Campaign chairs, Blenheim Palace

A pair of chairs, known as the Campaign chairs, from the collection at Blenheim Palace, had embroidered top covers that were in an irretrievable condition. Almost nothing remained of the silk embroidered design, the canvas was torn with pieces missing, and an ugly braid had been adhered as a finish. Sometimes, a decision has to be made that retirement is the only option. However, I suspected that in this case there might be some remaining original embroidery on the reverse of each cover, which could give me some information about what the original covers looked like.

I removed the covers and found that although the embroidery had completely worn away on the face, on the reverse the design could be clearly seen, and the original colours could also be determined. I was fortunate that the client wanted me to go ahead with an unusual treatment – the complete reconstruction of the original design, worked in silk embroidery threads, for each piece on the chairs, sixteen in all.

Faithful copies

I transcribed the designs from the reverse of each cover, trying to identify each change of colour and stitch position amidst the mass of threads. It was also crucial to get the scale, proportion and point size right. Using Au Vers a Soie threads from France, which has a huge colour range, and with the assistance of a small team of highly skilled embroiderers, we recreated each panel of embroidery.

I then reattached the covers to the chairs, and applied a new, more appropriate braid to finish. The original covers were packed and archived. Pic: PhilYeomans/BNPS
Conservator Emma Telford with the restored chair. Seat of Power – The First Duke of Marlborough’s campaign chairs, upon which he sat to plot the downfall of the French King Louis XIV, are returning to Blenheim Palace following an 18-month restoration. The chairs would have been carted across Europe as part of the Duke’s baggage train to allow him a comfortable seat in which to plan his stunningly successful campaign against the mighty French monarch. Textile conservator Emma Telford, who is based in Herefordshire, had to turn detective to re-discover the ornate 18th century chairs’ original decoration and recruit a team of embroiders to help bring them back to life. In total Emma and her volunteer helpers used a staggering 10,000 metres of French silk to re-embroider the chairs with the original designs.