No item of a house’s furnishings is subjected to greater wear and tear than its rugs and carpets. Some owners, in a bid to save money, attempt to carry out their own repairs using inappropriate yarns and even felt-tip pens to re-colour worn areas. Some address the problem of holes developing in valuable old rugs and carpets by cutting off the offending areas with scissors.

Yet for a reasonable price £50, say, for the careful surface cleaning of a small rug; between £150 and £250 to have the sides and ends of a 6ft by 4ft rug repaired they could avoid the ill effects of amateur botching, and seek the advice and services of an antique-carpet restorer such as Jill Patchett. She and Alan du Monceau run a workshop in the 14th-century hall chamber of the Priest’s House at Muchelney, their home on the Somerset Levels, which they rent from the National Trust.

Here, working entirely by hand, they repair and clean Oriental and European rugs and carpets, as well as some textiles and silks, tapestries, suzanis and ikats. Most artefacts, such as the 30 rugs and carpets they have been working on from Batsford Park, are brought to them in the studio. However, if a carpet is too large or fragile to move, they will repair it in situ, as they did with a Robert Adam carpet that needed its rotted jute weft completely rewoven;

it took them two years to restore.

Alan concentrates on the fine needlework and technical side of things, and Jill’s area of expertise is choosing and dyeing the yarns, and knotting the patterns. Having trained as an artist, she researched natural dyes and handspun wools in the early 1970s, and, a decade later, went to work in the conservation workshop of an antique-carpet business run by Alan in Cirencester.

‘We use cotton, linen and, mostly, wool nothing synthetic,’ she says, explaining how she chooses yarns not only for their texture and thickness, but also for their lustre. ‘Over time, a carpet’s wool becomes more lustrous than it was when woven. We must, therefore, source yarns that replicate this quality the wools we use come from a mill in Yorkshire.’ Jill then dyes the wool (which arrives colourless), using a combination of natural and synthetic pigments.

This process involves a lot of experimentation ‘dyeing little bits different shades, comparing them to the rug in different lights; it’s like painting a picture’. The colours would, of course, have been much brighter when the carpet was new it is Jill’s job to replicate their appearance as faded by time.

Many jobs involve reweaving a damaged area of carpet. Once the appropriate yarns have been chosen and dyed, the warps are fed in (they must not be visible on the front or back), and the section to be worked is stretched over a frame to create a strong tension this is a crucial part of the process.

The wefts are then woven horizontally through the warps to create the found-ations on which the pattern will be built. ‘Patterns are usually geometric,’ says Jill. ‘Old handmade carpets have imperfections, and these have to be repeated.’ Once the design has been knotted in, the remade section is shaved down to conform with the surface of the original.

They also stretch misshapen rugs and treat moth damage, which usually occurs on an undisturbed part?’look for signs of chrysalis, white grubs and the trails they make when munching away’?and give advice on various methods of control. They now travel all over the country, offering advice on the repair and cleaning of carpets and textiles. ‘Sometimes we are able to advise an owner that nothing needs to be done.’

MARY MIERS

Jill Patchett and Alan du Monceau: 01458 253771

TOP TIPS

  • To preserve a carpet’s life, turn it round occasionally, and get a good underlay to help prevent wear on hard surfaces

  • The sides and ends of carpets tend to be the first areas to deteriorate. Look for signs of loose knots and foundations

  • Ideally, antique carpets should not be vacuumed. If you must, use only the mildest suction. A gentle carpet sweep is preferable

    This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on November 9, 2006

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