Magnificent 18th-century Blenheim Palace tapestries and cushions have undergone painstaking renovation work in an effort to reverse their decline, with help from the team at SewandSo…
A few months ago, we were contacted by textile conservator Emma Telford, seeking the finest Soie d’Alger threads to be used in her Blenheim re-embroidery projects. Intrigued by the story and a chance to be part of history, we jumped at the chance to get involved. With a palette of 605 colours in the range, Emma was finding colour-matching understandably tricky. To the rescue came SewandSo customer service advisor Lisa, who able to assist with loaning Emma a shade card so that she could precisely match the projects.
A specialist in tapestry conservation and historic house interior textiles, Emma Telford has over 20 years experience and has worked on some of the UK’s most important historical textiles. From 18th-century beds, to soft sculpture by contemporary artists, all manner of projects have been undertaken at her customised studio space in Herefordshire and on site. She also advises historic houses and museums on preventive conservation methods. Recent clients include Manchester City Art Galleries, The National Trust, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, and most recently Blenheim Palace.
The Blenheim Palace tapestries
Dating from the 18th-century, the Blenheim Palace tapestries tell the story of the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s famous military victories between 1706–10 in the War of Spanish Succession.
Commissioned by John Churchill, the Victory Tapestries were woven vertically in Brussels by Jucocus de Vos, to designs by Lambert de Hond. The weavers took great care to depict the scenes accurately – both in terms of the military operations and the topography. In each tapestry, you can see Churchill in the foreground with his officers.
After preparation by Emma at the Palace and at her studio, the Blenheim tapestry was transported to deWit in Belgium for specialist cleaning, before being returned to Emma’s studio to be painstakingly conserved. The process involved removing the lining and fastenings, surface cleaning, dye testing, re-lining and repair work and took a total of 12 months from start to finish.
“Despite being more than three centuries old, the tapestries are remarkably well preserved. They do however require conservation treatment to secure their existence for future generations. Abrasive dust and dirt, carried in the air, can accumulate amongst the threads obscuring the designs and causing damage. They are also under considerable stress simply hanging on the wall, supporting their own immense weight.”
Another of Emma’s projects is two upholstered chairs which also belonged to the 1st Duke of Marlborough dating from around 1720. Emma is reproducing the covers, which were embroidered in silk and the original design has completely worn away. Emma has removed the covers from the chairs and is – astonishingly – able to reproduce the design from the remnants of silk on the verso.
This seven-strand spun silk thread has a moderate lustre and a smooth, soft finish. It is made of the best quality spun silk (called strusas), which gives it an unrivalled regularity and softness. We normally sell this thread in 5m skeins – plenty for a domestic project but far too small for the scale of Blenheim Palace projects. SewandSo came to the rescue again, sourcing and supplying huge 45m hanks especially for the purpose.