Packing curtains presents some interesting challenges. To get these ones down takes three people, ideally. Textiles are fragile, and when stored for a few months any creases will stay and possibly get worse, so the team must work to minimise damage. The curtains need to be laid flat, and finding the space to do so in a house like this can be a real problem! They must be put down on a clean surface, so protective sheets are laid out for them to be put onto.
The top part of the curtain is the most difficult to deal with and the team uses acid-free tissue puff ‘jellyfish’ around the top to minimise creases in the gathers. Any metal fixtures must also be isolated with tissue.
Ideally, textiles should not be folded, but sometimes they have to be because of space issues. When this is the case, every fold must be padded out. The team make ‘sausages’ using wadding or bubble wrap, which are themselves wrapped in conservation-friendly acid-free tissue paper, to make a smooth surface that won’t abrade the textile fabric.
The curtains are then wrapped as a ‘massive parcel’, in Project House Steward Fern’s words, using Tyvek, which is a conservation-grade material of polyethylene spun-bonded into a fabric, and is very strong and dust-proof. After being labelled, the curtains are carried as flat as possible out of the house, a task which again takes three people and is rather a challenge to take downstairs. Good luck, guys!
Adeline is working to make all wood in the house stable and safe, fixing items at their current state without adding any new wood. She describes a previous job in which she had to conserve a table whose legs were facing every-which-way – so frustrating not to be able to put them straight, but to have to make the table stand firm in its dilapidated state! However, such is the nature of conservation: Adeline understands the importance of 575 and all its contents looking as they did when Khadambi Asalache left the house to the Trust.
During my visit, she was working on fixing this chair, which was losing paint. The wood was covered with several porous layers which gave the ‘weathered’ effect; they included animal glue and whiting, red clay, gilding and silver powder. After testing several possible fixing substances, she chose a very light ratio of fish glue to water.
Adeline has been working on just the furniture so far, which she describes as ‘not so scary’ in comparison with what is to come! She must also remove all the floorboards and replace them with plywood so that the ceilings can be easily accessed for their restoration. The fretwork on the walls will have to be protected, using polycarbonate sheets, while the conservation work is taking place. When the Perspex that is currently keeping parts of the ceiling in place is removed, some fretwork will come down with it, so Adeline must record exactly where each part was and test glues with which to put it back when the ceiling work is finished.
Over the past months, the house has filled up with crates ready to be stored off-site while building and conservation work takes place.
We would like to thank the National Trust employees from other properties in the region who have given a helping hand with the packing, including staff from The Vyne, Carlyle’s House, Polesden Lacey, Knole, Nymans, Smallhythe Place, Ham House and Tyntesfield.