Maid Of Honour Coronation Dress, 1953

Lady Rosemary (second on left) in an official photograph from 1953

In 1953 Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill, daughter of the Duke of Marlborough, was one of six maids of honour at Queen Elizabeth II coronation. She wore this dress, designed by Norman Hartnell, the queen’s favourite designer at the time. In this photograph, she’s standing on the second left.

The dress is of pale peach silk satin, with applied beaded decoration to the bodice, around the upper part of the skirt, and down the back of the skirt. The beadwork is extremely fine, incorporating diamante, sequins, bugle beads, imitation pearls, and plastic leaves covered with silver paint. The skirt is full length with a back pleat, unlined but with attached wool wadding ‘hips’ which would have given some shape to the very slim-figured Rosemary.

The dress was missing for many years but discovered in an attic store at Blenheim Palace in 2021. Sadly, after many years on display it had suffered badly from light damage, and together with subsequent inappropriate storage, the dress was in a very fragile and damaged condition. There was significant shattering and splitting of the silk down the back of the skirt, around the hem, around the waist, and at the bodice sides. There were smaller splits and cracks in the silk throughout the dress, but the beadwork was thankfully intact and without any losses.

To commemorate the Platinum Jubilee, Blenheim wanted to put the dress on display in 2022, on a mannequin. This was going to be a significant challenge, made more complex as the process was to be recorded for an episode of ‘Heritage Rescue’, featuring presenter Nick Knowles, about Blenheim Palace. What a project!

In order to prepare the dress for mounted display, it required considerable remedial conservation. The fragile condition of the silk meant that an adhesive support was going to be necessary, combined with some additional stitching. A support fabric of silk crepeline was prepared with an adhesive, Beva 375 (a dispersion of acrylic resins and ethylene vinyl acetate). This is diluted in warm Stoddart solvent and applied to the crepeline with a roller. Once dry, the crepeline could be cut to shape and applied to the underside of the silk, the adhesive being heat reactivated with a spatula iron and the original silk, having been realigned into position is thus secured and stabilised. The choice of adhesive, and the concentration it is made up in, is key, in order to get the balance right between obtaining really good adhesion that will last and maintaining the flexibility and drape qualities of the original silk. A tricky job, especially around all the shredded bodice and waist areas.

Having reinforced the silk in this way, it was necessary to carry out some additional laid thread couching on some of the longer splits and weakest areas, for additional strength and support when on the mannequin. For this, we used a monofilament silk dyed to colour-match the peach of the dress.

Finally, the beadwork was checked and secured where necessary, and the final challenge was to source a mannequin small enough to take the dress. Lady Rosemary had had a tiny 55cm waist, and we ultimately had to find the smallest female torso available and shave it down to a suitable size.

The dress was ready for the June 2022 jubilee celebrations and unveiled to Lady Rosemary during filming for ‘Heritage Rescue’. The sequence can be viewed here: and the entire programme viewed here:

The dress will be on display at Blenheim Palace for a longer exhibition in the summer of 2023.

A Chinoiserie tapestry from The Vyne, Hampshire

This little tapestry was made at the Soho tapestry factory in London, circa 1715, under the direction of John Vanderbank the elder, the leading tapestry weaver of his day. Vanderbank was Yeoman Arras-maker to the Great Wardrobe, supplying the royal family from his premises in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, from 1689 until his death in 1717.

It is one from a set of six tapestries that hang in the tapestry room at The Vyne, a National Trust property in Hampshire. It is designed with chinoiserie scenes of exotic birds, animals and flowering trees within foliated borders, woven in wool and silk and all set against a dark brown background.

What is ‘Chinoiserie’?
Chinoiserie, from ‘chinois’ the French for Chinese, was a style inspired by art and design from China, Japan and other Asian countries. In the 18th century porcelain, silk and lacquerware imported from China and Japan were extremely fashionable. This led many British designers and craftsmen to imitate Asian designs and to create their own fanciful versions of the East. The style was at its height from 1750 to 1765, so this is an early example.


The tapestry had been extensively repaired, with poor quality cobbled darning, and the dark brown wool background was damaged and weak. The galloons (the outer narrow borders on a tapestry) were very moth eaten, and overall the tapestry was in a poor condition.

I started by removing the lining and old repair patches, unpicking all the cobbled repairs, and taking samples of each thread from the back of the tapestry to test for wet fastness. The tapestry was then washed, and this removed a good deal of dirt.

I then mounted the tapestry on a bespoke frame and applied a full support to the verso of linen scrim. Conservation repairs were worked through to the linen, using purpose-dyed wools and mercerised cottons, to support and stabilise all damaged and weak areas, and to reintroduce definition of design where this had been obscured.

Finally, I attached new colour-matched galloons to cover the scraps of remaining originals, and a new down-proof lining to protect the tapestry from the back. It is now able to be safely hung on open display at The Vyne in Hampshire – well worth a visit!

