41st Annual Meeting, Textile and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1. "Treatment of a Suite of Baroque Revival Style Seating Furniture by Genevieve Bienisoek, Biltmore

There’s a growing body of publications which detail the features of well-provenanced period upholstery. Such case studies are extraordinarily important for comparison when one is examining upholstery layers on historic seating furniture. In this presentation, Genivieve Bienisoek walked us through her examination and treatment, working together with Anne Battram and Nancy Rosebrock, of a chair and settee from a suite of 12 chairs and 2 settees.
This was one of a number suites which were purchased or produced to furnish Biltmore, a 250 room house built by George Washington Vanderbilt III, completed 1895, and opened to the public in 1930. The pieces in this group of seating are ornately carved, in the style of  Italian sculptor Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732), and covered with an embossed velvet, referred to as gauffrage. This particular fabric has a linen ground with a wool pile, and was fairly coarsely woven. The design in the velvet was created with a hot roller pressed into the nap. Apparently this was a popular pattern which was once quite common and produced in France, Great Britain and the United States by a number of companies. Though the fabric had originally been bright gold in color, it looked grey-green due to fading and color shift. Genivieve took note of a second fabric – an unstamped wool plush which was used in less visible places, such as under the arms. This fabric was also gold in color but had a thicker pile and a tighter weave. Both fabrics appeared to have been used originally on the chair and settee as no extra nail holes were noted during de-upholstery of the seating furniture.
More than half of this suite had been re-upholstered in 1976, according to the records, when they were placed in Biltmore’s Music Room.  One chair has been left untreated for future reference and research.The aim of this treatment was to return the chair and settee to return them to a nearly new appearance.
Genevieve also made mention of some other features of the chair and settee. Removable pieces of the chair were held with spring clips and slots and screws. The entire back panel of the settee is removable, held in place with turn buckles. The mortises for the arms were slightly larger than necessary to allow for shimming to adjust the level of the ams, ensuring they were horizontal.
After documenting the various upholstery layers and fasteners, she used chalk to track where nails had been removed, and compared it to the show cover, to ensure there had been no empty nail holes. She filled flight holes and other losses in the frames, and inpainted scratches. Re-using existing tack holes, a new linen layer was applied over the exposed original upholstery layers, to a act as an isolating layer against the new show cover and to act as a sewing base.
To ensure that new holes won’t need to be added in future campaigns, she added staples around the spring clip plate to provide a stronger means of attachment of this linen cover. Future campaigns are sure to happen sooner than they might otherwise since Biltmore has no climate control and it is not uncommon for windows to be opened in the house. Everything gets handled and cleaned regularly.
Polyester batting was added to the front of the seat to re-establish the proper shape.
The reproduction show cover was woven by the French firm Prelle. They had the pattern for the gauffrage in their archive. On seeing the reproduction fabric, Genvienve noted that there are actually three levels of stamping in the fabric, adding detail and depth to the design. These details were also in the original fabric, but were difficult to see because of the dirt.
The show cover was stitched to the linen isolating layer with curved needles. Though the trim was originally applied with hide glue, Genievieve used a hot melt adhesive to adhere the reproduction trim, obtained from Heritage Trimmings in the United Kingdom.
If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the published version of this presentation, which, I’m sure, will be complete with images of the hardware and schematics of the various upholstery layers.