Conservation: Out in the Open - The Challenges of Displaying & Conserving Textiles on Open Display - DAY 4

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

Day 4 -Visitor Spaces: Challenges of Objects on Open Display & Spring Forum Conclusions


‘The Ubiquitous Eyemat Floor Covering’ by Christine Sitwell

For many historic houses, the perennial problem of protecting floors and carpets from the annual footfall of visitors is a major problem.  In addition, the desire to provide visitors greater access to collections within historic rooms with carpets, has added to the daily cleaning regime and ultimate wear and tear.  Druggets are often used to protect floors and keep visitors to a particular path within a room but in recent years, the use of Eyemats has become a popular if not ubiquitous solution.   An Eyemat is a very detailed set of digital photographs printed on mats and stitched together to recreate the wooden floor, carpet or tiled area underneath. Whilst it often deceives the visitor due to its photographic quality, its use has raised a number of issues. The initial cost of producing the Eyemat is quite expensive and they have a limited life which means that properties need to budget for their replacement. The storage of the historic carpets in houses which often have limited storage space and access to scholars who may wish to study the carpet is another consideration.  While providing access to a larger part of the room, it can make objects more vulnerable to accidental damage, increased dust levels as well as theft. This paper will discuss the pros and cons of Eyemats based on a conservation and access survey by the National Trust and hopes to encourage a wider discussion on the subject of their use.  

'Having a Moth Ball – The Newhailes House IPM Project’ by Arielle Juler

Integrated Pest Management data indicated a sharp rise in webbing clothes moth numbers (Tineola bisselliella) in 2016. The National Trust for Scotland implemented localised treatment and increased housekeeping, however, numbers remained high. In 2018, NTS decided an in-depth treatment project was required and the moth management project was approved.

The moth management project was designed to reduce moth numbers through three activity strands – temporarily decanting collection from the affected rooms, low temperature treatment of affected collection items, and a thorough deep clean and selective application of pesticides to the affected spaces. The large scale of the project necessitated the recruitment of volunteers and the secondment of property staff to ensure delivery of the core objectives. The core project team received ‘train the trainer’ instruction to enable everyone to take an active part in training the wider team of volunteers and non-collections staff.

In addition, public engagement was an essential requirement for the project, with the house remaining open for guided tours, school visits, and IPM themed family weekend planned for the wider estate. This required the project to operate with the public in close proximity and conservators to be on hand to answer questions while undertaking project tasks.

This talk will discuss in detail the ‘Train the Trainer’ approach used by the trust to establish the IPM project team and create training packages to use on site with volunteers and non-specialist staff. Discuss the difficulty in tackling a large scale IPM in an historic interior with rooms of mixed material on permanent open display (ie. How many pieces of ceramic needed to be moved before you could reach the carpets?).  The talk will also discuss the outcomes of the project as well as the positives and negatives of the methodology and lessons learned.

‘Does Size Matter? The Impact of Open Display on Textiles in Dolls’ Houses’ by Maria Jordan & Jane Smith

In the National Trust’s collection are two of the most important eighteenth-century dolls’ houses in Britain, furnished to replicate the grand houses in which they are found, notably Nostell Priory and Uppark House. At the beginning of 2020 the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio treated textiles from these two dolls’ houses; all the textiles from Nostell and four state beds and four dressing tables from Uppark. The textiles included state beds furnished in velvet and silk; dolls’ clothes of silk, cotton, linen and lace; embroidered carpets, upholstered furniture and silk curtains trimmed with braid. These houses are a microcosm of a historic house and the conservation challenges found there. Although the contents have, to some extent, been protected from the elements, being a house within a house, the contents were still subject to wear and tear due to handling and the environment of open display. The deterioration mirrored that found in historic interiors.

‘Handling a Very Large Historic Carpet During Lockdown - The Waterloo Carpet at Windsor Castle’ by Jonathan Tetley

It had been decided that refurbishment works were urgently needed to Wyattville’s extraordinary and innovative roof that had enclosed the inner court at Windsor Castle to make the Waterloo Chamber in celebration of the victory at Waterloo by the alliance against the French Empire of Napoleon. This room not only houses Sir Thomas Lawrence’s numerous portraits of the victors, but also a really beautiful carpet made for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee of 1897 in Agra at the order of the Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne.

This carpet is eighty feet long by forty feet wide (the imperial measurements of the victor rather than the vanquished!) and weighs nearly a ton.

To allow repairs to the roof, a crash deck would have to be constructed in the room supported by eight piers of bunched scaffolding poles, holes cut in the floor to allow the weight to be taken by the rock under the castle. To enable this, the carpet would have to be moved out of the room, preferably off site into secure storage. It was suggested that this might be a good moment to check how the carpet was faring after five years under a layer of polyester felt and an Axminster powerloom replica that had allowed 1.2 million visitors per year access into the room to admire the portraiture.

Since we had undertaken extensive repairs, cleaning and surveys to the carpet in 1998 and then in 2014, Heather Tetley and I were approached by the Royal Collection to prepare a Feasibility Study. This presented a number of different challenges, not just turning, rolling and storage, but also emergency repairs needed and collating surveys over twenty-two years. 

The story of this carpet’s progress reflects what has happened to large carpets in so many historic houses and raises interesting questions about storage, replication and visitor routes as well as treatments undertaken.

'Rewind to 2004 – Fast Forward to 2021’ by Helen Hughes

This conference is not the first collaboration between the Textile and Historic Interiors Group. On the 29th March 2004 the two groups then members of UKIC held a conference at the Clothworkers’ Hall entitled ‘Opening Up Open Display’. In my papers I intend to review to review the concerns of the speakers (published in 2005) and compare these to today’s concerns about displaying textiles. Do they seem dated or are we facing the same scenarios?  The museum world is changing in response to Covid-19, a major problem now is having too few people accessing displays rather than too many.

I will ask the following questions:

How are conservators responding to this problem? 

What developments will there have been by the time our conference is held in Spring 2021? 

What innovative methods have conservators devised to connect with the public?