Late 15th century Tournais : Amazons defending or attacking a town - 6ch/cm - Fragment 3x3m
A good cleanup to start with gives the tapestry a new lease of life.
Running water removes dust, soot due to heating, town gas or cigarette smoke.
In days gone by, the crystalline water of the centre of France made it possible to lay the tapestries in the streams and leave them for a few hours. Living, running water removes most of the dirt.
Some may prefer modern machines to preserve the fibres. But these don't clean the tapestries thoroughly and their colours will remain grey.
Traditional washing also removes the burnt wool and silk which would come off afterwards anyway.
Lastly, water rehydrates the fibres made brittle by modern heating.
Afterwards comes a soapy water bath which eliminates the remaining greasy particles.
The cleaning ends with a long rinse in running water.
The tapestry is laid flat to dry, preferably on grass so that air can circulate underneath it and dry it quickly.
Once in the workshop, the tapestry is studied, scrutinized, analysed. Two choices arise :
Conservation or restoration ?
Tapestries intended for conservation are simply saved. The gaps are filled in with pieces of linen dyed a colour which matches the hole’s environment. In order to preserve the tapestry in its integrity, these are fixed with silk thread to give overall coherence and firmness.
This method interests museums, but is not satisfactory for the antique collector who wishes to enjoy contemplating his tapestry on a daily basis.
15th century la Marche workshops - the fearless nine - Alexandre - 4ch/cm
Restoration consists in bringing back to life a tapestry which has suffered many vicissitudes : patches covering up large holes, darning done by maids, worn out parts held together by numerous threads whose colours are faded, burnt silks which have disappeared and make the warps visible. The relays (junction between two colours) are often broken and reveal a gaping wound. Although impressive, it disappears after a simple invisible seam.
16th century Audenarde - Animal fights - 4.20x2.70
The tapestry is stretched on a restoration frame made of two parallel and horizontal rollers (rounded wooden beams) which are mounted on two trestles. Then begins the true discovery of the tapestry to be restored. Let the tapestry come to you, and listen to what it has to say.
Tapestries do not all require the same level of repair. Some only require the minimum, whilst others need far more attention. This has little to do with the state of conservation of the tapestry, and is far more linked to the spirit emerging from it, and undoubtedly to the fineness of the weaving (from 3 or 4 warps per centimetre up to 10 or 11 or more), and lastly to the period during which it was made. A 15th century tapestry will be less demanding than a complex 18th century one, in which the fineness of the pattern and the number of colours require a greater neatness. The 18th century tapestry designers caused the decline of their art by wanting to make tapestries look like paintings and imitating the frames.
Germany 1500 - Saint Marc - 5ch/cm - linen warp - 2,95x2,10m
Removal of the patch on the chest - Rewarping - wool and silk weaving
Medieval tapestries have very few colours, the shades are produced by weaving two colours alternately to produce a third one. The older tapestries get, the more mysterious and attractive they are; the subject, the characters and the story or stories they tell come to you. The most ancient themes, be they religious or profane, are captivating : A 15th century Tournais has more to say than a technically more accomplished 18th century Beauvais. Imperfections give it character.
Brussels 1530 - David and Bathsheba
After having observed, touched and caressed it at length, after having immersed oneself in its “soul”, the time has come to choose the coloured wools and silks. A first needleful of thread is used to cover up the bare warps, that is stitching. This first step is satisfying because it quickly cleans up a dotted part.
Sewing up the wools - replacing the broken warps - weaving the silk
That way the hardness of the weaving can be measured in order to estimate the difficulty of warping a hole. Before weaving, missing or broken warps must indeed be replaced. For that purpose the warp must be moved with a needle from one side of the hole to the other by sliding it between the warp and the strong weft.
Weaving is also done with a needle. The choice of colours is essential. The shade of the thread must correspond exactly to the ancient part. Many shade-by-shade dies are necessary. If the particular colour doesn’t exist, we create it in the workshop.
enlèvement des pièces - renchaînage des trous - tissage des laines et soies
The design of a missing part is obviously done in the spirit of the time. A 18th century rose is not a 16th century rose. That is why a good knowledge of styles and decorative arts is needed. Acquiring the necessary competence requires many years. Technique and culture go together, this is not the exotic “new workshops” strong point.
17th century, Brussels - Door - ancient restorations with cotton warps which have broken after having been exposed to dampness too long - rewarping of the blue backgrounds on the edges - silk weaving.
19th century Aubusson carpet - reweaving without touching the ancient restorations - cotton warps.
Just as the heddle setter, the restorer rediscovers the work to do as he weaves and only sees the result once the tapestry is finished. The duration of a restoration job varies from a week up to 10 or 12 months. One of them called « Artemis and Actaeon » took us 8 months to restore in our workshops and is now in the Hunting museum in Paris .
Artemis and Acteon - 16th century Loire valley - reweaving, and other operations of 1 Sqm of an ancient restoration whose colours had faded.
Some we are sorry to let go. A year working on a item creates an obvious attachment. Each rotation of the loom is a discovery. Of course, the photos taken before assembling a tapestry tell you what is to come, but it is nevertheless a real pleasure to repair the ravages of time.
18th century Aubusson - Vernet Cartons - Bacchus and landing.
The final step is the lining which is done on a large table. It can be preceded by the fitting of a braid. Cotton or linen cloth is fixed by diamond-shaped stitches which give the whole thing a regular hold. A strip of Velcro is fitted on the top end so the tapestry can be fixed with the three other sides remaining loose. A tapestry must stay alive when fixed on a wall, it must quiver when you go past it.
16th century Bruges - A thousand flowers : all the plants are identified.
16th century Audenarde - Unicorn and cabbage leafs 16th century Audenarde - Aristoloche
Usual restorations - reweaving, stitching and relay - braid and lining.
Wall tapestries are not the only items to be restored in this manner.