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.

Picchwai – gilded Indian textile


Picchwais are large paintings on cloth relating to the worship of Krishna. They were commissioned for temples and shrines, often for specific festivals, and hang behind the altar. This picchwai celebrates the festival of Gopashtami, the festival of cows, and represents a significant day for worshippers of Krishna, marking the day in which Krishna is elevated from a herder of calves to a fully-fledged cowherd.

This picchwai was made using a waraq printing technique, a process wherein gold or silver leaf is applied on to the textile through a transfer technique using blocks. A base layer, typically roghan paste made from linseed oil mixed with chalk and sometimes pigments, would be stamped on the fabric using blocks. The waraq (leaf) was then applied while the gum was moist. Over the top of the waraq, and directly on the substrate, fine detail had been painted using black, red and green pigments.


The textile was in a poor condition. The cotton ground fabric, whilst structurally sound, was very soiled and stained throughout. The gilded motifs exhibited extensive cracking; in particular, the foliate motifs in the borders, where the base layer had been applied more thickly, had sustained quite significant losses in places, as the materials had cracked and lost their adhesion to the textile. Remaining elements were flaking and loosely bonded. The overall aesthetic impression was one where there was little definition of design due to the heavy soiling of the substrate, and damage to the border motifs so extensive that some were almost entirely obliterated. The figures and animals in the main field had fared better, and whilst there were losses to the gilding, this was much less extensive.


Samples from the motifs were analysed by a historic paint consultant. The silver leaf and the gold leaf were both applied using an oil gilding technique.

The gold leaf was laid over a yellow oil size tinted with finely ground iron oxide yellow.

The silver leaf was laid over a clear oil size. EDX analysis showed that the metal was pure silver, and not an alloy as was sometimes used.  A thin layer of yellowish varnish was applied over the top, presumably to inhibit corrosion and discolouration of the silver.

The pink ground layer was a mixture of a white clay, zinc oxide white, some red and brown iron oxides and a small amount of the pigment chrome yellow [lead chromate].

The presence of the pigments chrome yellow and zinc oxide means the ground must have been applied to this textile in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Chrome yellow was first introduced as a pigment in 1819, so I fixed that as the earliest this textile could have been made.


The pigments used in the overpainting were highly fugitive (water soluble) if they were touched at all but remained stable if wetted only without mechanical action. I developed a bespoke cleaning method specifically for this textile, using a micro-pressure washer. A jet of water is propelled (with a variable pressure) from a small pencil-like tool, with a range of heads, including a 2mm silicone nozzle, and a small nylon brush. In conjunction with a vacuum suction table and using only cold de-ionised water, I was able to clean around each motif first with the silicon nozzle for accuracy, and then the larger areas in between with the brush. A good level of cleaning was able to be obtained in this way, and as the water was drawn through the textile, I avoided any saturation of the base layer under the gilding.

Using the micro-pressure washer jet

In-filling losses

I used acrylic paints, carefully mixed for colour-matching, to in-fill losses to the gilded motifs where this was significant, and acrylic inks also colour-matched for the decorative over-painting. This restored the overall aesthetic integrity of the piece.


After treatment, the textile was stitched to an archival quality padded mount, and inserted into a bespoke frame.

Media attention

This project attracted some media attention – see

Charles II stumpwork

Charles II stumpwork picture c.1700– Brecon Museum (Amgueddfa ac Oriel Gelf Brycheiniog)

Stumpwork, also known as raised embroidery uses an array of different materials and embroidery techniques to tell a contemporary story in stitch using three dimensional elements.

Techniques include silk work, goldwork, counted  work, flat and raised stitching, bead work, padding and needlelace.  This little picture, depicting the story of Charles II hiding in an oak tree, exhibits all of these techniques in a fine example of the type.


The stumpwork came into the studio for cleaning and some stabilisation work. A previous attempt to remove the tarnish from the metal thread had left white deposits on the surface, as you can see in the detail of the lion. Proprietary metal cleaning products are highly acidic and degrade the silk core around which the metal thread is wrapped.

The picture was surface cleaned with a micro-vacuum cleaner which is small enough to get into all the interstices of this complex embroidery, and then the loose and detaching threads were re-secured in place. The old metal cleaner deposits were removed with a solvent.

Victories tapestries, Blenheim Palace

John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough commissioned several sets of tapestries from the workshop of Judocus de Vos between 1707 and 1717, including the renowned  ‘Victories’ set commemorating the battles where Marlborough was victorious during the War of the Spanish Succession.

“The Tapestries at Blenheim” by Winston Churchill

Still hanging in the rooms for which they were originally commissioned, five of the ten extant tapestries have been conserved at the studio over the last decade. This includes one of the largest tapestries in the UK – the ‘Bouchain III’ tapestry which hangs in the second state room and measures almost nine metres wide by four and a half metres high. It was depicted in a painting of the room by Winston Churchill c.1930 and famously includes a dog with horse’s hooves instead of paws.

