Aid for Spanish Civil War banners!

I recently had the pleasure of treating a set of Six Spanish Civil War banners in the Textile Conservation Studio the project was undertaken for the Marx Memorial Library in order for the banners to go on display at an exhibition at Islington Museum and was funded by the Textile Society and GFTU educational trust Most of the banners were made from cotton canvas with a ground layer and water based paint, they were used by the Communist Party Hammersmith to raise funds to help civilians fleeing the conflict. I spent between 5 and 15 hours on each banner depending on what each one required. Two of the more complicated banners are featured in this post and demonstrate quite different conservation problems.

Arms & Justice for Spain during conservation People's History Museum

Arms & Justice for Spain banner during conservation

The first banner I want to highlight is entitled Arms and Justice for Spain it is very striking image featuring the recognisable symbol of unity in a handshake between three men in this case. The style is reminiscent of Picasso with the expressive figures drawn in profile. Water-based paint has been used and it was well bonded to the canvas ground in most places apart from the area of upper text which had become cracked along fold lines from previous storage. This required a stabilisation treatment to ensure that no more paint was lost using an adhesive which had a matt appearance to match the quality of the paint. I undertook a series of tests to find a suitable adhesive using samples to experiment with before treating the object. Isinglass (fish glue) was found to be the best choice in this instance because the bond strength was good and it did not appear shiny when applied to the paint.

Arms & Justice for Spain after conservation People's History Museum

Arms & Justice for Spain banner after conservation

The second banner is different to the rest of the group as it was made with oil paint it is entitled International Brigade and features the single figure of a Republican solider against a background of swirling flames. The image is a little difficult to read because a lot of the paint is loose and in some areas it has been lost completely. It was also clear on first inspection that there was a ghost image of text underneath the top layer of paint. Further investigation revealed that the banner had been once used as a book shop sign and then recycled as a banner and it is likely that a weak bond between the old and new paint is what caused much of the current damage.

Underlying text Peoples History Museum.jpg

International Brigade banner highlighting the underlying text

Due to the extent of the damage most areas on the banner required treatment to prevent further loss occurring. This time I used an adhesive called Beva which is safe for oil paints and provides a strong bond to secure the loose paint. We aim to preserve what remains of the original material rather than trying re-touch/re-paint areas of loss, so the banner does not look like new but the paint is much more stable, it is able to hang safely and is more accessible for visitors and researchers.

International Bridage during conservation People's History Museum.JPG

International Brigade banner during conservation

Each banner was also fitted with a white cotton sleeve for display which provides even weight distribution when suspended from a pole. The banners will be on display from the 5th of May to the 8th of July 2017. Spanish Civil War Exhibition A5 leaflet

International Brigade after conservation.jpg

International Brigade banner after conservation



The Day the Textile Conservation Studio turned into an archaeology lab

A guest blog by Conservator Jenny Barsby

In April 2015 we were approached by a location finder from ITV about using the Textile Conservation Studio at PHM as a set for the new drama Midwinter of the Spirit, a three-part series for ITV aired in autumn 2015. Although we were initially apprehensive about the disruption this may cause to our work we were also excited about the prospect of our studio being on TV! A team of 22 crew members came to look at the space and proceeded to take photos and measurements to produce plans for filming. Once these plans were confirmed we were better informed of how they wanted the space to look we could plan for moving the objects out of harm’s way and clearing the lower half of the studio in preparation. On the day of filming, a team of people came in early to dress the set, this involved covering the available tables, hiding some of the equipment which didn’t fit with the look they wanted and creating a smaller window aperture to film through from the gallery (fig1).

Fig 1 False window

Fig 1 False window

The set was also dressed with props including fake skeletons laid out on the tables and lots of equipment designed for cleaning and assessing human remains (fig 2).

Fig 2 Props

Fig 2 Props

After the dressing crew had left we had some time to do our own work before the film crew arrived in early evening. The museum was open as normal during the day and although the viewing window from the gallery was partially covered with the set build, visitors could still see into the studio, we thought they might be a bit confused by the scene which confronted them so we made a sign to explain why there were no textiles on view that day (fig 3).

Fig 3 Sign

Fig 3 Sign

In the evening the second crew of about 30 people came in with lots of equipment to set up and start filming. The scenes were shot from inside the studio and through the viewing window from the gallery. The footage probably only equates to a few minutes but the crew were with us for five hours including set up, rehearsals and filming. Each scene was filmed several times from different angles with changes to the lighting, sound or in one case when the microphone boom was in shot! Two monitors were set up, one in the studio for the director and one in the gallery where the rest of the crew could see it (fig 4).Fig 4 The Film crew With each type of shot there seemed to be different types of equipment used from floor tracking with the large camera for smooth moving shots, to a smaller camera attached to a harness worn by one of the cameramen, which seemed to be used in the more confined space in a corridor scene. Our extractor trunking was used to dramatically light the skeleton at one point with all the other studio lights off. The separate lab area was turned into a corridor with some of our equipment hidden behind foam board covers. The actors came walking along the ‘corridor’ and entering the lab through the door, it will be interesting to see how this works on screen as it is normally a dead end (fig 5).

