Tapestry Delights

Tapestry Delights
Annual cleaning of the Library's iconic woven works
25 October 2011

The three Aubusson tapestries , ‘Ram’s Head’, ‘Radio Telescope’, and the ‘Parrot’ were woven in Aubusson, France, for the National Library of Australia and are a great attraction to the Library. Ever wondered what happens to the three Aubusson tapestrieswhen they disappear for 2 weeks a year? Well, around August/ September is breeding season. Bugs, like carpet beetles, find their way to the tapestry. The adult carpet beetle will lay eggs near a food source which is generally dry materials of animal origin such as wool. It is the larvae that do the most damage; they will feed on the surface or inside the material. Insect frass is often found on the surface of the tapestries as well as other insects including spiders, moths and flies.

Egg laying tracks

Egg laying tracks

Insects and dust are brought in through the front doors that are directly below the tapestries. This results in a large amount of dust accumulating on the surface, making them even more desirable to a number of different insects.

Insect webs

Insect webs

As always, prevention is the most important part of protecting a collection. In order to kill the insects, larvae and eggs the tapestries are removed and treated once a year. A number of people and a scissor lift are required to help with the removal of the tapestries.

Removing the tapestries

Removing the tapestries

The tapestries are secured to a wooden rod at the top edge and are raised and lowered using a pulley system. They are rolled onto a PVC core that is covered with Tyvec® and the tapestry is wrapped in archival manila card and sealed in a plastic bag.

Rolling the tapestries

Rolling the tapestries

The tapestries are sent to a commercial freezer that reaches down to around -25°C. They stay in this temperature for one week which kills all the insects, larvae and eggs. Once they have been frozen they are returned to the Library where they are thoroughly vacuumed to remove all the accumulated dust, insect remains, eggs and webs. After they have been cleaned the tapestries can then be re-hung and will be safe for another year.

Re-hanging the tapestries

Re-hanging the tapestries

This is a very important program that helps to protect the tapestries from being ‘eaten alive’. If they were to remain on the wall without this treatment then they would slowly disintegrate into nothing. So, if the tapestries are ever missing from the wall…….don’t panic, we are taking very good care of them so that they can be enjoyed by future generations.