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Cleaning and protecting an intriguing panel at St James the Less, Tatham, January 2017

This project was about finding the best short term solution to protect a complex and intriguing artefact while its long term future was debated.

An enigmatic embroidery had been tucked away in a dark corner of St James the Less, Tatham, having been moved some 30 years ago from its display position behind the altar.

The Church congregation and Friends organisation are doing a great deal to look after the historic fabric of the Church building and make it into a space that can be comfortably used by the community. They were aware that the embroidery's current position made it vulnerable to dust and grit, physical damage and insect attack. Hog & Fitch were brought in to clean it and improve its storage pending more research and a decision on its future display.

Dr Mike Winstanley, who is currently in the process of researching the embroidery, has found that the design, beautifully embroidered in 1887, is based on the seven gifts of the spirit by the late Victorian designer, John Aldam Heaton. On close inspection, we thought that the motifs might have been cut out from the (now lost) original backing and remounted at a later date onto a more modern one. Hopefully Mike's continuing research or, one day, the opportunity to carry out scientific analysis will tell us more.

Due to historic damage to the panel, the Hog & Fitch approach had to be minimal and cautious. Past pest damage meant that some of the supporting ground was showing through and there was damage from wear and tear, especially along the bottom edge.

Before we could even move the panel to a position where we could clean it, we had to remove large amounts of loose grit and dust, to ensure that it did not fall onto the fabric when we lifted it. We were then able to take it to a clean workspace and gently vacuum the sufficiently robust areas, after careful condition checking and testing.

A thorough check for any current pest activity was also a priority, along with photographs and condition notes to help monitor future deterioration. We cleaned and waxed the wooden frame and fittings.

The panel needed protecting while a decision was taken on its display. So, once it was clean, we wrapped it in breathable 'tyvek' supported on cotton tape to prevent it touching the surface. To help with the decision on future display, we took light readings in all the potential locations and discussed options for conservation framing.

We hope that one day the Church might be able to afford conservator help in order to find out more about this lovely and intriguing part of its history. Meanwhile, it is satisfying to know that it is clean, safe, stable and protected for the immediate future.

There is more information about the images below at the bottom of the page.


Main header image: working in the historic and peaceful atmosphere of St James the Less, Tatham Remaining images from top: General view of the Church of St James the Less, Tatham; the embroidery as we first saw it, dusty and with only very basic protection, leaning against the belfry wall; deposits of dust and damaging grit - and some rather impressive cobwebs (2 images); removing loose grit and dust to avoid spreading it before moving the panel to a cleaner working location (2 images); the panel moved to a safe working space, with Angela cleaning the front of the wooden frame; Margaret condition checking; dust collected on top of protruding motifs - and some of the old damage that we had to be careful to avoid when cleaning (3 images); dull and dusty surface; damaged corner where the panel had been stored and moved directly on a rough and gritty surface with no protection under it; cleaning the panel through a protective filament; cleaning the metal bolt on top of the frame, with protection in place to avoid damage to fabric; post cleaning, with obscuring and damaging layer of dust removed and crisper detail; preparing the embroidered panel for its protective tyvek wrapping with pads and tapes to prevent the tyvek touching the surface of the panel; panel in its temporary position behind the altar before adding breathable tyvek dust protection

All photos by Hog & Fitch, with thanks to the Church of St James the Less, Tatham