Monday, 14 October 2013

Basildon Park - crimson bed conservation

It has been a busy year at Basildon Park for textile conservation.

Here you can see the Crimson Bed which is undergoing conservation work. This is painstaking and slow work which has to be done with great care.


The bed and the hangings were made in the early 1840's for a house called Ashburnham Place in Sussex for King George IV to sleep in. Of course, he never actually went to Ashburnham and so he never slept in the bed!  Yet another "Royal Bed" that was never actually used.  Although I should say that Lord and Lady Illiffe used it as a guest bed!

There are three main enemies to all of the objects and textiles in all our homes. Temperature, humidity and light, as well as what dust does - you would not believe me if I told you! - (and all the things humans do to objects, which are not as bad as the things that bugs do, may I add!!). That is why when you visit historic houses they are often cold and dark.  It isn't because the owners are too cheap to put the heating on.  It is because they are trying to keep an even year round temperature, humidity and light level as that stops things like wood expanding and contracting with the changes in temperature.  All that movement can cause cracks and damage to happen.  Sometimes the heating is on in the summer to keep the humidity down!


Light causes things to fade, but it also causes fabrics to disintegrate over time. That is why we have a 3 level system in place on each window in the house at Basildon Park. There is a special UV filter film on each pane of glass, then two blinds, one is more of a blackout blind, and the other is more of a light filter. The two blinds can be put up or down alone or together as needed to filter the light. We aren't trying to keep visitors in the dark, we are trying to protect the objects and textiles. When the house is closed to the public we all go round with all of the blinds down all the time! You soon get used to it though and it is surprising how much you can see when you let your eyes adjust to the lower light levels.


Here you can see one of the monitors that we use to see how much light exposure an item has had. The blue is a special fabric which fades at a known rate. By comparing it to a chart and seeing what colour it has changed to you know how much light an object has been exposed to - simple!


Anyway, back to the conservation of the Crimson Bed. Victoria and Jane our textile conservators take great care in their work on the fabrics. Firstly they inspect the item to be conserved. Conservation is not the same as restoration. We are not trying to make an object look like new, we are trying to protect it and keep it in as good a condition as possible without it getting any worse.

When the item has been inspected it needs to be cleaned using a special low suction vacuum. You don't want to accidentally suck up a vital part of the item into the hoover! Then the fabric is laid over a backing fabric and a special net is laid over the top of the fabric. The netting is dyed to match the fabric being conserved and more than one colour of netting may be needed depending on the colour of the textile and how it has faded. Each piece of netting is hand dyed to match each area of fabric.


Then the three layers are stitched together by hand. This allows the backing fabric to take the weight of the fabric being conserved and helps to stop it falling apart under it's own weight. The netting also helps with this and also ensures that no loose threads are accidentally knocked off of the fabric or sucked into a vacuum cleaner.

You can see here the final product of the conservation work. It might not look like much, but it is a lot of work and makes a big difference to how the fabrics are protected and how long they last.

 

You can see here the hangings on the sides of the bed that have been exposed to the light.

 

Here are the hangings that don't get the light from the window shining straight onto them.

 

Hopefully you can see the difference, but take it from me, there is a huge change in colour and condition from one side to the other.

Once an item has been worked on it is carefully wrapped up and labelled until it is ready to be put back in place.


When all of the work has been done the hangings on the bed will last for many more years to come. Victoria and Jane do amazing work and if you are lucky you may get to someone like them working one day, it is amazing to see their skill and concentration!


Just for interest, here are a couple of photos of the curtains in the Dining Room at Basildon Park.  They show how badly light can damage textiles, and the sorts of repairs that were done "in days gone by".






I hope you enjoyed finding out a bit more about conservation.

Amy

Basildon Park know that I exist because I volunteer with them, but that is all.  I am just sharing this with you because Basildon Park is part of what I do and love.

18 comments:

  1. How interesting Amy! I am a new follower so I am just learning about your volunteering at the lovely historical landmark. It's so beautiful and how "fun" for you!....Shari

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    1. Hi Shari, I do love Basildon Park, it cannot be denied! Glad you found this interesting, I'm never sure if I go into too much detail, or not enough, with my Basildon posts. Thanks for visiting. xx

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  2. Wow! That is all very interesting! I should have realized that those fabrics were just hanging there and left for centuries.

    I watched a scientific documentary on dust mites ones time and haven't looked at housecleaning the same ever since! But I can wash the hell out of my sheets and don't have to worry about conservation. hahaha.

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    1. It is amazing what bugs get up to if left to their own devices! Ugghhh, best not to think about it too much. And yes, often fabric is hung up and just left there.... Not always, and often it is taken down for cleaning or other things, but sometimes, it just hangs there and gets vacumed from time to time. Scary huh!

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  3. That must be a very specialised job, conserving fabrics. We're lucky in this country that we have such a lot of history, definitely worth preserving.

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    1. It is very specialised work Jo, one of the conservators (sorry I forget which way round now!) worked for the NT for years, and the other used to work on textiles for the V&A before working for the NT. It is scary just watching them, I cannot imagine actually doing the work. What they do definately makes a difference though, and as you say it is worth the effort preserving these things.

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    2. Very interesting. I loved reading all about this specialised work.

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  4. Fascinating Amy. As a veteran NT visitor, it is great to know more about what goes on behind the scenes.
    Why is photography banned in so many places these days, even without flash?

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    1. Hi, most NT places should allow photos without flash - ask at the ticket office when you go in. There might be some exceptions on some rooms or objects where there are loan items - we have some things like that, but mostly it should be ok. Glad you like seeing "behind the scenes"! xx

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  5. Goodness - it's easy to miss how much work goes in behind the scenes. Looks really interesting.

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    1. I had no idea how much went on until I started working at Basildon Park, it is amazing isn't it, and very interesting. xx

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  6. I love textiles - wish I had the skills (and good eyesight) to do any sort of sewing, but I admire those who do this for pleasure or as a profession. Very interesting post, Amy.
    I've seen conservation work being done at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire and it's always fascinating to spend a day with those who work 'behind the scenes' at a big house.

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    1. It is wonderful to see this sort of thing being done isn't it, especially behind the scenes things!

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  7. It is truly amazing how much of the textile has remained in perfect condition all this time. I always wanted to be a restorer of paintings, where you meticulously brush away dirt and come up with a bright good-as-new tableau. It takes so much more training and patience than we realize. Bravo to those who are proficient in keeping up the past and preserving it for generations to come.

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    1. I was a bit upset with myself today as both the textile and furniture conservators were putting the bed back together, and today was the first time in ages that I didn't have my camera to be able to capture their work. It is wonderful to see them at work, I too would love to be able to do this sort of thing. Not sure that I have the patience or a steady enough hand though!! xx

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  8. A really interesting post. I have been to a few houses where they have displays about the conservation work, and show items that have been worn, by light, touch, bugs etc. it really is fascinating. When we were at Greenway recently for the literary dinner we were all melting because the heat was on. Apparently this was because there are so many books there that require a constant temperature. At one point I began to wonder if I was having hot flushes, then I looked around and saw that everyone was having them!

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    1. Seem to remember that I had the same trouble as you at Greenway, so you are not alone. I am always hot at Basildon, even when everyone else is cold, my thermostat has some control issues - ha! xx

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