Taking down Gideon
In 2014 National Trust central funding was secured to conserve the eleventh tapestry of this set of thirteen at Hardwick. It was decided that out of the three remaining unconserved tapestries the one that was in the worst condition should be treated first. This tapestry is also the largest of the set being a whopping 6m high by 9m wide.
The eleventh tapestry before conservation: ‘Gideon selecting his army by making them drink from the river.’
Although we have successfully used tower scaffolds to take down and put up the other ten tapestries, we wanted to revisit the method due to the increased size (and weight !) of this one. An earlier site meeting between textile conservators, the stonemasons and the direct labour team at Hardwick got everyone thinking of a new approach. It was decided that the same vertical roller method of removal would be used but importantly with staff working from a fixed scaffold. Additional adaptations were made to this method including a trolley with a levered pole base used to place the roller on.
A level wooden track was also constructed on the floor to allow for the trolley to be smoothly moved along the extremely uneven Gallery floor that is covered with grass matting. The final adaptations were made to the roller itself with the addition of turning handles and a plug and loop for final lowering.
The fixed scaffold and the narrow wooden track in front of it, on the floor next to the wall.
The tapestry was originally woven in three pieces so, as with the previous tapestries in the set, the lower border was removed first from the mainfield using the trolley and a short roller. By doing this not only is the weight reduced but the handling of the larger pieces on the trolley mounted roller is much safer and easier.
Rachel and Pip carefully cutting the lower border tapestry and linings away from the mainfield.
With the lower border removed it was time for a full team briefing and health and safety run down before everyone got themselves into position on the scaffold. Also in position were a number of photographers and two staff filmed the whole procedure. No pressure then!
Team briefing by Ksynia Attaching Velcro down the side of the tapestry.
Velcro was pinned down one side of the tapestry lining and the 6m roller with a corresponding strip of Velcro was raised to meet it.
Extra rows of Velcro were added to the top of the roller to correspond with pinned tabs at the top of the tapestry to help prevent the tapestry from slumping down the roller while being removed from the wall.
Ksynia pinning Velcro tabs to the top of the tapestry before take down.
Once attached to the roller at the side, the top edge of the tapestry was carefully released from the old popper tape fixing and the roller turned and moved only the track on its trolley. Slowly but surely the tapestry was released. Once it was entirely on the roller, long Velcro ties were attached around it. A long length of upholstery webbing tape was then tied to the loop at the top of the roller before it was lowered to the floor slowly.
Slowly rolling the tapestry off the wall
After this the tapestry was then moved to another area and unrolled face down where the hessian lining could be removed. Finally the tapestry was rerolled onto a new roller interleaved with acid free tissue before covering the whole roller with bubblewrap outer layer.
Unrolling and removing the lining
Rolling in acid free tissue and packed for transport
The two tapestry rollers were picked up from Hardwick and sent to the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk.
Preparing for battle
Whilst we are quite used to handling large objects we have passed on the specialist task of washing our tapestries to a specialised tapestry wet cleaning facility in Mechelen, Belgium.
Prior to this, we prepare the tapestry for cleaning and document it in our studio. For projects such as the large set of Gideon tapestries at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire this can be a longer process as we look for the differences between the previous tapesties which we have already conserved.
The preparation stage began with the separation of the top border from the mainfield, the lower border was removed on site. The later hessian lining was removed revealing original lining with the same CH monograms found in the top corners of the other top borders.
Much of the original lining was present on the reverse of the left hand side but due to its poor condition and the fact that it would impede the washing it was removed in part, after documentation, cutting around all vertical stitch lines which were left in place.
The front and back of the three separated tapestry elements were surface cleaned removing large amounts of blackened soiling and loose wool and silk .
During the documentation process we noted three small differences in the construction of this tapestry compared to the other conserved tapestries. The first difference was in the way that the original lining had been stitched onto the back of the tapestry. On the other tapestries a pretty regular spacing of vertical lines averaging 23 cms apart was used to stitch the lining to the back of the tapestry. On this extremely large tapestry, however, the average spacing between the lines is 31cms.
The second difference is that the CH monogram on the top border proper right hand side has been turned 90° clockwise.
Finally the dark brown frame around the mainfield has been woven on the borders rather than in the mainfield. These are all small differences but they show the very human element of making the tapestries, the fact that errors were made and that processes were adapted.
