In the second of her two posts about the Charterhouse tapestries, our Museum, Collection and Learning Manager Gabriella Swaffield describes the work of the conservator…
Back at the studio, Marilyn explained that 90% of her work so far focused on split repair, which occurs mainly at the top of the tapestries due to their weight. She showed us some of the patch repair work that she carried out due to the weft deterioration and how she meticulously removed the old backings and replaced these with fresh new fabric which protects the tapestries from behind.
Marilyn informed us that her process of attaching the heading bands to each tapestry takes about an hour per metre of stitching and she roped in her enthusiastic daughter to undertake some of the intricate sewing. She also explained that she trialled a few methods of cleaning the front of the tapestries including vacuuming and rubber sponges. However, the most productive method was in fact a damp microfibre cloth which worked wonders, who knew!
Brian and I admired how much brighter the colours had become after having years of London grime and smog removed from them. Although the clock could not be turned back on the light deterioration and the green leaves had turned blue (as yellow is the first colour to fade), the facial details and shading really had now ‘popped’.
There were sadly no hidden messages or mysterious signatures from the weavers discovered; however, to her surprise Marilyn did inform us that she removed not only soot from fires and presumably the Blitz, but also incredibly, bird poo from the top of one of the tapestries! As well as this extraordinary revelation, Marilyn also exclaimed that she went through over a hundred pairs of gloves to clean off the soiling – one pair every half an hour! Whilst this all sounds rather unglamorous, Marilyn’s work is paramount in safeguarding the stability of the tapestries to ensure they are preserved for future Brothers and visitors alike to enjoy. Although we hope they won’t encounter so much soot, light pollution and pests of the winged variety in the future…
We have not been able to find out a great deal more about the tapestries, other than the fact that they are close in design to pieces bearing the Oudenaarde mark hence their suggested date of c.1600. Oudenaarde was the centre of tapestry manufacture at the time and the town now has a textile centre and museum (Huis de Lalainge); perhaps this will be our next stop on our research voyage?
Marilyn was pleasantly surprised at the good condition of the tapestries despite their tumultuous past. She has already made immense progress in their conservation treatment and it is hoped that they will be ready for rehanging on the walls of their new home in the Great Hall in May, restored to their majestic splendour of the 1600’s (almost!)