Tapestry TLC

The tapestries in situ at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire.  © National Trust/Andreas von Einsiedel

The tapestries in situ at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire.

Project:
Cleaning and restoring the Gideon Tapestries
Location:
Hardwick Hall

In 1996 a full survey of the Gideon Tapestries revealed that an estimated £1.7 million was needed to repair, clean and save the unique collection. Find out how our team have been working to save these unique items.

History of the  tapestries
The Gideon Tapestries at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire reflect the grandeur and importance of tapestries in the Elizabethan period. The tapestries are Flemish and were woven in 1578 for Lord Christopher Hatton, the Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. They were sold to Bess of Hardwick in 1591, who at the time was building Hardwick Hall and specifically designed the Long Gallery to house them.

The tapestries are unusual in their massive scale, as each one measures between 5.80m and 6.01m in height, and between 2.40m and 8.75m in width. Originally these dramatic biblical scenes were full of vibrant colour and made a clear social statement about their owner.

While the stunning colours would have overwhelmed the 16th-century visitor, their current condition is barely legible. Faded by sunlight and covered in dirt the original colours can only be appreciated by viewing the reverse of the tapestries. 

Conserving the tapestries
In 1996 a full survey of the Gideon Tapestries revealed that an estimated £1.7 million was needed to repair, clean and save the unique collection. Over the last 10 years eight tapestries have been conserved, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and fundraising by the property.

Without further financial support to fund the next stages of the restoration work the remaining five Gideon Tapestries will not survive.


What is involved?

  • The conservation work involves photography, a detailed examination, documentation and analysis of the dyes and fibres. The 400 years worth of soiling are removed by specialist surface cleaning. The tapestry is ‘wet cleaned’ at the De Wit Royal Manufacture in Belgium. At De Wit a specifically designed facility allows the tapestry to remain flat while an aerosol of water and detergent is drawn through the tapestry, releasing the soiling.
  • After cleaning, detailed hand-stitching work is carried out. Due to the huge scale of these pieces their conservation has been a collaborative project between the National Trust’s in-house Studio and a Private Textile Conservation Studio. The work involves applying a full linen backing and carrying out stitched repairs to the weak and missing areas of wool and silk weft using yarns carefully chosen to match the original threads.
  • Once all the conservation stitching is completed the tapestries are given a full lining and re-hung in the Long Gallery by three rows of VelcroTM stitched to the top of the tapestry. Velcro is used because it is very strong and allows the weight of the tapestry to be evenly distributed.

This work is essential so that we can meet our long-term aim: to repair and conserve the whole collection for the history and enjoyment of all future visitors to Hardwick Hall.