Once prepared, the tapestry was sent to a specialist wet cleaning facility in Mechelen, Belgium for wet cleaning. Rachel, one of our textile conservators attended the process, which went smoothly but required additional cleaning with brushes due to the extreme amounts of black, sooty soiling on the surface. Afterwards the tapestry appeared much cleaner.
See below the fantastic images of the mainfield that were taken at De Wit, Belgium after washing the tapestry . The faded front and unfaded reverse are a stunning contrast and can be used for interpretation purposes by the property.
We’ve made a start!
On arrival back at the Studio the lower border was the first element to be framed up for conservation stitching.
The lower border mounted onto a frame to be worked from one side to the other.
The lower border will be stitched in 20cm sections onto the linen scrim support, working from right to left of the border. To date a total of 8 out of 45 sections have been stitched, so still a long way to go! The next bulletin will look at the stitching in more detail.
Conservation work can lead us to discover all sorts of previously unseen information. Our conservators made a discovery on the 6m x 9m Gideon Tapestry from the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire after it had been cleaned.
While framing up the mainfield an exciting find was made; the discovery of a weaving mark depicting a stepped cross on the right hand galloon. As the image below shows it is quite hard to see due to fading, and before washing it was invisible. The reverse side, however, clearly shows the mark.
Prior to this discovery the only other marks that had been found on the set (on Gideon tapestries c and j) were of a six pointed star which in conjunction with stylistic details indicated the set were woven at Oudenaarde.
Correspondence between ourselves and tapestry historian Helen Wyld, and between herself and tapestry expert Guy Delmarcel, have revealed some very interesting information about the Gideon set and the mark has been identified as from the town of Grammont.
‘The presence of this new mark, and the difference in the weaving of the border, suggest that this tapestry was woven in a different workshop to the others. It was fairly common in the 16th cent for a large commission to be shared between different weavers, often under the direction of a single entrepreneur/agent; but I don’t know if we have any direct evidence for it outside Brussels, so this is potentially quite significant.’ – (email from Helen Wyld)
‘This mark on the Hardwick Gideon is indeed considered as from Grammont, and may ve ccepted (sic) as such, then it is identical to the city’s coat of arms. The genuine town’s name is in fact, in Flemish,
‘Geraardsbergen’ and ‘bergen’ refers to a mountain or hill, and there the main church is on top of the hill. But the location in the side border is rather uncommon, we should expect it in the lower horizontal border.
I do not know of other examples that a Brussels set should have been complemented by a piece in Geraardsbergen , but the merchant-weavers were very mobile and by lack of time or available looms, cartoons may have been transmitted to another place.’
‘The two towns are only separated by 24 kilometer, some16 miles… The Geraarsbergen mark is very rare, but these pieces are all related to Oudenaarde or Enghien models’– (emails from Guy Delmarcel)
Previous weaving and lining differences that we noted while framing the lower border seem to corroborate the fact that this tapestry was woven elsewhere and we are keeping our eyes peeled for any further differences we may find. Also we have yet to closely examine the other two large tapestries that remain to be conserved (tapestries b and g) and these may throw up some more clues.
In the light of these discussions we decided to take another set of thread samples for dye analysis (this has already been done for an earlier tapestry in the set) to see if further research may shed light on the weaving process.
Framing up: putting the linen support, then the tapestry on the rollers.
The linen support is stitched to the reverse of the tapestry every 20cm, putting in an additional excess of 0.5cm of linen. This slight excess of support allows for the take up of fabric that our stitching may cause and also allows for some slight movement when the tapestry is rehung. We aim for the support to work with the tapestry and act as a sort of ‘second skin’.
We have begun conservation stitching on the mainfield which is now being worked in conjunction with the lower border. The top border will be framed as conservators are available.
The most usual forms of damage that we find are holes, weak/broken slits and weak/missing wefts. Weft damage is common in all silk weft areas as silk is particularly susceptible to light damage but damage is also found in dark brown wool weft areas due to the iron mordant used in the original dyeing process.
Below are a few before and after details of such areas.
Due to the enormous size of this tapestry set we have devised a system of supporting these tapestries by applying the linen support fabric in two parts, working from the left side to the middle then the right side to the middle. In this very practical way we can ensure that there is never so much tapestry on the front roller to stop our arms getting round it to stitch. This particular tapestry though has challenged even this method as it is nearly 9m long. Further head scratching was required. Our solution has been to re-roll the tapestry onto smaller diameter metal rollers. In the case of the border we were able to use a roller from our material store cupboard but for the mainfield we ordered a scaffold pole, using clips to wedge it into the frame and maintain tension for the final couple of sections before starting again on the opposite side.
