Structural support of tapestries

Structural support of tapestries


Investigation into the materials and techniques used in the structural support of tapestries and other large-scale hanging textiles.

Material content

How do modern and historic materials interact within the local structural unit in a tapestry? Have tapestries survived better because of conservation support systems? Were the conservation materials the best choice and has there been enough stitching applied, or too much?

Phillipa Duffus
Phillipa Duffus, who recently completed her PhD, explains more about the above project and how this will help us make important conservation decisions in the future.

To answer this question, Phillipa has been researching the physical properties of our tapestries and the effectiveness of current conservation methods in order to identify the best structural support techniques with minimum intervention. 

This PhD project is a collaborative research between Historic Royal Palaces and the University of Manchester and is funded by the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme.

Detail of a 500-year old tapestry during conservation
Detail of a 500-year old tapestry during conservation

Tapestries are very large objects and can measure up to 6m x 4m, making them very heavy.  Some of the tapestries here at Hampton Court are over 500 years old and have inevitably suffered over time from the effects of light, humidity and pollution.  They are not, therefore, as strong as they once were and are less able to support their own weight.  As part of the conservation process, we can apply a fabric support to the back of a tapestry to distribute the load and carry the weight of the tapestry when it is returned to display. 

Tapestries in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace
The Abraham tapestries on display at Hampton Court Palace

Supporting historic textiles

There are many different methods of support used in conservation studios across the world today.  This project aims to research these and compare their effectiveness in supporting large-scale hanging textiles.  A critical survey of the conservation methods presently in use will be carried out, their effectiveness tested and an optimum structural support determined.  This will be achieved through the use of weaving, ageing and then testing a model fabric and using predictive digital modelling to investigate mechanical properties.

Fading example on modern tapestry
Model tapestry samples showing the effect of artificial light-ageing

The result of this 3 year study will enable conservators internationally to undertake a more scientifically informed decision for the conservation support and display of large scale textiles.

Downloadable Resources

Some files are provided in PDF format - you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view these files.

  1. Click here to download Acrobat Reader
  2. Alternatively, Adobe offers a service for converting PDFs into HTML or plain text. Access this service here

    Tapestry Support Techniques : project details
    (Adobe PDF, 26KB)

    Tapestry Support Techniques : questionnaire
    (Adobe PDF, 107KB)

You may also be interested in...