Spangled and patched

The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

One of the objects at Knole currently undergoing conservation treatment is the so-called ‘spangled bed’. This bed may have been created in the early eighteenth century using an Elizabethan or Jacobean royal canopy of state which was sewn with silver sequins.

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The silk curtains of this bed are being analysed and treated at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio. The Knole Conservation Team Blog has recently shown these images of the initial findings.

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

It turns out that the curtains are a patchwork of different elements, including six different types of silk damask, a plain silk section and a linen section.

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

All these patches seem to have had previous uses before they were inserted into the bed curtains, as they show additional seams and darning.

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

There are a number of different types and styles of seams, suggesting that there were several successive repairs.

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

At some point the curtains seem to have been turned upside down, so that the damaged and patched hems would be at the top and therefore less obvious.

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

All this gives some glimpses of the life of this venerable bed, as well as of the thrifty housekeeping methods of previous generations.

8 Responses to “Spangled and patched”

  1. Karena Albert Says:

    So very fascinating, thank you for sharing this incredible story.
    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Glad you like it, Karena.

  3. carolscreativeworkshops.net Says:

    Just like Japanese Boro – patching and re-using precious cloth. Did you see the recent Boro exhibition at Somerset House? The discovery that the curtains have been turned upside down to put the worn ends away from eye level reminds me of my mother’s generation’s trick of cutting threadbare bedsheets down the middle and sewing the selvedges together so that the worn middles then become the outer edges. Don’t fancy sleeping on a seam though! Thank you for the lovely post & pictures

  4. Andrew Says:

    Do we know when the bedcurtains were originally made? In the early 1700s, for the bed? Or reusing earlier material, like the canopy? Elizabethan or Jacobean, perhaps 100 years older?

    Where is the damask from? London (perhaps more likely if 17th century)? Or elsewhere?

    How much material is involved? If the bed is around 6 feet on a side, and about 10 feet high, that could be 3 sides of about 6 feet (plus a perhaps half again to allow for drape) say 25 feet long by 10 feet high. How much would say 250 square feet of silk damask cost?

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Carol, I’m afraid I missed that exhibition. Yes a very similar ‘make do and mend’ mind-set. In that sense you could describe the spangled bed at Knole as having the same ‘wabi’ quality – with lots of evocative evidence of age and alterations and repairs – as the boro. And in that sense Knole is a very wabi place.

    It is of course ironic that boro are now expensive collector’s items, but that always happens when items of ‘humble beauty’ get rediscovered and reevaluated. And indeed the conservation of the spangled bed is very costly too.

    But both boro and the Knole textiles are undoubtedly worth the attention and expense, as they are beautifully made, they tell us about how our ancestors lived and worked (on an intellectual level) and they put us directly in touch with the past (on an emotional level). These objects are like the ‘seed banks’ of history, preserving vital historic ‘DNA’ for the present and the future.

    Andrew, the silk damask is Italian. The curtains seem to be slightly later than the canopy, but it is not entirely clear when they were combined and made into a state bed.

    The bed – or the components of it – were originally owned by Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, who was treasurer to James I and owned Copped Hall in Essex. His daughter Lady Frances married Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset, and Copped Hall and its collections were eventually inherited by the Sackvilles. The materials for the bed came to Knole from Copped Hall in 1701.

    I will ask the colleagues at the Textile Conservation Studio about the dimensions of the material and their value in the seventeenth century.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I have now heard from colleagues that the commissioning and use of the bed is currently being researched and that the results of that research will be made public as soon as possible.

  7. Andrew Says:

    Thanks, Emile. Does Italian damask suggest an earlier date and greater expense?

    Just trying to get a feel for how luxurious this was meant to be. “Very”, no doubt, even though the canopy was “recycled”!

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I am not sure about the relative cost of various types of silk in the seventeenth century – this is something that will probably come out in the research. But these beds definitely fell into the ‘very luxurious’ category, and were prestigious both because of their expensive and lavishly worked materials and for their royal connections.

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