Science and Heritage Programme

Investigation into Structural Analysis and Associated Conservation Support Strategy in the Display of Large Historic Tapestries

University of Manchester/Historic Royal Palaces

Award Holder - Professor Christopher Carr
Student - Philippa Duffus


Historic Royal Palaces (the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace) is responsible for the preservation of many important large textiles. This study will determine the effectiveness of current conservation methodologies and identify the optimum structural support. The University of Manchester has a long history in textiles and paper science, and a world class infrastructure for their study. The theoretical structural analysis of degraded and supported tapestries will generate predictive tools for supportive methodologies to offer minimal intervention, long term stability and maintain visual appearance. The investigative approach is practical and conservation-led, with a multi-disciplinary approach. 


  • To source an appropriate model tapestry fabric material for practical testing
  • To measure the mechanical properties and performance of fabrics and stitching interventions to inform structural modelling of unaged and aged fabrics
  • To evaluate the treatment of historic objects


  • 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?


Manufacture of model fabric. CAD facilities will enable 3D visualisation of the weaves required for tapestry production aiding accurate reproduction. Model tapestries will be light-aged, and comparison of the mechanical properties will form the basis for predictive modelling. A Kawabata Evaluation System will assess the low-stress properties in tension, bending, shear and compression. Non-destructive in-situ measurement of fabric compliance in tension, biaxial tension, shear, bending and compression modes. Modelling tensile behaviour of unstitched and stitched tapestry fabrics: based on mechanical modelling of fibre assemblies, Finite Element or Energy based analytical solutions will be developed for predicting the load-elongation behaviour of tapestry fabrics. Mechanical models will be extended to include a variety of stitching patterns and materials, under different stitching tensions. A variety of conservation strategies will be evaluated virtually before deciding on the optimum methodology.


This project will establish a fundamental database for knowledge based intervention and associated predictive analysis.  Understanding the interactions between conservation stitching, modern materials with historical fabric and overall appearance will achieve a scientific approach to the conservation of large historic tapestries. The research will draw on existing studies leading to practical outcomes. 


The outcome of this project will enable heritage organisations to facilitate public access to historic large-scale textile heritage materials sustainably, for future generations of visitors.


University of Manchester: Professor Chris Carr and Dr Prasad Potluri
Historic Royal Palaces: Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire


Philippa Duffus works on a tapestry at Historic Royal Palaces

Philippa Duffus studied Materials Science as an undergraduate, and her final year project investigated a problem in stone conservation, which prompted her interest in conservation. She then undertook an MA in Conservation Science at the Royal College of Art based in the British Museum, before continuing her research in heritage science with this PhD.

Philippa’s project focuses on tapestries, and the tapestry collection and conservation studio at Hampton Court Palace. Tapestries suffer over time like many other textiles due to standard environmental factors – light and relative humidity in particular. However, due to their complexity in structure and large size they also suffer whilst on display because of their weight and the resulting physical stresses and strains created throughout the object. Conservation of these large objects often involves providing a support for display, usually in the form of a support fabric applied to the reverse of the tapestry. Different methods and materials are used across the world, however the relative efficacy of these methods and materials is not known.

Recent research has highlighted that the physical strength of tapestry fibres is less than expected due to various chemical reactions which have occurred over time reducing their physical integrity. This research intends to consider these large textiles at the object level, using digital models to recreate stresses and strains occurring through the object, and also the mechanical effects of any conservation supports which may be applied.

By creating a digital model, it is hoped that different conservation methods and materials can be critically evaluated in terms of their relative mechanical effects on the tapestry as a whole. Textile conservators will be able to use the results of this research to assist them in making conservation decisions in the future when conserving these extremely beautiful and valuable objects.


Lore Troalen tapestry