Fig 5 Rehersal for a scene

Fig 5 Rehersal for a scene

The two lead actors Anna Maxwell-Martin, David Threlfall were involved in these scenes we won’t reveal the plot; you have to watch it to find out (although our photos might give some clues).

During the process we were very mindful of protecting the objects on display and in the studio, the crew also had three people who were responsible for keeping an eye on proceedings and were very keen to make sure we were informed throughout the process. We had a little drama of our own at one point when the automatic air conditioning system turned on in the studio, it is quite loud and threatened to interfere with the sound recording, luckily we were able to get it turned off just in time for the next take. By around 10pm the filming was finished and the crew started packing away all their equipment. The next day we spent some time having a tidy up and putting everything back in its place and now the studio is back to normal again. It was a good experience overall, and interesting to see how a TV series like this is filmed but a long, tiring day for us (fig 6).

Fig 6 Skeletons

Fig 6 Skeletons

Museums are often used as locations for historical dramas but I wonder how many conservation studios can say they have had skeletons and exorcists in their midst!

George Quayle’s Tricorn Hat

A post by conservator Zoë Lanceley.

As well as caring for the objects in the People’s History collection, the Textile Conservation Studio also carry out work for TCSOC168_BC_ (1)private clients. This helps to support the wider work of the PHM.

We recently took on the job of conserving two hats owned by the Manx Museum. The hats date from the late 18th Century and were both owned by a man called George Quayle (1751-1835) who was a prominent politician and banker on the Isle of Man. The Manx Museum is currently preparing an exhibition about George Quayle, which will include both of his hats. (Nautical Museum, Castletown)

I am currently working on one of his hats, a stylish tricorn cocked hat with metallic braid, tassles and a black silk corsage. Just below the corsage is a gold coloured button with the triskellion symbol and motto of the Isle of Mann: ‘QUOCUNQUE JECERIS STABIT’ (Whichever wayTCSOC168_BC_ (10) you throw, it will stand). The term ‘cocked’ refers to the three sides of the brim which are turned up. George Quayle’s initials are inside the hat, as well as the maker’s paper label. The makers label reads: ‘Wagner, Hat maker to their Majefties (sic), Pall Mall, London’. As well as making hats for the Royal Family, Wagner’s also made hats for the military. You can tell George Quayle wore his hat many times as perspiration is present around the lining of the crown.

The hat is made from a single piece of beaver fur felt and dates from about 1790. At this time lots of different furs were used to make felt, but the finest hats were made from beaver fur felt. During the manufacturing process it was necessary to use a form of mercury (mercuric nitrate) to felt the fibres together. Unfortunately mercury is very poisonous, and hatters (who made hats) often became very ill, displaying symptoms such as shaking and hallucinations. This is where the term ‘Mad as a hatter’ TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (3)comes from.

When I looked at the hat under the microscope I made an interesting discovery. The metallic gilt braid has tarnished to a dull grey colour, but in some places gold paint has been applied over the tarnish. It is a mystery to me why or when this was done; did George Quayle do it to spruce up his hat? Or has someone else applied the paint more recently? As a conservator it is really interesting to make discoveries like this, it all adds to the mystery of the past.

Over its life time the hat has been in the wars and is quite damaged. Most of this damage has been caused by moths, as unfortunately beaver fur is delicious food for moths. They have nibbled their way around most of the crown of the hat and the TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (15)middle of the silk corsage. The first thing I did to improve the appearance of the hat was to very gently clean the surface with a tiny low powered vacuum cleaner and a soft paint brush. This helped remove dirt and dust which had accumulated on the hat. I also picked off fragments of moth casings (which moths leave behind after pupating from larvae to grown up moths) and loose bits of fabric which had been nibbled free.

Initially I had planned to reshape the hat by humidifying it (which would cause the felt to relax), and apply support patches across splits in the felt. Despite my best efforts this wasn’t possible, as the felt remained very rigid even after lots of humidification. Even though the hat looks very fragile, the felt is surprisingly robust. It feels very much like stiff cardboard. Despite the tough exterior, the lining is still fragile and handling the hat should be kept to the absolute minimum. My priorities TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (22)now are to make a safe stable support board for the hat to be stored and displayed on. The board will be covered in grey fabric so that it fits in with the exhibition at Manx Museum, and will have a dome on it to support the hat. I am also in the process of making a box for the hat which it can be stored in permanently when the exhibition is over.

