Category Archives: Conservation

Curtain Call

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!

Woodwork Conservation with Adeline

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.

A Bug’s Life

When I visited Geoff and Alex to see the conservation and inventory work in action, I was immediately greeted with a vivid description of the bugs and larvae one encounters doing such work and an offer to see an illustrated poster – not for the faint of heart!

Clothes webbing house moths seem to appreciate the house as much as we do. Unfortunately, they are not the ideal housemates as they destroy wool and other protein based materials (for example, horsehair upholstery, feathers and silk). To the right, you can see evidence of moth activity on one of the kilim cushions. The kilims will need to be deep-cleaned because of this issue and the sheep-skin rugs, particularly affected, will be frozen. Here Alex is sewing fabric inventory labels onto the kilims, being careful not to cause them any further damage.

The team is taking measures to stop the moths in their tracks in order to protect the vulnerable textiles. To the right is a blunder trap – a little folded card trap with a sticky adhesive inside. After identifying the insect species causing the problem, the conservators can add a pheromone vial to the blunder trap. This emits the attractant to all of the adult males in the vicinity, the moths get trapped onto the sticky adhesive and a generation is wiped out as they are unable to reproduce. Take that, bugs!

Meet Alex and Geoff

Alex Solomon and Geoff Lowsley, who have been working together on the inventory along with Project House Steward Fern Ryan, share some of their experiences. See the Team page for more information on their roles.
A Mountain of Work

Alex had high expectations of 575, and had lobbied to work on the property after hearing all about it from other Trust staff. Her expectations were exceeded upon entering the house, and she explains it was quite overwhelming, both in terms of its beauty and the sheer amount of work to be done.

Geoff explains that working on the inventory has been ‘like a hike – it has its false peaks, and you gain a better perspective as you go through’. He says his first impression was that ‘there really was not that much stuff’. However, on his second visit to the property, he opened a kitchen drawer and, finding it brim-full of cutlery, promptly asked for another batch of inventory tags!

Office Space

On a surreal note, Geoff describes sitting in the bathroom on a chair with his laptop perched on top of a boxed printer, in turn stacked on top of the toilet seat (his makeshift desk), while holding a painted ostrich egg, thinking, ‘How did I get here?’

Alex and Geoff agree that each time you enter the house, you notice something new. A moment neither will forget was finding a Victorian kaleidoscope in the living room and discovering the magical effect it has on the fretwork.

Alex is grateful for the privilege of gaining ‘such an intimate view of what one person worked so diligently at’, Geoff concluding that ‘it never leaves you, the feeling that this is my job, my office’.