Knole Unwrapped was launched earlier this year, and we’re now half way through our second intake. The whole project has taken a lot of planning and time commitment from all members of the Conservation Team, and we definitely came across some wrinkles that we wanted to iron out from intake one.
Technical issues with laptops and digital cameras became one of the first hitches, resolved for intake two with the use of iPads. It was discussed among the volunteers that these would be more user friendly and with an integrated camera they make uploading images to object condition reports much easier. After going through the 5 weeks of intake one, following feedback from the Conservation Team and the Unwrapped volunteers, for intake two we re-jigged the 5 week schedule to allow more time in the store room getting hands on with the objects.
As we are working methodically along the shelves in the store room intake one had the pleasure of working with some mystery boxes of textile fragments. There are several of these boxes, and until now their contents were unknown. The volunteers have now condition checked several of these fragments and written up condition reports for them. Now they have identified they exist we can also have them added on to our inventory. Many of the textiles had been stored rolled, possibly to make the most of the space they had with the type of storage boxes they were using. However it is generally better to store textiles flat where possible.
One of the volunteers from intake one, Alexandra has written about her experience (we promise we didn’t bribe her to write any of the following
“It sounded intriguing: the opportunity to look behind the scenes at Knole and learn how to handle and record items not usually seen by members of the public. As a steward in the showrooms, it was a unique chance to get closer to the Knole collection and learn how historical items are catalogued. As a one-time helper with the “winter clean” it was an exciting way to extend my very basic preventive conservation skills. “Knole Unwrapped” did all that and more.
We were the “guinea pig group”, the first intake for House Steward Emily Watt’s brilliant idea to allow people outside Knole literally to un-wrap the items kept in store, check their condition, photograph them and record all that information on the collection database. Between the five of us, we had skills in the history of textiles, photography, museums, historical re-enactment and all-round Knole knowledge. Roz, John, Val, Susan and I all learnt as we went along. There were times, to start with, when the technology of recording took longer to master than the techniques of assessing but we got faster. By the time we got to the fifth and final week we had got it down to a fine art and the weather had at last warmed up. Thank goodness because in the early sessions it was hard to feel your fingers at the end of a day.
We never got as far as furniture for John. Instead, and perhaps appropriately since Knole is known for its textiles, our boxes revealed endless fragments of cloth, stitching and fringing. We were lucky to have Roz with us as her knowledge of textile manufacturing techniques and historical context made even the most threadbare of pieces interesting. But it was the fabric from the Spangled Bed that made it all worthwhile. In better condition than the real thing it gave a sense of how beautiful it must once have been. It was one of those moments that had you wondering who had cut those pieces from the curtains around the bed and why? It’s all part of the biography of an object, as Emily would say.
Thanks go to the Conservation Team of Sarah, Melinda, Lucy and Zena who were watchful, patient and encouraging and to Helen the House and Collections Manager who helped Emily deliver the learning hours at the start of each day, and the tours of the house and those areas yet to be seen by visitors. The first Knole Unwrapped group were a pleasure to meet and work with. It’d be nice to think they’d have us back later in the year so we can get to do it all again.”
Zena, Melinda, Emily, Sarah and Lucy