When we started on this huge project the vestments were in a pretty terrible state. The vestments were found in old architect’s drawers wrapped up in newspapers along with mice droppings, moths and general dust.
We contacted a Conservator who had restored an item a number of years before at the request of a member of the Church and she gave us a brief outline on what we should do.
The first thing we did was to take out each item and carefully vacuum it with a low level hand vacuum cleaner through a piece of fine mesh which picks up the dust but does not disturb and stitching.
NADFAS had Recorded our church a number of years before so we had a good deal of initial information from their reports as to age and materials of each piece. After cataloguing and photographing each one we replaced them in the now thoroughly cleaned drawers, and laid a sheet of acid free tissue paper between each piece.
This was the beginning of our conservation project. The Parochial Church Council were extremely generous and agreed to install some state of the art cabinets and drawers for housing the vestments in a much safer and environmentally way. This took a while to organise as we had to start from scratch and discover what was the correct way to store these treasures – again more help from Conservators!
So finally we had beautiful new cabinets, a good deal of basic information as to the Vestments provenance and a lot of enthusiasm.
Next was to make a survey of each item – there are 194 in all! – and to assess what condition they were in, what work needed doing and what we were able to do ourselves. This in itself was a steep learning curve and over the years we have learnt to appreciate how skilled the professionals are despite having some excellent stitchers in our band with Royal School of Needlework Diplomas.
As each item has to lie flat without incurring any creases we made a number of what we call ‘pasties’ and ‘sausages’ which basically are various shaped pieces of neutral stuffing covered in pure linen or calico to fit into the bends and curves of each item so that it prevents creases from appearing as these put a good deal of strain on the material and will end up causing the fabric to split.
We soon learnt that what we were doing was Conserving and not Restoring, that is, we are not trying to make our Collection look as it did originally but are trying to prevent it from deteriorating any further. This includes not removing some ink stains, which appear on one Chasuble as this is part of its history, even if it be rather a mucky part! On the whole we do not remove previous repairs as this gives us an insight into who and how the garments have been formerly cared for, also every time one tries to undo a stitch you are creating another small hole and therefore weakening the fabric still further. Our day-to-day care is still very much ensuring that all our Collection is correctly housed and kept dust and bug free.
Originally each article was carefully vacuumed using fine netting between the material and the vacuum cleaner to remove any dust or miniscule bugs, which may damage the fabric. This process is repeated approximately every 18 months.
In 2004 all garments were rehoused in state of the art cabinets:
- Chasubles, Stoles, Veils, Mitres, Maniples, Burses, Pulpit Falls, Aumbry Curtains all lying flat in the cabinets, protected by acid free tissue paper and covered with linen or calico.
- Altar frontals stored on rollers, and interfolded with acid free paper, covered by linen bag.
- Copes hanging on special padded coat hangers and then covered with a linen cover.
We catalogued, photographed and labelled each item – the files are on display.
Each item has been assessed as to whether we can do any needed repairs ourselves or if they need to be sent to professional conservators. With experience this is constantly being reappraised.