Help save our silks

Silk wall hangings in the Boudoir at Arlington Court

This year we have launched an ambitious fundraising appeal to help save the rare silk hangings in the beautiful Boudoir. The crimson and gold silk damask, one of the few surviving original decorative features in the house, is in danger of being lost. Over two hundred years of light damage and natural wear and tear have taken its toll; if conservation work is not undertaken soon the silk will continue to deteriorate leaving little of the stunning work left.

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 three 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 is possible.  The work will have to take place in situ, as the silk is far too fragile to remove from the walls, which will also offer visitors a unique opportunity to see specialised conservation work in action.

How you can help

It’s estimated it will take specialist textile conservators four months to complete the work.  The work is due to start in April 2019, but will need your help to reach our target of £50,000 and get the work underway. Visitors can support the project by purchasing raffle tickets at the property, adding 50p to their bill in the tea-rooms, or by donating via cash or cheque. Fundraising Friday’s will also be taking place throughout the summer, providing more information about the project and various activities to get involved with.

A chance to see these usually stored items of clothing
A display of Victorian outfits, three ladies and one boys
A chance to see these usually stored items of clothing

Why have cotton when you can have silk?

A special partnership silk exhibition has also been installed in the house this year, highlighting some of the problems and conservation methods associated with caring for precious silk artefacts. The exhibition includes previously unseen items from the costume and textile collection, including a dress made of eighteenth century silk.

The exhibition explores how silk was used not just for luxurious clothing but also furnishing textiles and the interiors of carriages.

The exhibition is on display throughout 2018.