Re-rolling the tapestry onto the new scaffold pole front roller.
Conservation of the painted shields
This particular tapestry has three surviving painted and applied shields commissioned by Bess of Hardwick to cover the arms of the previous owner of the tapestries, Sir Christopher Hatton. The two shields on the side borders and the shield on the top border were removed from the tapestry during the initial documentation phase. The shields were conserved separately ready for re-applying to the tapestry at the end of the stitched conservation process.
The applied shields are made from linsey-woolsey, a coarse woven fabric with a linen warp and a woollen weft. The fabric is painted in blue and black pigments in an oil medium.
The three painted shields.
All three shields were damaged with small holes, and some paint loss, and all were very dirty. After photography and documentation the shields were vacuumed with a micro vacuum to remove surface dirt. Templates were then taken of them before wet cleaning.
Surface cleaning with micro vac
After surface cleaning the shields were individually washed using a small vacuum suction table using a conservation grade washing solution and deionized water.Washing net was placed on top of the shield. Sandwiched between two layers of net, the shield could be turned and the reverse could be wet cleaned. The surface of the shield was lightly sponged with the wash solution using a natural sponge. During sponging damaged areas were protected by covering them with a layer of washing net.
Wet cleaning shield on small suction table
A total of four washes were carried out followed by rinses in deionized water. Water samples were taken of each wash and rinse.
The suction table was left on for 10 minutes to aid the drying and then the shields were blotted and pinned out for final drying overnight.
Drying on suction table and pinning out on softboard
After cleaning the shields were stitched and supported onto a dyed wool fabric before adding protective dyed net across either the whole shield or around the edges. The shields will be re-stitching back into position on the tapestry after the conservation stitching is completed.
Front and reverse of shield after conservation
Towards the finish line!
February 2017 saw the completion of the eleventh Gideon tapestry ‘Gideon choosing his army’. At 6m x 9m this is the largest in the National Trust’s collection.
After completing the stitching, the shields commissioned by Bess of Hardwick were re-stitched to the tapestry.
Re-stitching a shield to the side border of the mainfield
Plans then turned to the reconstruction and lining of the tapestry. Previous tapestries had their top and lower borders attached before lining. Due to the size of this tapestry it was decided to keep the lower border separate and line and hang this independently, stitching it back in place while hanging. This will reduce the weight and allow safer handling.
The lining and reconstruction required the whole of the ground floor of the studio to be cleared, due to its vast scale. Firstly the tapestry was removed from the frame and the surplus linen was trimmed and secured with a herringbone stitch. Where the Christopher Hatton monogram is present in the corners of the original lining, the scrim was cut away as a window to reveal the original embroidered linen.
Window created in scrim to reveal CH monogram
Once all the edges were turned back, the top border was re-stitched to the mainfield, this required the full 9m of tapestry to unrolled.
Unrolling the top border ready for attachment to the mainfield
The main reason for lining a tapestry is to stop dust from penetrating the back. For this reason a tightly woven undyed cotton cambric is used. The lining is fixed to the back of the tapestry using lines of loose locking stitches. The stitches are worked from the centre to the sides in parallel lines, worked from top to bottom. Fullness was allowed in the height and width of the lining to allow for any dimensional changes in the tapestry as it hangs.
Using rollers to handle the large tapestry as the lining is applied
The edge of the lining is turned under and slip stitched firmly in place to stop dust penetration.
Moving the tapestry became a studio ‘event’ with all hands at the ready.
Tapestry at its full 9m length filling the whole ground floor of the studio
The tapestry will be rehung using Velcro™. Loop Velcro stitched to cotton webbing tape has been stitched to the reverse of the tapestry. Two rows at the top of the mainfield, a single row along the top edge. These will correspond with battons on the wall which hold the hook Velcro.
After reconstruction of the tapestry, access to the top of the Mainfield requires leaning over a roller containing the top border. For this reason two conservators worked together to pass the needle from the back of the tapestry to the front, securing the Velcro in place.
Two rows of Velcro at the top of the mainfield, stitched by conservators working in pairs