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.
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.