This page documents the conservation of a Louis XIV Revival Fauteuil and tapestry from start to finish.
Note: Remember to run your cursor over images because there may be notes
attached to the images and these will be exposed.
Our client’s Louis XIV Revival Fauteuil from the nineteenth century
came in for treatment of the textile (gentle cleaning, and stabilizing from the back),
conservation of original finish, and conservation of the upholstery buildup (innards).
Before treatment images above, though some of the gimp is removed.
We start, as we always do, with a assessment while everything is still intact:
what is seen when examining and shooting detailed images is exciting.
The hand-carvings are beautiful and in good condition (a sampling),
above; we found no need
for amendments of broken
petals or leaves.
Hand-carving is easily evident, right, where you
can see the makers
hand marks as a smooth
area was carved.
The original finish is intact, with some flaking of
shellac and a beautiful patina. The finish is extremely dirty.
This lovely gimp is stiff
with either glue or topcoats
of shellac. What we can see now by removing the gimp trim is that the tacking margin on our textile is small and there are bits of fraying under the gimp. MPF Conservation has ways of mitigating this without reweaving.
EXCAVATION AND PATTERNS
Our next steps are pattern making and excavation of the textile and buildup:
We apologize in advance for the strange yellow lighting in this room.
Because we are reupholstering the textile after we conserve the buildup,
we begin by taking patterns before we remove the textile. Part of the pattern making process is to provide Mitchell with a template of the proper buildup. Clear plastic allows Mitchell to make notes, identify tacking positions (to determine the number of upholsterings), and when the tapestry is cleaned, will assist with blocking.
One issue we saw immediately upon removal of the gimp trim was the excessive amount of glue applied. It appears possible there was a repair sometime in the textile’s life, and the upholsterer trimmed the textile too close instead of turning the edge under, leaving the next upholsterer (us!) a poor edge with which to work. We will have to be extremely careful because of someone who decided trimming was easier for them!
Mitchell moved to the inside back, created the pattern, and began excavation. Upholstery tacks were carefully removed so as not to damage the tapestry.
The outside back showcover fabric is also going to be reupholstered after it is cleaned. The inside back is fully excavated to release the outside back showcover fabric, a woven brown wool rep, which may be a second generation showcover for the outside back.
There are notes in a few of the images. The importance of the amendments in the stuffings, image 4 above, is the cattle-tail over the original horsehair. That indicates that possible the outside back was replaced at some point.
Also, the dust membrane (image 5 and 10) is a matlasse ca 1930-1950. It is likely the upholsterer at the time had excess fabric they reused, also not an uncommon practice.
The arm tapestries were removed, and all patterning completed, above.
Finally the seat buildup was excavated.
There is a different fiber under an earlier tack, so there may have been
an earlier showcover or possibly this is a muslin undercover.
There is not enough fiber to tell the story.
Most of the innards will be cleaned and re-utilized during the re-upholstery phase.
They were carefully removed, layer by layer,
and set aside in the order of removal, ready for cleaning.
It is unusual to see 2-inch webbing; usually you see a 3-inch webbing and fewer courses. This is the original webbing, and Mitchell can affirm this because of the number of tacking holes. Mitchell thinks they were trying to achieve a sprung platform which would drop the center of gravity, making the seat more comfortable. Copper alloyed springs place the chair between 1890-1910.
And we find this, though no other signature markings: “Made in Belgium,”
on the bottom of the original dustcover! Mitchell will place this back in the chair as part of its history, but it is too rotten to reuse.
The exposed frame ready for repairs and finish work.
We changed our proposed protocol after seeing how the tapestry had been cut to
the quick on the edges, above, and left tattering with no stabilization or overcasting
before its last upholstery. We did not want to wet clean the entire piece because we did not want to chance shrinkage. Instead we spot cleaned and used a method of repeated
top and bottom cleaning of the surface fibers that takes a bit longer, but is safer.
Further, the last upholsterer used a THICK coating of yellow carpenter’s PVA glue (not a white glue such as casein) to glue the gimp trim to the tapestry edge. This glue is completely inappropriate, and removing the glue would be extremely difficult.
What appears to be a dirty edge is in fact a thick coating of glue — we did not try to remove it at all, but are using it to help stabilize the edges at this time.
However, it was also more difficult to overcast the tapestry.
