A couple of weeks ago the house team and conservation volunteers undertook the task of deep cleaning the many ‘Tapestry chairs’ that can be found around Polesden Lacey.
This involves, carefully inspecting each chair for sign of new damage before dusting the wood, vacuuming the fabric and finally buffering the wood to redistribute old wax and make it shine. Historically these chairs have always been known as ‘Tapestry chairs’ and we still call them this today, but the fabric they are upholstered with is not made the same way a tapestry is and is therefore not tapestry! There are in fact three types of needlework that make up the ‘Tapestry chairs’ here at Polesden Lacey. They all use a stiff open weave backing mesh fabric which the thread is then stitched through to completely cover the canvas, creating an image. The largest stitch with the least mesh holes (on the backing fabric) per inch is ‘gros point’ then ‘needlepoint’ before the smallest being ‘petit point’ with the most stitches per inch. Tapestries are woven with the pictorial design integrated into the structure whereas needlepoint is stitched onto a pre-existing surface.
From the images above you can see that a tapestry has more of a flat surface texture because the whole structure is woven together, whereas the’ gros point’ on the right is more bobbly where each stitch is individual; from this photograph you can also see the framework material that the needlework has been stitched onto (this is exposed due to damage).
Some of the chair fabrics can easily be mistaken for tapestry because the colours often fade in a similar way leaving them with a distinctive blue finish. This is due to how light reacts with the pigment used to dye the threads but luckily a lot of our chairs have survived with beautiful colours and we hope to keep them this way with our careful light controls.
This needlework as we see it today is said to have originated in the 17th century when covering furniture was a more durable option and allowed design and pattern into the home with aesthetic and practical advantages. Wool tends to be used for the larger ‘gros point’ designs with it being spun into finer crewel yarns for the more delicate work of ‘needlepoint’ and ‘petite point’. You can still buy needlepoint kits today!
If you would like to know more about how we cleaned the chairs, you can look back to the blog post that was written last year by click here: https://polesdenlaceyhouse.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/when-youve-done-that-you-can-come-and-do-ours/