Historic Royal Palaces
Textile Conservation Studio
ABOVE: Conservators practice their handiwork
on tapestries from Hampton Court Palace.
One of the most
impressive sections of Hampton Court Palace is off-limits to the public: It's
Conservation Studio, which is under the direction of Kate Frame, the
articulate (and, if I may be so bold, very attractive) Canadian-born Head of
Conservation and Collections Care for Historic Royal Palaces.
The studio was founded at the turn of the 20th Century and
Morris's decorating and textiles firm,
& Co., in 1912. The studio's official history explains the changes that have
taken place over the last 30 years:
"When the William Morris Company managed the
studio, the traditional practice of restoration was strictly a craft. It
entailed the complete replacement of any weak areas of textile with an
approximate copy of the original. However, by 1970 this was being criticized
by academics for the irrevocable losses it incurred. In the case of
tapestry, this was especially significant since the image is woven into the
fabric. Any losses among the thousands of different colored weft threads
caused both the image and weave to disintegrate. Restoration could
skillfully fill these losses with conjectured replicas of the original.
However, by inserting new strong weave, further strain was put on the
surrounding woven structure. The rate of loss and replacement thus gathered
speed. Evntually, nothing of the original would have remained had the
approach not been changed."
In 1976, the Textile Conservation Studio shifted its approach
from restoration to conservation--i.e., from replacing worn sections of textiles
to preserving what is left. The studio explains: "Generally, no attempt at
replication is undertaken, and all conservation work is reversible and visible
to the discerning eye only."
How the work is done