Monthly Archives: January 2012


‘Right me old China..’

As any conservator will tell you prior to movement, your ceramic should be given a quick inspection to determine if there are any cracks, fault-lines or repairs to be wary of. This is to exert as little pressure as possible on any weak areas. Any handles or similar protrusions are to be avoided due to their fragile nature. Complete composure is needed at this time so no ‘pretending to drop’ jokes or shouting out ‘Boo!’ When moved and safely nuzzled in the foam you can begin the clean with another quick inspection. This is to determine if any sections need to be avoided. If a cracked or chipped surface is cleaned, the moisture can creep in under the surface and cause further damage so that gets avoided like the plague.

Painted designs or gilding work are generally avoided too as they would have been added after the ceramic was fired and glazed and therefore not protected by the tough exterior. The cleaning process can differ slightly depending on the finish of your object. With brush in hand the first thing is to remove the visible dust from the surface. Then the fun begins. Dampened cotton wool is a very effective remover of ingrained dirt and can be used to clean those ‘hard to reach’ areas. This can be done to great effect by creating a little swab on the end of a cocktail or Kebab stick. (After the Kebab has been eaten obviously)

‘Washin’ the dishes…’

The winter clean progress meant we could get round to some more ceramics cleaning. This involved setting up two work stations in our Victorian Kitchen and kitting ourselves out to get to work. With the tables covered in soft dust sheets for protection, we tracked down some foam corners which we use to support the items as they are cleaned.

Vinyl gloves at the ready! Good clean hands might do just as well but the gloves reduce the likely event of ceramic slippage in cold paws. The obvious rules apply when transporting ceramics, check your route, make sure it’s free from obstructions. Thankfully the temporary ceramic store is one of the bakery rooms next to the kitchen, so only a short distance to travel with them. As a good percentage of our ceramics collection is unique and valuable Delft-ware. A personal favourite of William Blathwayt who had the main house built in the 1700’s. When transporting and cleaning, I prefer not to be told of an items price tag. Especially when I’ve just picked it up!

‘Talking Books…’

When handling the books prior to cleaning, clean dry hands are best. If you wore white cotton gloves, any dirt would only stick to the gloves and get transferred to more books. Dusting has its own procedure too, and can take a bit of practice. (Bear with…) If the book has a card cover, hold the spine, taking the weight of the book, and slide the cover up and off. Starting with the book spine in your right hand, turn over and hold the long edge in you left hand with the spine nice and snug on your forearm. This gives you a free edge to dust with one sweep of a soft brush, from the spine outwards. Rotate the book and hold the top, to clean the long edge, then with a quick motion you can have the last edge spine-up to complete the process. Simple! Trust me it does make more sense when you try it… on to the pages.

As I noted in my blog post from the house keeping training course at Tyntesfield, To inspect a book, you have to ‘listen’ to it. (So maybe play that German Industrial Techno-Heavy Metal cd another time.) The principle is to be aware of any noises the book might make, and to open it at the smallest angle you can get away with, to check the pages. Unless being treated by a conservator or being repaired, you would never open it more than 45 degrees, as this puts a strain on the spine. If the book is under stress, it can make small creaking noises as you open it, (hence the ‘listen’) so you get a sense of what is appropriate. If in doubt, leave shut. (If a book actually does ‘speak’ to you and you’re not Harry Potter, I would suggest a consultation with a doctor or priest is in order…)