Saving our silks

Silk wall hangings in the Boudoir at Arlington Court

The conservation work on the rare silk hangings in the beautiful Boudoir has now been completed. The crimson and gold silk damask is one of the few surviving original decorative features in the house. Over two hundred years of light damage and natural wear and tear have taken its toll; if the conservation work was not undertaken the silk would continue to deteriorate leaving little of the stunning work left. Woodwork conservators had to carefully remove all the architectural elements to allow the textile conservators access to the silk panels which revealed how bright and beautiful the original silk must have been.

The Boudoir

The Boudoir is one of the few rooms at Arlington which still has its original interior decoration, dating from the 1830s. Sir John Chichester of Arlington married Caroline Thistlethwayte in 1838 and as this room would have been used solely by her, she may well have had an influence on the design. The hangings on the wall are made of red and gold silk damask, a technique whereby the pattern is woven into the silk.

Wear and tear

Over the years the silk has been damaged by light, it has faded and the threads have weakened causing splits. The wear and tear of almost two hundred years of people brushing past particular areas has also caused damage and the natural deterioration of an organic material.    

Over the past twenty years the National Trust has commissioned repairs to the silk, including sewing a fine net over it to limit any dust getting on to the surface and placing patches on areas where the silk has fallen away. We also took the decision to limit access to the room and to remove as much light as possible by closing the shutters and curtains, hoping to limit further fading. Although this has slowed down the deterioration, it is impossible to stop it completely.

Nearly 200 years have ravaged the once beautiful wall hangings
A patch of worn and frayed silk in the Boudoir at Arlington Court
Nearly 200 years have ravaged the once beautiful wall hangings

Leave, conserve or replace?

Over the past few years a number of textile specialists have been to have a look and report on the condition of the silk. In 2017 the National Trust commissioned a special report to assess the extent of the damage and see if conservation work was possible. If not we had two main options; leave it alone or look at having replacement silk woven in the same pattern, an expensive project.

Luckily conservation was possible. The work took place in situ, as the silk was far too fragile to remove from the walls, this also offered visitors a unique opportunity to see specialised conservation work in action, you can view the video below:

Conservator's work

The conservation work is now complete, fixtures and fittings have been put back and the room redressed. The conservation work has been filmed and will be published once available.

Read more about the findings of conservator May Berkouwer