Textile Conservation at Manchester Cathedral

A guest post by our Textile Conservation Team, Jenny Barsby and Vivian Lochhead

Fig 1 Cross before conservation

Fig 1 Cross before conservation

The Textile Conservation team recently spent two days working on site at Manchester Cathedral, together with a student from Cardiff University who was on placement with us. The Cathedral is currently undergoing a building works to the roof and other structures with particular focus on the Jesus Chapel which is to the right as you enter through the main door. A number of items were moved to enable the work to start, including a large cross with textile elements. We were contacted by the project manager who felt that this was a good opportunity to assess the condition of the cross and have it treated while it is off display. Senior Conservator Vivian Lochhead made an initial site visit to gauge the level of work required and found the cross to be in a reasonably stable condition but extremely dirty with many years build up of dust coating the various components (fig 1).

Fig 2 Detail of linen threads at anchor points

Fig 2 Detail of linen threads at anchor points

The cross is dated 1969-1970 and was a collaboration between two designers. Bryant Fedden made the cross structure which is formed from cast aluminium. It is a modern style, with two main vertical sections bridged with spacers across the back and horizontal arms which slant upwards; each metal section is tapered towards the ends. The textile elements were created by Theo Moorman, they are tapestry woven with various three dimensional sections and textural surfaces. The tapestry inserts are attached to the cross by means of four anchor points per strip secured by linen threads tied to wires which are screwed into the cross (fig 2).

Fig 3 During cleaning of metal cross

Fig 3 During cleaning of metal cross

After discussing the options as a team we decided on appropriate methods to clean both the metal and textile components which would be safe to do in a public space without our normal studio facilities. The metal could be safely swabbed with de-ionised water and a little detergent ensuring that each section was thoroughly rinsed and dried (fig 3). The textile parts would be cleaned with a low suction vacuum and the raised tufts swabbed with de-ionised water and detergent before rinsing and gently drying with a hair drier.

Fig 4 Work space

Fig 4 Work space

The work was planned to take place over two days and we set up on tables in a cordoned off area of the cathedral building (fig 4). This meant that visitors could see what we were doing and we were on hand to answer questions. The people we spoke to seemed very interested in what we were doing with the most frequent question being: How long will the work take you? The work was quite intensive because we had to stand up to do most of the cleaning, bending over for the difficult to reach sections inside the cross

Fig 5 Vivian & Julie cleaning

Fig 5 Vivian & Julie cleaning

(fig 5). Although we are used to being watched by our visitors at PHM, this was a different experience because there was a lot more interaction. We did enjoy explaining our work but this also meant that we probably worked a little slower than usual (fig 6).

Fig 6 Jenny Vacuuming

Fig 6 Jenny Vacuuming

Overall the conservation was very successful, the metal part of the cross came up very well once the layers of dust had been removed and the tapestry inserts were much improved, in addition to cleaning, Vivian strengthened each anchor point with an extra line of linen thread (fig 7).

Fig 7 left arm before and after conservation

Fig 7 left arm before and after conservation

The inserts are fixed under slight tension so adding extra threads should take the strain and prevent further damage occurring to the original threads. Once complete the textile parts of the cross were wrapped temporarily in a loose layer of plastic to prevent further dust from settling on it before it is installed back in the Jesus chapel after the completion of the building works (fig 8). We were also able to surface clean the tapestry hanging which is normally displayed behind the cross; this was done using a low powered vacuum working through a mesh screen to protect the textile. It was nice to have a change of scenery for a couple of days and work in such a beautiful building, don’t forget to look out for the cross the next time you visit Manchester Cathedral.

Fig 8 The cross after conservation

Fig 8 The cross after conservation

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