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Historic Royal Palaces Textile Conservation Studio
Hampton Court Palace
One of the most impressive sections of Hampton Court Palace is off-limits to the public: It's the , which is under the direction of Kate Frame, the Canadian-born Head of Conservation and Collections Care for Historic Royal Palaces since 1998.
The studio was founded at the turn of the 20th Century and incorporated into William Morris's decorating and textiles firm, Morris & Co., in 1912.
The studio's official history explains the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years:
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:
The Textile Conservation Studio's most basic rule is similar to that of the medical profession: "First, do no harm."
I saw how this philosophy was applied as I watched a conservator working with a silk brocade covering from one of the state beds at Hampton Court Palace. The floral motif was nearly unrecognizable on the section of fabric that I first saw; the raised motifs had crumbled into pieces and lifted off the tightly woven background, despite attempts to glue them into place during the 20th Century.
The conservator was repairing the damage by sewing the broken pieces onto the background with a fine, specially dyed nylon thread and using a fine dyed nylon netting to add further strength and protection. When she lifted a sheet off the section of the bed covering that she'd already repaired, I was amazed: The brocade pattern was clearly discernible, and the repairs were invisible unless I leaned forward to examine the fabric at close range.
A young conservator was treating a 17th Century close stool (a portable toilet seat and chamber pot disguised as a trunk) that normally is on display in King Charles II's stoolroom. She used a curved surgical needle to sew down worn pieces of fabric, and dyed nylon netting was stretched across the face of the box to add structural support while preventing further damage.
In another room, a conservator in her late 20s or early 30s had the Nithsdale Cloak spread out on a large table while she worked on a plan for its conservation. The cloak, worn by the Earl of Nithsdale during an escape from the Tower of London in 1716, had been borrowed from descendants of the famous escapee for a "Prisoner of the Towers" exhibition. (See Lord Nithsdale's Escape.)
In yet another room, a young female conservator was repairing a large silk-covered section of a state bed.
The largest room in the main studio was devoted to repairing Hampton Court Palace's tapestries. (See Collections Care: Tapestries at Hampton Court Palace.) Three women were carefully sewing worn sections of tapestries from the time of Henry VIII, using methods that were designed to strengthen the weakened material without damage to the priceless 500-year-old work of Flemish weavers.
Textiles and conservation services:
The Textile Conservation Studio at Hampton Court Palace cares for a variety of textiles, including:
The studio explains:
The laboratory offers scientific advice backed up by testing with a variety of tools, including high-performance liquid chromotography for dye analysis and microscopes for fiber identication.
Photos copyright © HRP. Used by permission.
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