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Naturally, we’re extremely proud of the work we produce, from the smallest project to the largest, each deserves the same attention to detail.

Attingham Hall Painted Cloth

Attingham Hall Painted Cloth

One of the joys of being in a creative industry is the range of projects and challenges that come our way. One such challenge came when we were invited to visit the beautiful 18th century Attingham Hall to see if we could find a way of replacing the existing painted floor cloth in the main entrance hall of this stunning National Trust property.

Towards the end of 2016 our Scenic Art manager Ian Siddall was contacted by James Finlay and Sarah Kay who were trying to find a company with the necessary expertise for this task.

Over recent years Attingham Hall has become an increasingly popular destination for many thousands of the Trust’s members and visitors. It is easy to see why Attingham is such a popular destination, but the increased footfall in certain areas of the building needed addressing, especially in relation to the main entrance hall, through which all the visitors passed, come rain or shine, after visiting the extensive grounds.

When the hall was first built in 1785 a painted canvas floor cloth was made and painted to decorate and protect the stone floor in the main entrance hall. No visual records of the existing floor cloth existed, but from descriptions and much research a replica floor cloth had been designed and painted over 10 years ago. This cloth was suffering particularly badly from the increasing footfall in the entrance hall and the trust had decided that it was time to replace it.

Attingham Hall National Trust Property

It was decided to create a detailed and accurate replica of the existing cloth and Ian Siddall, CTS Scenic Art Manager, was asked to suggest ways and means of achieving this. Ian and Julia Skelton, Scenic Artist made, the initial trip to Attingham in early February 2017 to meet with the Trust team, and during that meeting the requirements for the new cloth was discussed. Extensive measurements, tracings, and colour photos were taken so that CTS could produce a digital design drawing, and some metre square full colour painted samples for wear testing on site.

Back at CTS Head Draughtsman, Olly Shapley, produced 1:25 scale digital drawing and 1:1 scale drawings of the different stencils designs required for the cloth. Olly and Julia refined this process so that they were able to produce two metre square test pieces for evaluation by the trust. Each of the stencil patterns was made up of several individual colour stencil cut outs that when combined made the finishes pattern. Julia estimated that there well over a thousand individual stencil colour applications required to complete the final cloth design.

On the second visit to the hall in early May 2017 Ian, Julia and Nina Siddall, Scenic Art Supervisor, travelled to Attingham to discuss issues such as how the floor cloth material was to be sewn, how the stiffening bars were to be fitted, and how best to protect the cloth from the expected wear and tear. One of the solutions was to make the finished cloth square so that it could be periodically rotated to even out the wear immediately in front of the entrance. Colours were also finally resolved during this visit to ensure they matched in to the existing wall decorations. The aim had been to enhance the colours on the new cloth as the colours on the existing cloth had become dirty and faded.

The extensive knowledge of the CTS team with regard to hard wearing stage floor cloths was put to good use and Nina sewed the brown flax floor cloth with flat seams and specially designed stiffening bar pockets on the edges to help the cloth lay flat. James Finlay was particularly impressed with the sacrificial cloth edge which enabled the cloth to be nailed out for painting. This was removed once the cloth had been painted ensuring there were no unsightly nail holes in the edge of the finished cloth.

Nine sewing the edges of the cloth

The nailing out of the cloth and the first few priming coats were a test of nerves for the painting team as brown flax is renowned for its tendency to shrink dramatically when wet. This was countered by hammering in nails every 25mm around the edge. In excess of a thousand nails were used to ensure the cloth did not distort.

Once primed the design was drawn out on the cloth by Julia and the painstaking and detailed process of painting the stencil pattern could commence. Over several weeks Julia and Frankie Locke, Scenic Artist, applied the many layers of different coloured stencil patterns and finished by painting the border edge.

After several protective varnish coats were applied the cloth was left to fully dry out for several days whilst the CTS team worked out how they were going to transport the cloth to Attingham.  At over 6 metres square this represented quite a problem as it could not be folded. The solution was to roll the cloth on large diameter plastic drain pipe, Nina and Steve Rees, Scenic Carpenter, devised some natty removable end stops complete with hand holds to enable the cloth to lifted and tied off during transport.

After several hours of travelling including some unexpected road closures, and hair raising diversions  along and very narrow country lanes for lorry driver John Birch-Hirst, the team arrived on site to install the cloth. The team were well aware that the 6 metre long rolled cloth was going to be difficult to manoeuvre up the staircase of the portico and to make the sharp turn through the front door. They built a full size light weight replica of the rolled carpet to test the lifting method and to the relief of everybody concerned the pipe was able to be lifted through the narrow gap with only millimetres of clearance on either end. The rolled cloth weighed over 80 kilos and the CTS were helped by the Attingham team to lift the cloth finally into position.

The cloth was installed during normal visiting hours working around curious visitors and in the presence of the dedicated team of National Trust experts. To the great relief of the CTS team the installation was achieved and the new floor cloth laid out in its beautiful setting. A few moments were taken to experience the cloth in its new home, which was followed up by much appreciated tea and cakes with the very friendly and welcoming National Trust team.

Sarah Kay National Trust Project Curator offered this wonderful feedback to Ian:

"I have heard nothing but praise for your team for the careful, thoughtful, precise, measured way in which they went about the delivery and installation, not to mention coping with visitors passing close by... It seems it was a pleasure from their perspective too, so a big thank you from all of us at Attingham. I saw the floorcloth in situ today and it looks wonderful – everyone is thrilled with it.

On a personal note I am very impressed with the comprehensive portfolio you left for me complete with stencils, samples, colour swatches, method statements, documentation etc. We will still be doing visitor interpretation about this project, comparing the piece of the old floorcloth we have kept with the new and showing examples of the process you undertook.

So very many thanks and I hope there will be further opportunities for you to work with the National Trust."

 

We will shortly get time-lapse footage of the project up on our site...

 

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