Conservation: Out in the Open - The Challenges of Displaying & Conserving Textiles on Open Display - DAY 3

The Icon Textiles & Historic Interiors Group are pleased to present their joint online Spring Forum 2021

Day 3 - Collections on Display: Tapestries & Books


‘Looking Back, Looking Forward, Looking in From the Outside: Opening up Doors to Outsiders & Insider Views on Tapestry Conservation at the KIK-IRPA’ by Griet Kockelkoren, Michelle De Brueker, Emma Damen & Wies Stortelder

The conservation studio of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels has a long tradition concerning tapestry conservation.  The retirement of a senior conservator proved the perfect momentum to try to share and preserve her extensive knowledge and experience in regard to this topic. This not only to the benefit of younger conservators within the textile conservation studio of the KIK-IRPA in Brussels, but we wished to share and discuss our method with other textile conservators with different experiences, different backgrounds who also use different methods. 

To know how to move forward in the future, we feel we need to know and understand where we come from. Within our studio we have all learned ‘the how’ of our current method, but we as a younger generation did not experience the original process that once has determined ‘the why’ in the decision-making. Getting to exchange our thoughts and experiences out in the open and mirror them to the outside view(s) of colleagues from all over the world within our recent ‘Knowledge exchange project concerning tapestry conservation’ proved extremely valuable in more ways than one. 

With this project we have been able to preserve knowledge but also to let knowledge resurface that would otherwise be lost forever. The discussion was not only a theoretical one; a tapestry was treated during the course of this project. Visiting and assessing the objects that have been on display for many decades and that carry this evolution in conservation-practices within their material biography, also proved to be a unique opportunity and experience.  During this project-process, not only our view of the past, but also our view of the future has been broadened, strengthened and changed in the most positive way, and we are looking forward to dive even deeper in this topic during the years to come.

‘Investigating Tapestry Conservation & Display with Display Image Correlation’ by Frances Lennard, Rosa Costantini, Philip Harrison

Historic tapestries represent a particular challenge for textile conservators: they are large and heavy yet fragile, and are nearly always exhibited on open display. A research project at the University of Glasgow has continued work, started at the University of Southampton, on the use of digital image correlation (DIC), a non-contact strain monitoring technique, to tell us more about tapestry behaviour.  This presentation will sum up the results of the four-year project and consider the implications for textile conservation practice, and for future research. 

The DIC methodology itself has been developed, including through a long-term monitoring trial of a newly woven tapestry at Stirling Castle. One outcome was a better understanding of the use of a single camera for 2D monitoring, in place of an expensive 3D DIC two-camera system. The main focus of the project was the use of DIC as a tool to investigate tapestry conservation and display methods. One particular avenue of research was the efficacy of slanted supports for tapestries on display. We carried out mathematical modelling, friction tests and DIC monitoring to investigate the two factors of angle of slope and friction. We found that friction between the tapestry and the board-covering fabric is extremely high, to the extent that a small angle of slope does not contribute any additional support. Initial tests on dust accumulation on sloping boards indicated that a vertical support could be preferable. A preliminary investigation into tapestry conservation techniques, specifically brick and laid couching, has also given interesting results – the strain maps produced by DIC allow us to visualise the impact of stitching on surrounding areas of the tapestry. These trials have prompted us to consider further the relationship between support and visual integration. 

(Poster) ‘The Removal & Re-installing of a Burne-Jones Tapestry at Exeter College, Oxford to Enable a New Glazing System to be Fitted’ by Jonathan Tetley

The tapestry known as “The Adoration of the Magi” designed by Edward Burne-Jones and woven by Morris and Company, depicts the story in Christianity of the three kings visiting the baby Jesus having been guided to the birthplace by the star of Bethlehem.  It was woven for the Chapel and was presented to Exeter College Chapel in 1890.  The tapestry is displayed behind two sheets of plate glass which abut each other but are not sealed. Although providing some protection, dust and other particulate matter was deposited on the tapestry.  In addition, there was no UV protection and the weight of the glass made access difficult for inspection purposes as well as emergency removal.  The tapestry was in relatively good condition but required surface cleaning, removal of existing lining, re-attaching a new lining and installing within the existing frame to create improved environmental conditions.  Due to the its large size, the new glazing was a major factor in the re-installation.  A new method using seamed 6mm Optimum acrylic glazing reduced the overall weight of the glazing for easier installation and incorporated a UV filter to protect the tapestry from ultraviolet light. The clarity of the glazing also improved the visual appearance of the tapestry.  The presentation will discuss the issues related to the removal of the tapestry from its existing location, conservation treatment and the re-installation of the tapestry using the seamed glazing.  