The needle and thread kept getting caught in this thick sticky PVA muck;
however, Mitchell is adept at using a serger!
The overcasting was successful but not pretty.
Protocol was to vacuum deeply on both sides using a soft brush attachment
which helped to lift the fibers and remove glitter and debris.
The seat was covered with glitter! The tapestry also had several “splinters,”
and we cannot imagine how the chair came into contact with these.
They are not straw or fibers from the inside working their way out!
The tapestry pieces were then spot cleaned in several small areas, and using both a
repurposed and dedicated mushroom brush, and specialty wipes,
which also were used on the surface of the tapestry fibers to remove surface debris.
The crest of the inside back was especially dirty from hair oils and hands
grabbing the back of the chair over the years. This area was thoroughly cleaned twice
using ®Orvus and distilled water, saturating and moving the dirt.
Above, it is interesting to see the original colors before they faded;
the back of the tapestry shows us the muted greys and taupes were actually purple colors of orchids and violets. The muted pinks were brilliant, almost bubble gum pink…
Imagine if the rose and coral were actually the intended colors of bright pink
and bright orange next to the yellow, which held its pigment.
Two very small areas at the edges of tacking areas had damaged stitches.
This is a good time to explain about matching historic yarns.
The yarns are often difficult
to match because they are
not actual dye colors, but colors that have faded over time. Right, you can see what appear to be two browns, but in reality are the same brown yarn, but one is very faded and appears to be tobacco, while the other is closer to the original color. In the damaged area below, replacement area moves from faded to the original color where the tape covered it.
Sometimes one can match
the yarn exactly, but more often not. One option if the area is not highly visible is to take a strand from each color and blend them, as shown right. (Note flashed color appears brighter.) The damaged area on the rf-arm top was missing not only yarn but also the linen warp and weft of the grid which the yarn stitches into; this loss was right at the edge where
the folds and the tacking margins occurred. I used
yarn to create the grid.
On the seat at the right-facing corner, another highly degraded bright bubble gum pink area both had faded missing stitches, and a degraded edge for tacking.
Again, I used two colors not at all like the original to blend a repair
on an edge that no one will notice even if it is pointed out to them!
After I needle-pointed the missing stitches, I wrapped the edges to secure
so that when Mitchell needs to tack into that area he has purchase, and
ran yarns up into the body before knotting for extra stability.
(Note that is not dirt but the terrible PVA glue at the edges!)
Above, the four tapestry pieces
after cleaning and reparation.
The tapestry is quite beautiful with varying kinds of needlepoint,
petite-point and stitches to create the bodies of the people and the Phoenix.
As you scroll through the details above, pay attention to the eyes and fingers and the various skin tones and sizes of the stitches. It is quite beautiful!
The tapestry is almost ready for reupholstery.
Mitchell will stabilize the back using a strong but light silk, not shown.
The last upholsterers had dripped glue on the carved finish;
this was carefully removed with a small chisel,
then steel wool removed the last of the glue.
We always make our own shellacs; often we make our own waxes,
but not always. For the fauteuil frame, we decided to use two
of three commercial products we occasionally use.
We are not recommending these for your applications at home!
Our criteria depends upon the condition and the type of finish!
We started with Briwax.
We applied liberally and allowed it to set, then wiped it off.
We use Gamblin’s Gamsol OMS (Odorless Mineral Spirits) to scrub into the wax.
Gamblin’s OMS is so gentle — and nearly non-toxic!
We do not wear a mask when using it, just good ventilation,
and it does not cut deep into finishes. A horsehair brush and a large oil painting brush from Kate’s stash was used to scrub. It was allowed to set, then wiped clean.
We then moved to Liberon’s Black Bison. We worked it into the details,
allowed it to set, then removed it selectively with brushes and a clean rag.
It was a lovely color, the original finish enhanced and cleaned,
but we wanted a bit more depth and a little more gloss.
A final coat of Briwax did the trick, applied then buffed for a semi-gloss sheen.
Before and after, below. It should look like a well-appointed finish,
not new (which it is not), but clean and glowing with a nice depth of color!
A bit of the color shift is the lighting in different rooms…
The frame was in very good condition: two issues, numerous tack holes in the frame needed to be stabilized, and the corner blocks needed to be replaced.
We repaired the damage created by many tack holes.
