ONE of the most delicate exhibits at a Ryedale stately home is starting a year-long cleaning process which will take it to Belgium and back.

National Trust staff at Nunnington Hall are working with expert textile conservator Melanie Leach to save the first of their “verdure” tapestries, which until last week was hanging by a thread, almost literally, in one of the hall’s grand rooms.

The huge tapestry is, as its name suggests, mostly verdant green, depicting a pastoral landscape of foliage, trees, birds, and mountains, with a rustic village in the midst of the scene.

“A verdure tapestry is a Flemish tapestry and it’s a particular style where you don’t have figures that are telling a mythological story - it’s about the view through the landscape,” says Melanie.

It’s bordered by an elaborate, ornate frame depicting a pattern of flowers, leaves, ribbons and bows.

The tapestries are woven mostly of dyed wool with bright highlights of silk. “That lifts the whole thing,” says Melanie. “If it was all wool it would look flat.”

Nunnington Hall has three of verdure tapestries. They were originally hand-woven in Flanders in the late 1600s by a number of weavers - skilled but probably poor artisans - on a huge wooden frame in a commercial workshop.

The weavers were always working at the back of the tapestry, using mirrors to see the front of the piece, and working to a design painted by an artist.

“It might take five years to weave it,” says Melanie. “Tapestries were far more expensive than a painting to commission.

“These were items you’d take with you when you moved. It’s all about display. It’s a display of your wealth.”

The reverse of the Nunnington Hall tapestry is a brighter, more vivid colour than the front, having not seen the centuries of gradual discolouration. It shows the loose thread ends where the makers of the tapestry would have been working.

“You really get a sense of somebody having made it,” says Melanie.

The three Nunnington verdure tapestries were brought back to England from France by Richard Graham in the mid-1680s.

Richard Graham worked for Charles II and James II as the King’s representative at Versailles. An interesting character; he ran a spy ring for Charles II when he was in France, was a Jacobite conspirator and spent some time in the Tower of London.

He was permitted to retire to Yorkshire in the 1690s.

Nunnington Hall aims to have its other two verdure tapestries given the same treatment, and are fundraising over the next few years to make it happen.

For this first tapestry, however, the journey has just begun.

Last week the tapestry was rolled off the wall vertically in a painstaking process, and was gently cleaned of surface dust by Melanie, using a specialist vaccum cleaner with variable suction and a soft goat-hair brush.

It will then be shipped to Belgium where they have a specialist washing facility, then taken back to Melanie’s studio in Norfolk where she will set it up on a large frame and will be doing stitching repairs on it.

In all, the process will take around a year. “It’s hugely satisfying,” says Melanie, “because you’re helping to support the tapestry and make the design more readable in areas of loss - but I’m not trying to be the weaver. I’m not re-weaving. That’s more interventive, you have to cut areas away. And in conservation we don’t do that. It’s about saving what’s there. Saving the original.”