It is really interesting to work with objects which have been well used by their owner, particularly when you can identify who that person was. I’m sure this hat will make a fascinating contribution to the George Quayle exhibition.

A sticky situation

A guest blog by Conservator Jenny Barsby

At PHM we collect objects which have a story and this is often told through the physical condition of the piece, if a banner has holes or stains these may be a clue to how, where or why it was used. As is often the case with social history collections we sometimes deal with complex objects made from a variety of materials, many of the textiles I treat show signs of wear and tear or may be disfiguring if viewed in a different context. It is my job as a conservator to preserve this evidence while ensuring that the object is safe for storage and display.

As well as maintaining our existing collection and preparing objects for display we treat new objects as they come in. When a new object comes into the Textile Conservation Studio the first thing I do is a condition report, this is a detailed document which I use to assess the current condition and will help me to track any future changes so the next time it is taken out I can compare against the report. I also note down as much information as possible about the object including a physical description, take measurements and lots of photos.

Banner face during treatmentAn example of this approach is a banner I recently worked on, it was donated by York and District Trades Union Council in 2014. It was made in 1975 but was used by the York TUC in fairly recent rallies. It is a single sided banner made from one length of red cotton sateen with appliquéd black cotton lettering cut out and machine sewn to the cloth. The interesting thing about this banner is that it is adorned with 21 self adhesive stickers pertaining to different campaigns when the banner was used.

We know from images provided by York TUC that the banner was taken on several marches from an anti-nuclear demo in 1980 where the banner appears to be fairly plain to the signal workers rally in 1994 when you can see from the photo that many stickers have been added. As part of the conservation I carefully assessed each sticker and noted its condition, although most are now well adhered to the fabric beneath, this could change over time meaning I may need to adjust my treatment. When these stickers were made they were probably not expected to last long, but this ephemeral nature is part of the reason we value such items, if they weren’t being cared for in museums they might be lost forever.

RMT sticker before conservation RMT sticker after conservationSome of the stickers were coming loose so they required treatment to make them stable and fit for display. To do this I used small amounts of conservation grade adhesive applied in patches underneath the loose areas. This provides adequate support without forming too strong a bond and can be removed if necessary in the future.

The banner was also quite creased from folding in storage, and in diagonal lines running across from the corners. As a rule we do try to smooth out creases because they can distort the fabric and eventually lead to splits and tears along the crease. With this banner, the fold lines were eased by introducing moisture as vapour and weighting down the creases, basically a really gentle form of ironing! The diagonal creases however were not treated because they demonstrate how it was carried, between two poles with little or no tension across the top. Of course this creasing will need to be monitored to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate and cause further damage. This is the balancing act we play as conservators, trying to preserve as much physical evidence as we can without putting the object at further risk.

York TUC banner after conservationFor the time being the York TUC banner has been wrapped up for storage but it will hopefully be on display soon. In the meantime please come and see some of the other wonderful banners which have been lovingly treated and installed by our conservation team.

Icon Textile forum

A guest post by our lovely Conservators Jenny Barsby and Zoë Lanceley

Last week Jenny and Zoë from our conservation team attended the Icon Textile forum. This is an annual event organised by Icon (the Institute of Conservation) which is the professional body for conservators in the UK. The forum is a gathering of other textile conservators from across the UK, it is an opportunity to hear presentations and see posters based on a theme which changes each year and the chance to catch up with friends and colleagues.

forum tea breakFor 2015 the theme of the day was ‘Learning Curve: Education, Experience and Reflection.’ It was a packed day with eleven papers delivered in total, with speakers from other national museums, private practitioners and students. To start was ‘Textile Education – what are we training for?’ This paper, written by Frances Lennard and Sarah Foskett reflected on the 40 years since the establishment of the Textile Conservation Centre which was originally based at Hampton Court Palace in London but is now run through Glasgow University, this training programme is currently the only place to study textile conservation in the UK producing around 9 graduates each year. The next paper delivered by Katriina Similä and co-authored with Dinah Eastop was entitled ‘Positioning: where you stand’ based around a workshop held at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and dealt with different people’s perspective of cultural heritage within an institution using conservation documentation to show how one person’s view of an object in this case can be completely different to someone else’s. ‘Public and Private Studio Collaboration for Interns’ by Jacqueline Hyman and Pierrette Squires discussed the benefits gained by their interns who had the opportunity to work in a private studio and at Bolton Museum. The placements offered the chance to do practical conservation work and learn about broader aspects of collections care and exhibition installation.