‘Conservation Considerations for a Library Collection’ by Liz Rose & Emma Smith

The British Library collection comprises over 170 million items, with around 3 million items added to the collection every year. The collection includes artefacts from every age of written civilisation, comprising a large array of material type and including textiles. Textile conservation is a relatively new discipline within the Library, and it has employed a textile conservator, Liz Rose, to work on the collection since 2015, and more recently hosted a Textile Conservation Intern, Emma Smith. Textiles in the Library are wide ranging, from embroidered book covers to fabric maps, Torah mantle covers and costume. The work programme includes conservation of the collection items for use by readers, digitisation and exhibitions. 

The collection is inherently open, and although items have differing levels of restriction, most collection items can be requested for use by readers. Through a series of case studies, this paper will explore how conservation strategies for an accessible collection may differ from those employed in institutions where the collection is not open to handling. 

Within the Library the main risks to the collection have been identified as handling, disassociation, and theft, with an object going through an average of eight pairs of hands on its journey to the reading rooms. Although conservation work within a framework of minimal intervention, the paper will explore whether a more robust approach to conservation is needed in this context, exploring interventive and preventive methods employed to limit the effects of these risks, and the difficulties which this context poses. 

‘A Stitch in Time: Stabilising the Textile Samples Within the Board of Trade Volumes’ by Solange FitzGerald

This project focuses on research of textiles within the Board of Trade volumes that belong to The National Archives. The collection consists of almost three million designs for textiles, glasswork, metalwork, ceramics, furniture, wallpaper and other decorative arts and manufactured objects. These designs are in the form of drawings, paintings, photographs and product samples, sent to the Designs Registry, part of the Board of Trade, to be registered for copyright protection between 1839 and 1991.

The project focus was:

1. To investigate and establish whether a red offsetting of the textiles onto the paper substrate was due to the dyes or the size (rosin) within the paper. 

2. To establish an innovative conservation treatment for the fragile and oversized textile samples that remain within the volumes. 

3. To assess priorities and options for potential exhibitions.

4. To make the volume more publicly accessible while retaining their original format.

Tests on the offsetting were carried out in collaboration with a Conservation Scientist. Analysis concluded that the dye is chromium-based which discolours in acidic conditions and when combined with the acidic support paper, could be the cause of the discolouration. The poor aqueous solubility of chrome dyes could have resulted in the presence of calcium and acid used during the manufacturing process. 

The distorted book boards combined with the desire to retain the original structure of the volume presented a real conservation challenge. Steps were taken to help make the volume more accessible, including applying minimal repair and stabilisation techniques to fragile textiles, strapping the folded textiles in place for ease of access and refolding the oversized textiles to reduce the existing bulk. The treatments proved simple yet effective and provide a way to retain the original binding while also stabilising the volume to allow it to be accessed by the public.

‘Conserving a ‘Basketful of Errors’: A Collaborative Project to Stabilise a Textile Bound 1717 ‘Vinegar’ Bible’ by Sarah Howard & Victoria Stevens

In 2019 the impressive lectern Bible at St Mary's church in Avington, near Winchester, was condition assessed with the aim of improving its storage and display environment. The Bible is significant to the church for three reasons: firstly, it is a rare printing, being one of the canon of Bibles with quirky errata, when the luckless printer John Baskett made a stunning typo and turned the parable of the vineyard into that of the vinegar in Luke, chapter 20. Secondly the Avington Bible has a strong local provenance through the Duke of Chandos, builders of the church and also the owners of both the Bible and the estate of Avington Park adjacent. The third, and most striking, aspect that makes this Bible so significant is that it is bound in a very complete and heavily embroidered red velvet textile. 

Textile bindings were common throughout the Early Modern period but few survive due to their relative fragility and unsuitability for use as book coverings, particularly on large folios such as this. The textile design and construction is reminiscent of the Opus Anglicanum tradition: raised metal threads over shaped parchment cores and an opulent red textile background. Use as a Bible for worship has resulted in extensive damage, some of which has been patched and repaired with good intentions but with little regard for colour matching. 

This paper aims to take an overview of the Bible's materiality and condition, and the challenges that these present in terms of its potential for use. It will go on to show how a collaboration between textile and book conservation provides the perfect combination of skill sets for the stabilisation of the binding and the textblock, reducing the risk of further deterioration and enabling the Bible to be accessed once more by the community at Avington.