Frayed: More Textile Conservation – Deborah Phipps

This time around I’m going to explain how we put the Brereton Bed together.

The bed had been conserved previously (about 20 years ago) for an exhibition in France so it needed no more conservation work, just checking the fixings were still ok and nothing major had happened in the interim period.

The original bed stock or frame is no longer with us unfortunately. So we had a new one made. Luckily we had the drawings and dimensions of the frame that was made in France, so with a little tweaking to make it fit into the space at T&T, a new frame was made.

debbie 2a

When the bed was displayed previously, most of the hangings, that is the inner and outer valances and the head cloth, were hung from Velcro. The hard hook side of the Velcro is attached to the bed frame and the soft loop side is stitched to the reverse of the hanging.


The second image shows the Velcro stapled to the frame, with loops of Velcro holding the doweling curtain rods in place. As the space is not tall enough to include the tester of the bed we fixed a layer of Tyvek (non woven polyester breathable fabric) across the top of the bed, this will help prevent dust and loose particles from the beams falling onto the bed covers. 

Much thought was given to the order in which the hangings were installed, and the logistics of access. Because there are inner valances and the head cloth to put up before the counterpane can be laid out, there are curtains to hang before the outer valances, not forgetting the lower outer valances that went up before the curtains so that we didn’t have to keep moving the curtains. Then there are swags to hang at each corner and last but by no means least there are tassels and tie backs to fix.


Here Lisa Little and I are installing the upper inner valances, the head cloth is already in place.

In the image below, the ‘mattress’ is in place; to support this we stretched more layers of Tyvek across the slats to provide a flat base. The mattress is actually topped with Duvets to make a nice rounded finish to the shape.  The space under the bed was utilised as storage for the rollers that the curtains are stored on.


This next image shows the bed almost done with the lower outer valances, the counterpane plus both head curtains in place.


The white paper inserted under the curtains is acid free tissue paper and at this point in the installation it is separating or protecting the curtains from the painted ‘plinth’. This will be replaced with a clear polyester film in the final ‘display’ of the bed. Because we had to shorten the bed stock so that it fitted under the beams; the pay off was that the curtains would need to drape on the floor; originally these would have skimmed the floor at the same height as the valances.


The bed is almost complete here, the swags have been attached at the corners, all that remains to put up are the tassels.

In the image below, the polyester film has been inserted between the curtain and the plinth and will be trimmed down further to follow the shape of the pleats.


The installation of the bed took two days, often there were three or four people working at a time, handling the large hangings or attaching curtain hooks prior to hanging the curtains. It was definitely a team effort to get the bed up, and doesn’t it look good.


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