Nail holes were filled with hide glue and hard picks were tapped into each.
This effectively fills the voids and creates a stronger frame.
A Japanese saw carefully cuts the pins to the surface,
and Mitchell used a chisel remove any unleveled nibs.
Mitchell removed old inadequate and damaged corner blocks on all four corners;
they were fragmented and too small for an entablature that will take
the tensions of the upholstery. New corner blocks were cut and fit,
glued using hide glue, and nailed into place.
At this time the blocks had hard edges.
The corner blocks are finished
in case of bleed-through
at the edges over the years.
The frame is ready for buildup,
Note in this image the corner blocks were not yet colored.
The cleaned and conserved textile still had two issues
to be overcome in the upholstery process:
1) The edges had been trimmed to the edge, giving us no comfortable tacking edge.
2) The edge had thick embedded glue in the tacking margins.
Mitchell stabilized the edge prior to cleaning. To give himself a comfort area
during re-upholstery, we chose a strong olive Dupinoni with which to create a backing. Mitchell had trouble with the stitching because of the needles hitting the hard glue edges;
he is quite adept at the sewing machine but the glue pushed the textile around.
The backing allowed him an edge to tug on while applying the textile later.
Another perk of the lovely color is that if the needlepoint/petitpoint looses threads
at a later date the olive is a good complimentary color underneath.
The original thin webbing was used to obtain maximum drop over time.
The center of gravity on the seat originally dropped in the seat center,
while the edges remained firm. Mitchell chose a 11 lb 2-inch jute webbing to
replace the original, which was a metric width and just over 2-inches.
Original copper springs were still viable; they were stitched to the seat.
As the former holes were filled, new holes were carefully drilled when necessary.
Spring twine was waxed as it was tied.
Four-way Spring Tie was completed.
Springs were covered with a hessian burlap,
and a holbein stitch used to lash them into place.
Coir was placed at the edge and stitched.
The original seat pod was cleaned and conserved, then placed over the seat deck.
The stuffings from here up are all new stuffings,
as the seat was robbed of its second stuffings.
Original seat pod wrapped in burlap to preserve, and hand-stitched into place.
A layer of hog and horse hair is added and stitched into place;
the depressions made by the stitching pattern is filled with a bit of loose hair.
All this is topped with a layer of organic cotton batting,
and a hemp broadcloth secures the entire seat deck.
One more topper of thin organic cotton batting, and the original conserved needlepoint/petitpoint textile is reapplied and tacked into place, ready for the gimp trim.
UPHOLSTERY: BACK AND ARMS
Coir was stitched onto the arm pod. Jute burlap wrapped the coir and was stitched
into place. Hair topped the amended pod, and a cotton topper before the broadcloth
was attached. A thin topper of organic cotton batting was applied under the original textile, which was tacked into place. The arm is ready for the gimp trim!
The cleaned and conserved back textile had the same two issues
to be overcome in the upholstery process as the seat:
1) The edges had been trimmed to the edge, giving us no comfortable tacking edge.
2) The edge had thick embedded glue in the tacking margins.
Mitchell stabilized the edge prior to cleaning, and added the olive Dupinoni
silk with which to create a backing. Mitchell had the same trouble with
the stitching because of the needles hitting the hard glue edges.
The backing allowed him an edge to tug on while applying the back textile later.
The original inside back hair pod was cleaned and shaped.
Into the outside conserved frame back the historic outside back showcover was
tacked into place; organic cotton batting is used under the dust barrier.
Another layer of cotton batting. The original back pod is amended
with a different colored hair, and placed into the back frame.
Another cotton topper is placed over the hair pod, and topped with the broadcloth topper.
Another thin cotton topper, and the historic textile is tacked into place.
The chair is now ready for finishing touches, dustcover, secret pockets, and trim!
FINAL DETAILS: DUST COVER, TRIM, POCKETS
A dust cover keeps the interior clean which deters disintegration.
Our also includes a pocket where a report on the
history of the piece can be stored for future generations.
The last item is application of the trim,
which in this case was glued, pinned during curing, and released.
Occasionally trims are hand-stitched into place.
The completed fauteuil.
Above, the fauteuil before and after conservation.
Below, a slideshow of the fauteuil as it goes through its transformation.
Written by Kate Powell ©MPF Conservation.
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