The Conservation of Banners at St Andrew's Church, Grafham
churches and chapels contain fine textiles such as church banners, altar
frontals and religious vestments, as well as secular textiles such as
regimental colours. Often these works of art are of considerable historical
significance, and proper care and conservation is most important. However,
conservation almost invariably poses some difficult questions for both
owners and conservators. In the internal environment of most churches
and chapels, textiles in particular are at the mercy of a variety of
insects, fungi and micro-organisms, wide fluctuations in relative humidity,
as well as the harmful effects of sunlight. Some textiles may be used
frequently or just occasionally, compounding the problems of conservation,
while others may be simply on display.
The treatment of a magnificent series of
seven banners from St Andrew's Church, Grafham, Surrey by a team of
conservators at The National Trust Textile Conservation Studio illustrates
St Andrew's Church, Grafham
was designed as a total unity between 1861 and 1864 by Henry Woodyer
in memory of his wife. He enlisted the help of his friend Thomas Gambier
Parry, who is perhaps better known for his work at Highnam and Ely Cathedral.
It is thought that Gambier Parry executed the painted decoration within
St Andrew's and may also have designed the banners and painted the detail
on the figures. The design of each is known from early photographs to
have been repeated as part of the wall paintings of the nave, although
unfortunately the wall paintings are no longer visible.
The seven banners depict the following
subjects: St Andrew; Christ the King; St Michael of All Angels; Christ
Carrying the Cross; The Resurrected Christ Carrying the Flag; The Baptism
of Christ; and The Risen Christ.
Because they were an integral part of the
total decoration of the church, it was particularly important that these
banners were preserved.
By the 1980s all seven banners were in
need of both cleaning and stabilisation. Their silk embroidered panels
were in a particularly fragile state, and fragments of silk had been
seen falling off by the congregation. It was clear that they required
urgent attention. As a result, the Council for the Care of Churches
agreed to consider grant aid and the church was instructed to apply
for assistance on the basis of a conservation survey undertaken by the
Textile Conservation Studio.
The banners were removed from their hanging
position beneath the roof of the nave, and were brought to the Studio
in 1988. Each banner was photographed and thoroughly examined to establish
the type of conservation treatment required and the number of hours
of work involved.
Each banner comprises of two separate parts;
the main embroidered central panel and the banner backing to which it
is fixed. They are also fully lined with a glazed plain weave linen.
The technique used for the construction of the banners involved appliqué (italicised terms are defined in the glossary at the foot of this page),
where sections of the design were outlined with black thread or velvet
ribbon, making them reminiscent of stained glass. The religious images
which form the central decoration of each banner were constructed from
coloured silks, velvet, cloth of gold, embroidery silks, metal and chenille threads and they were also decorated with coloured cut glass jewels,
parchment lettering, velvet ribbons and woven silk braid. The materials
are all worked through to the linen foundation fabric which is oval
in shape. The technique is simple and could conceivably have been worked
by family members who were competent needlewomen rather than professional
The banner backings are
made up of three vertical panels which are machine stitched together.
The two outer fabrics are a deep orange coloured wool rep,
whilst the central fabric is an orange red wool plush. The embroidered
panels are fixed with various metal fastenings to the wool plush. An
orange and white bullion
fringe of wool and cotton is attached along the lower shaped edge of
each banner backing, whilst the sides of the banners are finished with
a thick orange wool twisted cord. The banners are hung from five pole
loops spaced along the top edge.
All of the banner backings were extremely
soiled and covered with a thick layer of particulate matter and paint
flakes. There was evidence of insect attack in the form of holes and
grazing of the wool fabrics and there were corrosion marks caused by
the metal fastenings. The glazed linen linings were generally weak with
holes and tears, as well as being very soiled and discoloured. The spaced
hanging loops had caused the upper edge of all the banners to pull into
scallops and hang in undulations.
The embroidered panels were also dirty
and extremely fragile. The linen foundation fabric was ingrained with
dust. The appliquéd fabrics appeared wrinkled in places, suggesting
that the foundation linen had shrunk due to the environment of the church.
A layer of dust and textile fibres covered the embroidered and appliquéd
components. Many of the stitches used to hold down the various components
were broken, and several of the silk appliqué fabrics were brittle and
shattering with some areas suffering complete loss. The pile on the
velvet ribbons powdered to the touch and the parchment letters had become
hard and distorted with much of their gilding being lost.
The wooden poles used for hanging were
once painted gold but this finish had also been lost.
Once the construction
and condition of the banners had been established, a detailed treatment
proposal and subsequent estimate was presented to the Council for the
Care of Churches. After close discussion with the council and the church
it was decided that, due to funding limitations, the banners would have
to be treated at a rate of approximately one per year. This was agreed
and work commenced on the first banner, 'Christ the King' in January
1989. The final banner was subsequently completed in March 1998.
Even though the banners were treated separately
over a period of ten years, they were all conserved using the same procedure
to ensure a consistent end result. The standard treatment involved the
- The front of the embroidered panel was
carefully vacuumed using a micro vacuum and a combination of a soft
brush and needle tools, as these were the only cleaning methods suitable
for the materials involved and the method of construction. They proved
very successful in removing the surface layer of dust.
- The weak and shattered areas of silk
were stabilised by applying an overlay of adhesive coated silk crepeline,
dyed to a sympathetic colour. The overlay technique was used as the
linen prevented access to the silk from the reverse, and the silk
was far too fragile to withstand the insertion of patches behind the
weak areas from the front. The crepeline was heat sealed down onto
the fragile silk and the edges of each patch were neatly tucked under
the velvet ribbon and embroidered borders so as to become virtually
invisible. Where complete loss of the silk had occurred a matching
coloured silk patch was first inserted to fill the loss, the silk
crepeline overlay then held it in place.