After tea the next session of papers began with ‘Standing on the shoulders of others: further developments in polychrome patterned nylon net’ written by Maria Jordan and Libby Thompson from Historic Royal Palaces. This paper outlined a treatment developed to protect very fragile textiles with nylon net which had been toned to match the fabric using digital printing and screen printing methods. The benefits and pitfalls of the work were discussed. This was followed by another practical paper from Elizabeth-Anne Haldane,  Joanne Hackett,  Sarah Glenn and Sung Im from the V&A entitled ‘Borrowing from the neighbours: using the technology of other disciplines to treat difficult textile conservation problems’, they described a series of treatments inspired by a workshop held at the museum by Richard Wolbers who specialises in cleaning systems for delicate objects such as paintings, paper and textiles.  The final presentation of this session was ‘Conservation of a large chenille carpet from Cragside, Northumberland’ written by Aimee Grice-Venour from the National Trust. The paper dealt with the challenges of working on large scale floor coverings and how the studio had to adapt working practices to accommodate it.

forum _Nora Meller presentationA short AGM followed the lunch break and then the afternoon session began with a paper by Alice Brown, Sophie Minnis, and Louise Joynson. ‘Tapestries in time: The role of time and our development in tapestry conservation’ looked at the Doddington Hall tapestry project which is ongoing and involves the team of conservators working in a studio which is accessible to the public. They talked about their working practices and the problems and benefits of doing such complex work in full view of the general public.   Jennifer Cruise from the University St. Thomas Minnesota presented a paper called ‘Missing Links? Access, Utility and Communication’ discussing the scientific literature produced by and available to conservators, looking at how we use these resources and which external factors can affect the progression of this research. This was followed by a paper by Nora Meller from the Royal Museums Greenwich entitled ‘Learning from interdisciplinary collaboration during an internship at Royal Museums Greenwich.’ It discussed a project to stabilise and pack a collection which had been donated by the London Missionary Society and included a large number of ethnographic objects.

During break periods there was the opportunity to view a selection of posters which had been produced, including one from Zoë detailing a treatment that she carried out when working at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year. The poster was about a complicated project she carried out to mount a German Calvary helmet dating from 1630, which will go on permanent display at the V&A later this year. The helmet was complete with its original padded linen lining, so Zoë had to work with the mountmaking team to find a way to display it, making sure it is safe and secure whilst appearing to hover in midair.

An afternoon tea break was followed by a talk by Ann French from the Whitworth Art Gallery, reflecting on her career in conservation with ‘Thirty Years On: Connecting Personal Self-Reflection to Professional Change.’ Looking back at her experiences, she discussed the shift in value systems which challenge conservators to re-address the way we treat and display objects in our care. The final presentation of the day was delivered by Joan Kendall Textile consultant at Hatfield house. ‘Recruiting, selecting, Training and Managing volunteers for the Textile Conservation Group at Hatfield House, 1977-2014’ was a tribute to a long running volunteer programme from inception to the highs and lows of working with the groups and eventual end to the project alongside Joan’s retirement.  In January the TCS team drove down to Hatfield House to collect a painted 19th Century Garter Banner which we are currently conserving in the studio . Next time you’re visiting the PHM, have a look at it through our studio window.

Conservation of a Garter banner from Hatfield House

A guest blog by Senior Conservator, Vivian Lochhead

1 Garter Banner, c1847 Hatfield House before conservation

Garter Banner, c1847 Hatfield House before conservation

Conservation of a Garter banner from Hatfield House in Hertfordshire has just begun in the Textile Conservation Studio. The 2nd Marquess of Salisbury was made Knight of the Garter in 1842 and the banner to mark this honour dates from c1847. The banner is similar in size and construction to military colours of the time, being made of a single layer of fine silk fabric, fringed around the edges and hand painted with various devices.

2 Garter Banner c1847, detail showing deterioration of a part painted area

Detail showing deterioration of a part painted area

3 Garter Banner c1847 showing fractured painted silk

Detail showing fractured painted silk

Processing of the silk fabric during manufacture to create a good white background for the design has most probably been the catalyst for deterioration of the fabric. The banner is now extremely fragile causing the silk of unpainted areas to spilt and fall away and for painted sections to stiffen and break into angular fragments. Some loss of white background silk and painted design has occurred, but many detached fragments have slipped beneath adjacent sections and will be retrieved during treatment for correct repositioning.

The banner is currently undergoing close examination and very light surface cleaning, allowing recovery of stray detached fragments and testing for further treatment options.