Unexpected discovery when the surface was cleaned
The valance linings were very dusty. Surface cleaning with a specialist vacuum cleaner and a soft brush was the first cleaning treatment we did. We do this to remove the dust particles that are often acidic and will damage the textile fibres over time.
Once the dust was removed, we could clearly see a large L written in cursive script on one valance and an R on another.
The discovery of the letters had an implication on the wet cleaning treatment
We looked at the letters under magnification to try to identify what had been used to write the letters. This unfortunately was not possible and taking a sample would damage the lining so that was not an option.
The linings were acidic and very dirty and would really benefit from wet cleaning. This removes the ingrained soiling, re-hydrates the fibres, rebalances the PH level and improves the overall appearance. We had no way of knowing if wet cleaning would remove the markings and if ink had been used would it run?
Trialling a new approach to wet cleaning to suit the newly discovered historical evidence
Due to the benefits of wet cleaning we decided to go ahead with the treatment but to try a different method to accommodate the markings and the fragility of the linings.
Our approach was to use detergent whisked into a stable shaving foam consistency as opposed to submerging the fabrics in water, a method we would usually use. This foam has the capacity to separate and hold particles within the foam structure. The linings were placed on a fly net screen and the foam was placed on top. Using foam as opposed to a more traditional wash bath method greatly reduces handling.
Protecting the letters during the cleaning treatment
But how were we going to preserve the markings during the washing? We used a temporary barrier layer called Cyclododecane. CDC is a waxy white solid volatile binding medium. It can dissolve without leaving residues. This is particularly exciting for conservators because it temporarily binds localised areas and is fully reversible. It was applied to the letters in a molten state with a batik tool.
Post wash technical analysis
Once the linings were fully dry, microscopy showed that they were visually cleaner, and the pH had risen to an acceptable level. It showed that a combination of the CDC barrier layer protecting the letters and the foam cleaning had cleaned the linings and preserved the letters. This is all now recorded in the documentation.
In our next blog we can reveal the hidden secrets of the bed’s six mattresses.