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18 Aug 2021

Historic Embroideries Back on Display After Epic 10 Year Restoration

A set of 350-year-old embroideries have finally gone back on display at Birmingham’s Aston Hall after 10 years of painstaking restoration.

The embroidered bed hangings adorn the 17th century bed in the room where King Charles I stayed in 1642, thanks to the careful restoration by a team of conservators and volunteers at Birmingham Museums.

The linen had rotted away so badly that the embroideries were in danger of being lost forever. So, in 2009 the conservation team at Birmingham Museums enrolled the help of heritage volunteers from The Arts Society in Arden, Solihull and Friends of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery to help with the lengthy but important restoration project.

The aim of the restoration project was to stabilise the hangings to prevent further damage – this involved conservation cleaning, couching loose threads and stitches, repairing holes and weak areas and securing and piecing together incomplete sections on to new linen.

Designed using a type of embroidery called crewel work, which was a particular favourite style of the Jacobean period, the embroidered bed hangings comprise two curtains, pelmets and a bed covering. They feature an exquisite Tree of Life pattern, flowers, birds, deer and a Chinese-style pavilion. The wool threads are coloured with natural dyes in shades of blue, green, yellow, orange, red and pink. Embroidered bed coverings were the preserve of only the wealthiest families in the 17th century and such sets of hangings around a bed, gave warmth and privacy.

Jane Thompson-Webb, Conservation Team Leader at Birmingham Museums said:

“It’s a major achievement welcoming these embroideries back on display at Aston Hall. Before the start of the restoration project, they were very dirty, the colours were dull, and it was obvious that the embroideries were in a fragile state and at risk of being lost forever.

“They’ve been superbly restored thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers – with their hard-work these historic embroideries and their fabulous colours, intricate scenes and delicate details have been preserved for many more years to come.”

Aston Hall is open to visitors Wednesday – Sunday. For further information visit: https://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/aston

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