Production of a printed photographic infill patch
The tapestry, ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ (c. 1660-90), is from the King Charles Room at Cotehele, Cornwall, and has been at the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk since March 2015. It is one of three tapestries in the ‘Hero and Leander’ set at the property, measures 285cm high x 579cm wide and is woven from wool and silk. The tapestry is currently having a stitched conservation treatment, having already undergone full documentation, adhesive removal and wet cleaning. Removal of the 1960’s adhesive patch treatment resulted in the exposure of large areas of tapestry loss, where the damaged or weak tapestry had been cut away. This required an infill for structural and aesthetic reasons and a printed photographic patch was chosen, having used this method successfully in 2009 on the ‘Leander swimming the Hellespont’ tapestry.
On the left, another version of the ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ tapestry at Hardwick Hall (© National Trust/Robert Thrift). This was photographed to provide details for the missing area of the Cotehele tapestry, as seen on the right (© National Trust/Chris Tims Photoworx).
Working at the Studio with a local photographer, high resolution digital images were taken of the tapestry (which had been wet cleaned and attached to a piece of black fabric for easier handling). As seen in the image below, the tapestry was hung from one of the electric hoists that we have at the studio. We could not hang the tapestry horizontally (as it is normally displayed) as it was too weak.
At Hardwick Hall (a National Trust property) a photograph was taken of their ‘Leander taking leave of his parents’ tapestry, which hangs on the great main staircase. It dates form 1648-1660 and was also woven at Mortlake.
Both tapestries are a similar design, the main differences being the blue clothing of Leander and the plain design of his mother’s dress (red clothing and a floral dress on the Hardwick tapestry). These differences were dealt with using computer- aided design (CAD) work at Zardi & Zardi, the company who were commissioned to produce the printed patch.
Zardi & Zardi provided a white coarse linen fabric. Initially, this fabric was dyed a dull yellow ochre colour prior to printing onto it (the tapestry has a general yellowed appearance). The printers sent test samples (see image on right) but they felt that they did not achieve such a high quality print on this pre-dyed fabric. Further test prints were undertaken on the white linen.
A scale was included in the original photographs taken by the photographers, so it was easy for the printers to produce the patches to the correct size.
Each time a new test patch arrived, conservators working on the tapestry discussed the results with colleagues. Requests were made to the printers to alter certain colours to enable the patch to blend into the surrounding area of the tapestry.
Obtaining the correct colours on the printed patch was extremely difficult. The image on the left shows the blue sandal of Leander and the plain dress of his mother. Unfortunately, no shadows had been inserted on Leander’s knee and beneath the figure, so these were added on request.
These shadows were not the correct colour. Due to time and cost restrictions, it was decided that to achieve this, the patches would be painted to tone down and alter the colour. Matt acrylic paints consisting of pure, lightfast pigments and an age resistant acrylic binder (Lascaux Sirius® acrylic colours) were brushed onto the surface of the printed patch.
Conservators checking the final version of the patch before applying it to the tapestry.
The printed patch for Leander’s father’s leg (left), as seen from the front of the tapestry during insertion (centre) and stitched in place on the reverse (right)
After applying the patches to the reverse of the tapestry using a herringbone stitch (see image above, right), the tapestry was turned face up.
The conservator used a curved needle to stitch regular gridlines through the tapestry and patch (above, centre), which temporarily held both layers secure whilst the tapestry is mounted on the tapestry frame.
The stitched conservation of the tapestry began in August 2016 and will take nearly 18 months.
The stitched conservation of the tapestry began in August 2016. The team of conservators on this project (Aimée, Nadine, Stella and Yoko) have been working on the mezzanine level of the Studio.
Before a tapestry can be placed on the frame for stitching to the support fabric, there are several stages of preparation it must undergo.
One of the most important is finding a straight line and the centre of the tapestry. This can be quite difficult as none of the edges of the tapestry are straight due to distortion from hanging.
During a process called ‘framing up’ the tapestry and the linen scrim fabric are placed on rollers that fit into frame ends. The linen scrim is the support fabric that the tapestry is secured to and all conservation stitching goes through the tapestry and the linen support.
Conservators work from one end of the tapestry, on measured 20 cm sections and only tapestry within this section is worked at one time. The linen scrim has a little bit of fullness in it and doesn’t lay flat on the back of the tapestry (about 0.5-1cm more scrim than tapestry is measured out). When the support stitching is worked into the tapestry and support, the scrim linen does not become too tight as the stitching takes up the excess fabric.
To secure the tapestry to the linen scrim, we spend a lot of time working under the tapestry frame itself! This ensures that our pins are placed correctly to keep the grain of the linen scrim straight.
Before treatment, the tapestry was distorted and weak, where the wool and silk had been degraded by pollutants, light damage and the tensions caused by a previous hanging method.
The tapestry has a lot of silk in the sky and sea and brown wool in the trees. These areas have suffered much loss of cream-coloured silk weft and the dark brown wool weft. This has degraded due to light damage and the brown wool was dyed with a natural dye that has an iron mordant to help fix the colour. Unfortunately, this mordant accelerates the degradation of this brown wool. As the weft has weakened or been lost, the tapestry is left with bare wool warps or areas where the remaining weft if not held securely in the tapestry.
In order to support these loose weft or to infill colour / design, we stitch using a spaced couching stitch (2-3 mm apart).
If warps are broken or missing, the holes are re-warped with new wool dyed to colour match the original warps.
The conservation stitching has been worked in new wool yarns (either dyed at the Studio or bought from a supplier) or stranded cottons (in areas of missing/weak silk) are used to infill the design and support the warps. The stranded cottons (like those used in cross stitch kits) are easily available in a wide range of colours, are less expensive than silk yarn and have a duller quality that we require. New silk tends to be too lustrous.
All slits (areas where colours in the tapestry change) were re-stitched with a polyester thread in a range of neutral colours.
Just over half of the conservation has been completed. The third, and final, tapestry from this set at Cotehele is at the Studio and will be worked on by colleagues at the Studio next year.
All images ©National Trust/Textile Conservation Studio unless stated.