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Examining our rare Axminster Carpet in preparation for conservation

Visit Yorkshire to see rare Axminster Carpets

Harewood House is well known for its outstanding art collections. Each object requires care and attention to manage and conserve it; from smaller items such as clocks and porcelain to the huge, intricate Robert Adam ceilings, every single part of the collection must be cared for and maintained.

Harewood’s Yellow Drawing Room carpet is centuries old and has survived for over 200 years. This particular carpet is one of only eight in existence which are still housed in the original Robert Adam design scheme making it an important object to protect and conserve. This is a complex carpet with needlepatch repairs and discolouration in places – while the pile has worn away the knots have survived well. It is a heavy textile which takes a great deal of specialist care to move. This winter, a team of textile experts from across Britain have been looking at the carpet in more detail. May Berkouwer, Textile Conservator and Consultant led the work supported by Dr Crosby Stevens (Textile Conservator).

In order for the conservators to have the space to fully inspect the carpet, it was necessary to move it into the Gallery, the most spacious room in Harewood House. First of all, the carpet had to be carefully rolled, moved and turned over. With age, textiles can dry out which causes the fibres to become brittle. This means that any movement has the potential to cause damage. Under the watchful eye of May Berkouwer, a team of 10 Harewood staff slowly, inch by inch, rolled the carpet for transportation before repeating the process, unrolling it again so that the carpet could be mapped right side up and from the reverse.

By mapping the carpet, the conservators will be able to assess not only the repairs but also the lining and what conservation work is needed to preserve this fascinating textile. A grid pattern was created with over 35 sections by May Berkouwer and her colleague Crosby Stevens. Each section was photographed and reviewed enabling a full spectrum of damage to be assessed and a complete record of previous restoration attempts to be compiled, creating a historical chronology for the carpet. Vacuuming took place and dust samples were taken and fastness tests carried out to test resistance of fibres to eventual treatments.

The results of the final report will start to help Harewood answer important questions about the carpets future and enable us to make curatorial decisions, with expert advice, as we apply for funding to cover the cost of conservation.

This year we will open with the carpet rolled with an update for visitors on the progress we have made researching the carpet.

See a time lapse of the carpet being rolled on our YouTube Channel