The tapestries are finely woven in wool and silk, with the silk being used for highlights in the design and also crucially, in large areas in the skies over the battle scenes. After three hundred years of continuous open display the silk was degrading and no longer able to bear the considerable weight of these large tapestries, so slits were opening up and there was some loss where the silk had dropped out following its loss of structural cohesion.


The tapestries were all wet cleaned at the De Wit facility in Belgium (which I use for large wet cleaning projects), after removal of old linings and careful testing of the dyes present. There were some repair threads that had been used which were unstable in water, and these had to be controlled by varying the pH during washing. On return to the studio, I applied a full support of linen scrim to the back of the tapestries and carried out a full conservation treatment involving re-sewing all slits, in-fill couching to areas of loss, and support stitching through all weak areas. Upon rehanging, the scrim is able to support the weight of the tapestry and stabilise areas that were previously disintegrating. The tapestries were also lined with new linings and finished with Velcro fastenings for rehanging – this makes positioning the tapestry on the wall much easier especially where they hang around a corner of the room, it distributes the weight evenly and makes removal in the case of an emergency much quicker.

Historical alterations

It was apparent upon examination of the tapestries that they had all undergone reductions size, in order to fit the wall spaces. This must have been carried out immediately after manufacture, since they were woven for Blenheim and never hung elsewhere, so one can only assume that incorrect dimensions were supplied to the workshop. In these images from the ‘Bouchain III’ tapestry, you can see how the main field had been cut from its border on the right of the tapestry, reduced in width and then resewn with a flat seam – it has the effect of removing the front hooves of the horse on the far right of the panel.

Upon removal of the linings, one often finds interesting historical information and in this case I discovered localised re-weaving of key parts of the design. In these images from the ‘Malplaquet’ tapestry, you can see how the entire coat in the figure on horseback has been rewoven to match the original, and then skilfully pieced into place. No doubt the original coat, which will have had a large amount of silk highlight weaving, degraded and was replaced. This could only have been carried out at a skilled tapestry weaving workshop.

Rehanging the tapestries

Following conservation at the studio, the tapestries were returned and rehung, after preparation of the walls with the opposite side of the Velcro.  For the ‘Victories’ series, I use Velcro along the top edge, and down either side, as this keeps the tapestry exactly positioned within the space and fitted back against the wall rather than hanging freely, imitating the original closely fitted effect which would have been achieved either with nails or hooks. For tapestries of this scale, its essential to have the support of a good team and a tower scaffold of a suitable height!

‘Bouchain III’ after re-hanging at Blenheim.

Sultana Room textiles, Attingham


The Sultana Room at Attingham takes its name from the ‘sultane’ (sofa) which sits in an alcove in the room. Designed by Gillows of Lanacaster, the alcove retains its Regency silk wallcoverings, along with the sultane and a suite of ten armchairs. Over the years wear and tear has led to various phases of repair, and the matching curtains which originally hung in swags either side of the alcove have long since been retired.

Passive treatment

I was asked by the National Trust to propose a treatment plan for this suite of textiles which would protect all original material and also any patching and repair which had been carried out by Lady Berwick in the early twentieth century. I devised a largely passive treatment, with minimal disturbance to the original textiles. Working on site for several weeks, I started by removing an old conservation net which had been applied about forty years ago and was no longer fit for purpose. It was coarse and unsightly, the colour was ill-matched, and it gave the entire suite a dusty appearance. Once removed, I was able to surface clean all the textiles using small vacuum cleaners and pony hair brushes. On the walls, it was necessary to remove the gilded moulding in order to facilitate access to the entirety of the wall coverings.

New coverings

Working on a tower scaffold, I applied new conservation net to both protect and stabilise the original silk, and the later silk patches that had been applied during Lady Berwick’s time. The net is a fine grade nylon, which I dyed to match the original colour and is invisible unless viewed from close quarters. It was necessary to remove the sultane from the alcove for this process, and I was thus able to apply the same treatment to this furniture whilst access was improved. All of the cushions and bolsters on the sultane were similarly treated.


The ten armchairs required an additional treatment. Holes in the seat and arm coverings, where the white underlayers showed through, were disfiguring. Without removing the covers, I dyed colour-matched silk and inserted patches of this into the holes and under the covers. This masked the losses, and the application of my dyed net over the top then stabilised all the elements with minimal intervention.

Visitor engagement

The treatment of these textiles was all carried out on site in front of the visitors throughout 2019. I was able to engage with different groups and individuals and explain the conservation and processes involved, which enhanced the visitor experience for many people.

In Local Media

This project was featured in local media: interview with local media

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.