Japanese Hanging Scroll

The condition of this heavily embroidered hanging scroll showed silk and borders worn with age, beginning to crack and shatter. 

The top edge of the silk border had become separated from its hanging system completely.

Through initial research with the owner, we determined this scroll is most likely to have arrived in London for the World Exposition of 1862. 

The owner’s family purchased it around 1940 from a London antique dealer as “blackout fabric” to cover windows during the second world war. 

From displays throughout its long life since the late 1800’s, the colours of the flowers have faded to a cream colour. Light fading happens cumulatively over the entire life of an artwork. 

This scroll was hand-delivered to me at Studio 204 on the East Coast by the owner on the West Coast. 

During assessment, together we decided the scroll needed complete conservation and remounting, in order to remain in good condition for many more generations in the family. 

Sculptural embroidery embossed into old lining papers. Reverse during backing removal

After pigment solubility testing revealed not all dyes were stable, to avoid further breakage the brittle lining papers were removed using controlled humidity. 

When the reverse of the handcrafted embroidered threads was revealed, the originally pink Chrysanthemum flower petals and green stems showed their vibrant colors. 

Many threads were detached, and several veins of leaves had become lost.

At the owner’s request, in collaboration with The Textile Conservator, Louise McCullagh secured frayed threads and reconstructed missing embroidered details of leaf veins. Her qualifications in London, her work at the V&A Museum, and experience from a short course on East Asian textiles in Taiwan made her the most appropriate textile conservator to work on this scroll.  I learned more about textiles best practice through this collaboration.

To restore this scroll’s flexible nature, I attached several layers of conservation grade handmade linings of Japanese mulberry papers for strength and longevity. 

Tall as the door

With its silk borders, this scroll needs a wall taller than 3 meters. Artwork flattened by float-mounting outer paper edges to karibari, a traditional Japanese drying board.

Complete conservation of a hanging scroll requires ten years of specialist training to become adept at the intricate details involved in the process. With roots in time-proven techniques of East Asian paintings; according to traditions of seasonal display and rotation for preservation, conservation also accounts for seasonal shifts in humidity.  Many stages of flattening over the period of a year are required to ensure lasting flatness.  

Sometimes old silk borders are as valuable as the artwork itself, and they can take as much time or more to conserve.  In this case the border with the original Buddhist reverse swastika pattern was worth saving, however after the second world war the design is now very rarely produced.  Importantly the owner has preserved the original silk borders, kept in a storage box as a historic original component. 
Sourcing replacement silk borders in a similar tone and pattern to the historically appropriate time period to the artwork itself is challenging.  Whether silk borders of each scroll I conserve are being saved or being replaced, I always search for similar scroll mounting silks.  There are very few remaining Nishi-jin silk weavers in Japan who still make traditional scroll and screen mounting silk designs.  Without supporting essential traditional craftspeople, conservators would not be able to do our part of the conservation work.

This scroll with its new remounting, the outermost silk borders along left and right are again a plain weave.  The new main silk borders are again a similarly geometric flower pattern donsu, damask weave. Since the green in the artwork is less vibrant now than originally, the tone of the main replacement silk was chosen to compliment more of the golden tones now prevalent throughout the embroidered work.

Innermost silk borders at upper and lower edges of the artwork were replaced with kinran, gold-wrapped threads.  This luxurious gold silk includes in its patterns a mention of its original mounting silk designs. There is a nod to this scroll’s more recent provenance in London, integrated in the gold Fleur-de-Lis pattern. The original Buddhist patterned silk design is incorporated within the sayagata, key-fret architectural pattern surrounding the Fleur-de-Lis. 

Glorious embroidered flowers hanging as a scroll again.  The journey of restoring glory to this scroll, from remounting through display has made me as happy as the owners. 

After Conservation, this scroll once again hangs with pride of place amongst its new surrounds. 

Sincere thanks to the owners of this embroidered scroll for permission to reproduce images for this article only.

Embroidered silk artwork, mounted in Japanese silk borders as a hanging scroll. Dimensions:  215.5 cm H x 83.3 cm W. Private collection, Fremantle, Western Australia