Altar-frontal, St Laurence’s church, Ludlow

The church of St Laurence in Ludlow, Shropshire has a fine collection of arts and crafts textiles, including three altar frontals that were conserved at the studio. The one illustrated here was in a generally good condition, apart from badly damaged blue silk in the three ‘sanctus’ banners that decorated the superfrontal. The silk had worn away to holes around the metal thread lettering, exposing a white underlayer, which was visually disruptive. To make matters worse, some of the holes had been in-filled with blue ink in an attempt to disguise the losses, but wear to the silk continued and the result was a very blotchy appearance.


The purpose of treatment was two-fold – to stabilise remaining blue silk and secure loose embroidery, and to mask losses and provide a uniform background to the lettering. I dyed a silk habotai material to colour-match the original and inserted small patches of this under the remaining silk, to cover the white underlayer and the blue ink. This masked the losses quite effectively.

I then made a template of each banner and dyed a semi-transparent silk crepeline fabric (again colour-matched) which I coated with a layer of Klucel G (hydroxypropylcellulose) adhesive. Once dry, it is possible to cut the crepeline to shape with a scalpel. Using the template, I cut a shape to fit around the lettering and over the blue silk and applied this to the textile. I reactivated the adhesive with industrial methylated spirit, and the crepeline thus adhered to the surface of both the original silk and my patches, stabilising both in the process. Loose and detaching embroidery threads were secured with a stitching technique.

The result is aesthetically very pleasing, as the losses are completely masked and the blue silk now forms a complete background for the lettering. The crepeline over-layer provides protection for the original silk from further abrasion and stabilises both this and my dyed patch inserts.