Patchwork Coverlet, Jane Austen’s House Museum: designing a customised support and display system to minimise handling during installation and de-installation within a confined space
The rectangular coverlet comprises one patchwork panel of printed textiles, mostly cottons. The panel is fully lined but has no interlining and is not quilted. All patchwork pieces are hand-stitched together with small overcast stitches.
The patchwork design comprises a large central diamond, displaying a basket of flowers, surrounded by medium-sized diamonds cut from a wide range of floral print designs. Each diamond sits within a lattice comprising small pieces cut from a small dot design. The border comprises small-sized diamonds cut from a wide variety of small geometric and floral print designs. Each quarter of the coverlet is a mirror image of the other, not only in design but also in selection of printed design and placement of individual patches.
Client brief/Role of object
To make the coverlet sufficiently stable for long term display in a case, located in a small room accessible via a narrow staircase. Treatment was to include the design of a support and display system which would minimise handling during installation and de-installation within these confined spaces.
Condition before treatment
Overall, the structural condition of the coverlet ranges from good to poor. The patchwork and lining are discoloured and stained, due in part to natural cellulose degradation and use. Over exposure to light has resulted in dye fading in some areas. Failed stitches have released sections of the lining revealing the reverse face of the patchwork panel and the original colour intensity of un-faded sections of the printed cotton patches. Many of the dark brown areas have rotted away, a common effect caused overtime by the mordants used in the printing process. Some previous repair work is causing uneven tension across the patchwork and the lining.
Damaging repair work was removed. Following tests, the coverlet was humidified to ease distortions and relax creasing. Colour-matched patch supports, of conservation-grade nylon bobbin net, were inserted behind the small areas of loss and secured with stitching; net was chosen in favour of cotton because it of its light-weight, fine and flexible qualities which conformed well to the uneven surface of the reverse side of the patchwork panel. To enable future study of the reverse side of the coverlet, the lining was not re-attached along the bottom edge.
Support roller and display stand
Following conservation treatment, the coverlet was supported onto a conservation-grade, customised, fabric covered, padded roller. A built-in feeder-panel of matching fabric plays a vital role in securing the top edge of the coverlet in position during rolling and whilst on display. The customised roller and display stand are considered an integral part of the conservation treatment. They are designed to provide full, even support to the coverlet when displayed partially unrolled on the napped surface of the sloping panel in the confined area within the case. The display stand design also enables the coverlet to be fully rolled and partially unrolled in situ.
Condition after treatment
The coverlet responded well to conservation treatment. Removal of damaging repairs has reduced areas of tension. Humidification treatment has relaxed creasing and distortions. The discreet net support has proved effective in stabilising the fragmented patchwork pieces, which are now less vulnerable as a result.
The padded roller and display stand provide full, even support to the coverlet and minimise handling during display installation and removal to storage.
Reproduced courtesy of Jane Austen’s House Museum; Kate Gill Textile and Upholstery Conservation Services © 2017.