Priceless tapestry treasures hang on with help from vacuum and Velcro

IT SOUNDS more like a practical housekeeping tip than an intricate conservation technique.

However, experts restoring a worn set of 17th century Flemish Verdure tapestries have turned to Velcro for help.

Sophie Younger, an accredited textile conservator, was brought in by the National Trust for Scotland to help carry out the work at Falkland Palace in Fife.

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"We use (Velcro] a lot in conservation. For hanging large textiles, it's very ubiquitous. It distributes the weight evenly ... it's fairly easily applied."

The tapestries have been patched up a number of times and have accumulated a fair amount of dirt over the past 400 years, while light damage has also seen the colourful images fade.

As well as being re-hung using the Velcro in place of metal press studs, the emergency work includes some material added to the back of the tapestries to attach repairs and avoid further deterioration. The dirt is tackled with a vacuum cleaner, using filters over the nozzle. Also, ultra-violet filters placed on the windows will alleviate light damage.

Falkland Palace, nestling below the Lomond Hills of Fife, has been home to the tapestries since 1905 when they were bought from Holland for the sum of 1,537 18s.

• Falkland Palace: playground of a Scottish dynasty

Ninian Crichton-Stuart is the current keeper of Falkland Palace, and lives there with his family in private quarters. He has long and fond memories of the tapestries.

He said: "For those of us who know, love and care for the palace, these beautiful and subtle tapestries hark back to the ancient forest of Falkland, as a place of nature and culture.

"Our parents used to amuse us with the way that the 'shifting avenue' follows you from left to right or right to left."

As a result of the emergency work it has been possible to appreciate the tapestries from the back and see the true, unfaded colours as well as the structure of the textiles, which is important for future conservation.

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Ms Younger said: "What this project is all about is hanging them safely, doing the emer-gency repairs and surface cleaning them back and front."

She added: "Doing this work will allow us to plan the future care of the tapestries.Sometime in the future we will think about lining them and additional support repairs."

Ms Younger and Julie Bon, a conservator for the National Trust for Scotland, were chosen to carry out the emergency work, costing 8,000, with the help of a team of volunteers.

Ms Bon said a fundraising campaign was ongoing to raise between 60,000 and 70,000 to carry out more in-depth conservation on the tapestries.

She said Flemish tapestries are among the best ever made: "The quality of them is astounding - it was obviously a hotbed for that sort of work, you are guaranteed quality."

Of the tapestries at Falkland Palace, she added: "The quality and size, and the scale of them, is incomparable... as part of the history of Falkland Palace, they are integral."