lines of running stitches and would act as an additional layer of support and protection.
The reconstruction of the curtains meant the lining had to be re-attached to the satin curtain and the braid had to be re-applied. Re-attaching the lining was done with lines of lock stitches, a method still used today when lining curtains. The remaining pieces of the metal thread braid (click to see previous blog post here) were stitched on along the edges of the curtains.
Before dressing the bed later this year at Knole, the curtains will be re-pleated to their original size and metal rings will be attached as a hanging mechanism.
Find out more about the Spangled bed from our National Trust Collections online.