A guest post from our newest member of staff, Conservator Zoë Lanceley
Every year during the first two weeks of January the PHM change over the banners on display in the main galleries. This was particularly exciting for me as Monday was the first day of my new job as a conservator here in the Textile Conservation Studio. This week we have been hard at work putting a new selection of banners on display and taking the old banners away for a rest from light, dust and the physical strain of hanging vertically.
Here at the PHM the main galleries have been designed with a nifty system to make it easy to change over banner displays. Each banner hangs from a long pole inserted through a sleeve at the top of the banner. The pole is then gradually raised or lowered into position using a pulley system which is hidden behind the walls.
To remove banners from display we carefully lower them down, rolling them as we go. We then take them to a large open space and lay them flat out on the floor (they are too big for tables) and gently vacuum both sides to remove any dust which may have accumulated in the past year. We vacuum them through a mesh screen to protect the delicate surface of the fabric and also put a piece of muslin inside the vacuum nozzle to allow us to collect the dust. This is really helpful as it allows us to monitor exactly what sort of dust and fibres are being removed, i.e. general dust from the carpet or fibres from the banner itself. The banners are ‘put to bed’ until the next time they are displayed by rolling them onto large cardboard tubes, and wrapped up in acid free tissue paper, calico and Tyvek® (a non-woven polyethylene fabric) . We take a lot of care when rolling the banners to make sure that no creases are formed as these could turn into permanent distortions or splits in the future.
When we put banners up on display we follow the same procedure in reverse, carefully unrolling the banner as it is raised up. To put the finishing touches on the new display we make sure the that banners are lit in the right way; bright enough so that visitors can see them clearly but not too bright as this would cause the fabric to fade. The final step is to put barriers in front of the banners to deter people from touching them, as even clean hands can leave traces of oils and salts on the fabric which would cause the fabrics to deteriorate.
Being a textile conservator is an exciting and wide-ranging job. Working with large flat textiles like banners means that our job varies day to day from carrying out painstaking precise treatments at a workbench to kneeling on the floor or carrying heavy objects. I have really enjoyed my first week at the PHM and hope all our visitors enjoy the new display.
If you want to find out more about the work that is carried out in the Textile Conservation Studio, pop up to Main Gallery Two where you can peek through the window into the studio, or join us for one of our quarterly tours.