Sitting Pretty – conserving SL Branksome’s seat cushions

The Windermere Jetty curatorial team and volunteers have been hard at work behind the scenes making sure that the small object collection is ready for its new home in the displays of the Windermere Jetty Museum in 2017. Our focus at the moment is on getting the objects cleaned – but not too clean! One of the challenges with cleaning items in any museum collection is to find a balance between removing recent and potentially damaging dirt while keeping evidence of its historic use. To do this we have asked several professional conservators to give us advice on their field of expertise, and back in July 2015 we were visited by Yvette Fletcher from the Leather Conservation Centre. Yvette spent a great couple of days with our volunteers, teaching everyone about how leather was made and running a practical conservation cleaning workshop. Since then our team has been tackling leather with a lot of care and a lot more confidence.

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The Windermere Jetty team learning about  leather damage with Yvette Fletcher

Every so often you find an object that needs to go for professional conservation and Yvette and her team at the Leather Conservation Centre have also been working hard to restore the original leather covered seat cushions from SL Branksome. Part of the Windermere Jetty collection, Branksome was built in 1896 by Brockbanks of Windermere and was the height of luxury. Unfortunately her cushions, seen in place in the photograph below, were showing the wear and tear of being over a hundred years old.

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The leather on the cushions was in poor condition, and there were previous patched repairs, buttons and a pink textile lining which were causing further damage to the original leather. The cushion had also burst open, with broken stitching in some places and splits in other parts.

Inside the cushion was also showing signs of wear as the textile covering the original horsehair padding had deteriorated and was splitting in a number of places. A decision was made to make new covers and fit them over the original damaged ones. This method of conserving the inner cushions was chosen because it preserves all the existing original materials and techniques.

Yvette and her team used the same methods that would have been employed originally. They used a fine 100% unbleached cotton textile for the tops and bottoms, with a thicker more closely woven 100% unbleached cotton for the sides to give more definition.

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All the pieces of the new cover were sewn together, leaving an opening at one end to insert the original cushion

The new cover needed to larger than you might think. The extra space is taken up when the cover is tufted and the mattress stitched. The stiches from tufting hold everything together and stop the stuffing inside from moving.

The conserved cushion is now ready to be placed back inside the leather covers once these have been conserved. Yvette will be giving us more updates on the conservation of the Branksome cushions, so do keep checking back for news.

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