Conservation Advice for Plots & Spangles

A few weeks ago I visited Auckland Castle, to offer my services as part of the Durham Conservation Training Network (a service we provide to offer help to museums in the Durham area). Preparations were well underway to install their latest exhibition, ‘Plots & Spangles’, a collection of embroidered vestments created by Helena Wintour (daughter and niece of Gunpowder Plot conspirators Robert and Thomas Wintour). I advised on the mounting of the various chasubles, dalmatics, and chalice veils.

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The ‘Spangled Stuffe Suit’ c.1640-1660 from Stonyhurst College

The exhibition brings together thirteen vestments from Douai Abbey and Stonyhurst College, alongside loans including Guy Fawkes’ lantern (from the Ashmolean Museum).

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Detail of the Lady Wintour white chasuble c.1660, from Douai Abbey [Image courtesy of Douai Abbey]
Helena created the embroideries with silk threads, spangles, pearls and semi-precious stones. Her inspiration was drawn from texts distributed via underground Catholic networks, referencing miracles, full of metaphors, and using monograms to infer Joseph, Mary, and Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits).

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Detail from the Allelulia chasuble, 1655, from The British Jesuit Province [Image courtesy of The British Jesuit Province]
My role was to help mount the White Cope, which belongs to Stonyhurst College. The embroideries date from 1656, and the cope was created c.1866 from several pieces, including an altar frontal. Crudely stitched flowers were added in the 1850s before the embroideries entered Stonyhurst College. The faces of the angels date to the early 19th century, and are painted in watercolours, presumably replacing an earlier embroidered version which was damaged.

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Detail from the White Cope, showing the 19th C painted face of an angel

The cope was going to be displayed in a window bay within the gallery, restricting the available space. A large padded board was made to size, and installed into the bay, with as much of a slope as possible given the footprint of the space. The board was made from zero-formaldehyde MDF, and covered with marvelseal, a protective barrier to any damaging offgassing of the wood. A thin layer of padding was stretched and stapled into place, covered with a fabric topcover. A length of Velcro was then stapled to the board along the top edge.

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‘Plots & Spangles’ with the White Cope on display in the background [Image by Stuart Boulton]
With the help of textile restorer Sue, we stitched a matching piece of Velcro to the reverse side of the cope, along the straight edge, using a colour-matched polyester thread,passing the needle through all of the layers (lining, interlining, metal braid) to ensure a firm hold.

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Velcro (loop side) stitched to the cope, using a herringbone stitch in colour-matched thread
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White Cope face down, with Velcro attached along top edge

With the Velcro attached, the cope was ready to be carefully turned, positioned on the board, then the board lifted into position and glazed.

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Detail of braid and spangles around edge of cope

Plots & Spangles: The Embroidered Vestments of Helena Wintour runs at Auckland Castle until 11th April 2016.

Katy Smith, Textile Conservator

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4 thoughts on “Conservation Advice for Plots & Spangles

  1. Thank you for the detailed information on the display of the ecclesiastical garments at Auckland Castle. I haven’t visited the exhibition yet but I’m really looking forward to it. We are so privileged to have such a facility on our doorstep.

    Liked by 1 person

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