Dust covers for the library books at Mompesson House

Taffeta on top of books in the library

I have started a new project in our library this season which is all about protecting the books.

The library at Mompesson was originally a pantry but when the last resident of the house, Denis Martineau, was here he made it into a library. He even covered doors with false book spines, the titles of which spell out the various stages of his life, ending with ‘Mompesson House’. The National Trust inherited an empty house following the death of Denis in 1975. The library has been restored and the shelves are now full of books. Some were bequeathed by Dorothy Bushby, and others loaned from the library of the Rev. Sydney Meade, a former resident of the Close.

In the winter we have a group of volunteers who come and check and clean all the books. We have to do this to remove dust which provides nutrients for moulds and pests that can then damage the collection. The problem with cleaning is that it causes abrasion of the covering materials and the loss of small fragments of valuable bindings.

Over the last couple of years, the National Trust has been trialling new methods to protect books and these are now being rolled out nationally at National Trust properties. The new method covers the top of the books with a silk taffeta. Taffeta moulds closely to the profile of the books and is very unobtrusive. I have gradually been covering ours over the last couple of months and no one seems to have noticed. This, of course, is what we had hoped for!

Taffeta on top of books in the library
Taffeta on top of books in the library
Taffeta on top of books in the library

It’s quite a long-winded process to get an exact pattern for the top of the books. First I make a paper pattern before cutting it in taffeta. The taffeta will fray badly unless the edges are sealed. Trials found that the taffeta needs to be single thickness to mould to the top of the books, so hemming or lining would not work. There are a number of ways to seal the edge, but I opted for singeing with a flame. As you can imagine this is not done in the house! A couple of seconds in a flame seals it without burning it. We then embroider on it which shelf it relates to (we have a numbering system in place) and we are ready to install.

Taffeta and pinking shears
Taffeta and pinking shears
Taffeta and pinking shears

Installing the taffeta is a bit fiddly but once in place I have some weights to keep the fabric in place for the first couple of weeks. These weights are made out of strips of lead covered in acid-free tissue paper.

Lead weights covered in acid-free tissue paper
Lead weights covered in acid-free tissue paper
Lead weights covered in acid-free tissue paper

We'll find out during the winter clean the difference the taffeta has made to the amount of dust on the books. In the long-term we hope this process will enable us to preserve the books for the future.