- Loose velvet ribbon and embroidered
borders were re-secured.
- The hardened and distorted parchment
letters were gently humidified and weighted in order to flatten them.
- Once stabilised, the embroidered panel
was turned over for cleaning and lining the reverse with cotton cambric.
Velcro was sewn around the edge of the cambric as a means of reattachment
to the banner backing instead of metal fastenings.
- The construction and condition of the
banner backing was carefully recorded before any work commenced. The
lining and trimmings were then removed for separate treatment. All
of these components were wet-cleaned individually in a non-ionic detergent
and blocked out to dry over templates to avoid any shrinkage or distortion
- Before reconstruction of the banner
backing any necessary repairs were undertaken.
- The rep fabric had proved to be extremely
stretchy when hung, and in order to avoid future distortions occurring,
they were sewn to a backing of linen scrim and the shaped lower edge was supported onto pre-shrunk linen tape.
- Reassembly of all the components of
the banner then took place, referring to the documentation taken at
the beginning of treatment to ensure correct positioning of all components.
This is where it is essential to have thorough documentation to ensure
- Finally, Velcro was attached to scoured
cotton webbing and stitched to the centre of the wool plush to
mirror that on the embroidered panel, thus providing the attachment
mechanism. Another strip of Velcro attached to cotton webbing was
stitched along the top edge of the reverse of the banner backing to
provide a means of hanging the banner.
Several issues for future
display of the banners had to be considered and these were discussed
with all interested parties. The banners had hung on open display within
the church for over 100 years. They had been exposed to the ravages
of light and the generally poor environmental conditions that most churches
suffer. Also, it had become obvious during conservation that repairs
had been carried out in the past and that attempts had been made to
rectify damages caused by the hanging method. Their one saving grace
had been the fact that they had been hung high enough in the church
to avoid unnecessary handling.
From an art historical point of view it
was preferable to see the banners displayed in the original manner,
and this approach was favoured initially. However, the aim of conservation
was to ensure the survival of the banners for at least another hundred
years, so some improvements on the original display method had to be
considered. From a conservation perspective the preferred method was
to mount each banner in a glazed frame to be hung from the walls of
the nave. This would enable the banners to be better seen and enjoyed
by the congregation, they would be safe from handling, dust pollution
and insect attack, and a suitably designed frame would protect them
from the changes of temperature and humidity within the church.
To verify whether it was necessary to protect
the banners in frames, an attempt was made to monitor the environmental
conditions within the church over a period of a year prior to the first
banner being returned. However, there were difficulties with running
and maintaining monitoring equipment and no useful results were produced.
Environmental monitoring is an extremely
important aspect of conservation when considering the expenditure of
large sums of money. It can provide key information which can be used
to make informed decisions. For example it may be found that the relative
humidity of a church can be reduced by some simple means to prevent
corrosion of metal artefacts or decorations, rather then spending a
great deal of money on conservation only to return the artefact to unfavourable
In the case of St Andrew's Church it was
finally decided that glazed framing was the best option for the display
of the banners, despite the lack of any confirmative data.
The frames were constructed of oak sealed
with an archival sealant against acid emissions and glazed with Perspex.
Perspex was chosen instead of glass to minimise the weight of an already
large frame. The inner edges of the frame were lined with acid-free
linen tape. The backboard was prepared by first applying a protective
layer of Melinex polyester film, followed by a layer of bumph interlining
fabric. A tightly woven cotton lining fabric in a neutral cream colour
was placed over the soft bumph. The reverse of the backboard was covered
with Moistop, a barrier material known to be effective against the ingress
of moisture. Spacers were added to the back of the frame to keep it
away from the wall surface and to allow air circulation behind.
A strip of Velcro corresponding to that
on the back of the banner was sewn onto the fabric covered backboard.
The banner was then fixed to the board by means of the Velcro. The pole
loops at the top of the banner were stitched to the fabric covered board
to hold them in position. Then the whole back board was carefully inserted
into the frame and sealed using archival frame-sealing tape.
All seven banners have now been completed
and hang on the nave walls of St Andrew's Church, Grafham.
Ksynia Marko, Head of
Studio for her help and encouragement with the compilation of this article;
The Reverend Canon Godwin, Vicar to St Andrew's and Peter Burman, formerly
of the Council for the Care of Churches, both of whose enthusiasm initiated
and sustained the project; and the conservators involved in the Grafham
Banner conservation project over the course of the ten years (Ksynia
Marko, Zenzie Tinker, Frances Hartog, Lisa Townsend, Rachel Langley
and Aleksandra Kaminska).
The project was funded by grants administered
by the Council for the Care of Churches on behalf of certain charitable
- appliqué The addition
of fabrics or embroidered motifs to the surface of a ground material
to form a design
- bullion Twisted cord
- bumph A plain-weave brushed cotton
- cambric A close-woven down-proof
- chenille A round furry thread made
of wool, cotton or silk
- crepeline A very fine transparent
- plush A cut velvet, normally wool
with very long pile
- rep Textile with a ribbed effect
- scrim Fine open-weave unbleached
canvas made of linen or cotton
article is reproduced from The Conservation and Repair of Ecclesiastical Buildings, 1999
BAppSc is a textile conservator at
The National Trust Studio for Textile Conservation, Blickling Hall. During her seven
years as a conservator she has worked on a wide variety of objects for
both public and private clients.
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