Or should I say ‘see you later’! We have just sent the next one of our Gideon tapestries away from conversation!
The Gideon tapestries projects has been on-going for years and I was lucky enough to help re-hang the last two Gideons that returned from conservation in May. Even though this was the first time I had taken down a Gideon the team are more than well-practiced so we were in safe hands.
The tapestry we were taking down this time is in the worst repair of the three that remain to be conserved, which is why we decided it needed to be the next to go. The closer we looked at the tapestry, the worse the damage is!
As this tapestry is one of the three largest in the property we had to re-think about how to approach handling such a massive weight. It was decided to help us this time round fixed scaffolding would be hired to cope with the weight of the tapestry, which was going to be a new experience for us (It was odd climbing a different scaffold that was so sturdy it barely moved at all!).
The first thing the Textile Conservators did we remove the bottom border of the tapestry. All the tapestries are woven in three pieces, with the top and bottom borders being separate. The bottom border is in the worst repair, having taken most of the wear and tear and the most dirt. Taking off the bottom border makes it easier to roll the tapestry later, and makes it a little bit lighter.
The tapestry had to be rolled onto a drain pipe so our carpenters built a brilliant little track for us. We had a trolley that the drain pipe stood upright on and this ran along the wooden track set at the base of the wall. This partnered with the fixed scaffold with three levels on made rolling the tapestry easier for us.
There were three levels to our scaffold, we had four people on each helping roll and another four or so at the bottom pushing the trolley and rolling the very bottom of the tapestry onto the drain pipe. It true when they say ‘many hands make light work’!
Starting at the side nearest the fireplace velcro was tacked to the lining of the tapestry and this was fixed to the velcro on the drain pipe. We then ran the trolley along the track, rolling the Gideon smoothly onto the pipe as we went. Once it we rolled on to the drain pipe the whole thing had to be lowered.
Thanks to the ingenious design of the trolley the pipe was on a hinged piece to make lowering it much easier. Two straps were tied around the roll and used to slowly lover the roll down to the ground. This had to be done very carefully to make sure we did not squash anyone standing below waiting to receive! A good test of my knot tying ability and it certainly flexed our muscles too.
The planning that has gone into this event, based on the previous tapestry removals, made the whole process very smooth and quite quick, once we started it took us about half an hour to roll and lower the tapestry. Then the textile conservators took the newest backing fabric off in the Long Gallery, and found an awful lot of detritus behind it!
After they had finished they rolled the tapestry onto a second drain pipe (without velcro on), padding it with wadding and acid free tissue as they rolled it. This mean the tapestry was properly protected and ready for transport the next day. It’s first stop will be the Textile Studios at Blickling Hall, where it will be made ready for being washed.
Our Gideon tapestries are sent to Belgium to be washed, not far from Oudenaarde where they were originally woven. They are sent here because it is the only workshop with tanks large enough to wash our tapestries flat. They tell us we have the dirtiest tapestries in Europe! (But to be fair they haven’t been washed in over 400 years!).
After washing the tapestry will be sent back to the Blickling Studio where the Textile Conservators will work on it, and then it will be returned to Hardwick in about 2 and a half years time! It will be absolutely amazing to see the whole set after they have all been conserved , but that is still several years away!