A Different Kind Of Commission

 The silk panel - showing how the fabric was falling apart.

The silk panel - showing how the fabric was falling apart.

Usually I get to work on a commission when someone has seen my work, and they want something similar, but with a few changes. So I will rework my design create something in a different shape, size or colour. Or someone might ask for a piece which depicts a particular favourite plant. 

During the Art Tour of 2014, one visitor, after seeing my work and discussing some of the techniques I use, asked whether I might be able to rescue a very old piece of textile that she had. This piece was a silk panel, brought back from China, by one of her ancestors, many years before. It had been displayedas a wall hanging, but was currently, in a state of disintegration, rolled up at the back of a cupboard. Although I am not a restorer of fine fabrics, we agreed that I would use the processes I am familiar with to do the best I can. 

 The finished piece.

The finished piece.

The silk panel was literally falling apart. Many areas were badly disintegrated. Although the colour hadfaded a bit, it was still a beautiful blue, but so fragile that every time I touched it, my hands would pick up some of the blue colour and I guess, fragments of fibres too. 

The first thing I did was to carefully unpick the red cloth which was stitched to the back of the silk, and lay the whole piece out to assess what could be done. I removed any loose threads and excess fabric from the reverse side, and then bonded the whole thing onto a new piece of cotton fabric.

I used Bondaweb for this, making sure to keep the iron as low as possible so as not to damage the silk. Once this was done, I stitched through both layers where it wouldn’t show to further secure the silk.  I was then able to stretch the new cotton fabric over a board, in the same way that I do my work, with no fear of the silk being further stressed. 

When I removed the excess fabric from the back of the silk panel, there were two tiny bits of the border fabric that had been folded to the back. I returned these to the client. She then came up with the idea of incorporating these scraps in other pieces which could hang with the main panel.

Taking a tiny flower on the border pattern as a starting point, I came up with a motif to then develop into a design. Colours and fabrics were chosen to match the colour of the original silk and colours in the space where the pictures were to hang. Likewise, the mounts and frames were painted to match surrounding paintwork.