Conserving the Annunciation panel

Here is a brief account of the conservation work carried out on the 15th century Annunciation embroidery panel at the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) Hampton Court.

We were advised to send the panel to the TCC by the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose experts had examined the panel for us to advise on its merits and condition. It is considered an important piece and was therefore booked on to the two year waiting list at the TCC and was at last taken to London in the autumn of 1985 as its turn on the list approached.

The TCC describe the panel as late 15th century and decorated with motifs typical of that time – double headed eagles, fleur de lys, two types of water flowers; cherubim and angels – all of which have been embroidered in silks and metal wrapped threads; the angels among the motifs appear to be wearing mitres or crowns.

The Angel Gabriel stands on the left of the centre, his arms raised, beside a scroll with Mary to the right holding an open book, and also beside a scroll. Between these two figures stands a vase of lilies; a dove hovers over Mary’s head.

The figures are standing on a patch of grass, with flowers, and are slightly padded, worked in silks and metal-wrapped threads on a plain-woven linen base which has been applied to the velvet. The velvet, where covered by the lily pot, was found to be dusky pink in hue. All fibres were examined and identified under a compound microscope. Some earlier attempts at conservation work were discovered and insect attack had damaged the silk embroidery, noticeably on the front of Gabriel’s robe and Mary’s face.

The linen backing of the velvet was removed and some samples of threads and velvet taken for testing. No dye bleeding occurred so it was decided to wet clean the velvet. The panel was firstly laid between two large pieces of undyed nylon net, tacked together around the edges. This was then laid on a nylon monofilament screen and laid in the bath of a stainless steel washing table.

Two baths each lasting 20 minutes, in special solutions, were followed by rinsing in flood baths for two hours with a final rinse of deionised water. It was then lifted on to blotting cloths by a dozen conservators and students and after a while the nylon net layers were gently removed and the panel was pinned out to shape on its drying board. It was left in a slightly heated room with a dehumidifier in operation and took 36 hours to dry.

The pile was now supple and the metal threads more lustrous in appearance. Untreated linen was used to support the back of the fabric. Support linen of running stitches worked in fine, dyed silk threads were placed at intervals across the panel. Loose or insect damaged silk embroidery and small splits and holes were secured with fine ilk threads and loose metal wrapped threads and spangles were restitched in position with a double strand of gold coloured polyester thread.

Each edge of the panel was then protected from abrasion with a double layer of fine gauge nylon net held in place with very fine, double polyester thread running stitches. The panel was then lined with a plain woven undyed linen cloth.

The conservation work took about five months and was carried out by one of the TCC conservators, Wendy Toulson. Wendy is hoping to pay a visit to Salisbury to see the panel on display as, understandably, she became fascinated by it and the life and history surrounding it. We are very grateful to her and everyone involved in this conservation project for their care and interest and, not least, to the parishioners whose regular giving to the church has enabled us to pass to other generations a tangible reminder of their Christian history.

Diane Emsley
Parish Magazine Dec 1987

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