Saving our silks

Silk wall hangings in the Boudoir at Arlington Court

The conservation work has begun on the rare silk hangings in the beautiful Boudoir. 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 conservation work is not undertaken the silk will 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 has 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 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 is taking 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.

Conservator's work

The conservation work is now complete all that remains is for the fixtures and fittings to be put back. The conservation work has been filmed and will be published once available.

Read more about the findings of conservator May Berkouwer

How you can help

It’s estimated it will take specialist textile conservators four months to complete the work.  The work started in April 2019, but will need your help to reach our target of £50,000. 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.