Science and Heritage Programme

Historic Dye Analysis: Method Development & New Applications in Cultural Heritage

University of Edinburgh/ National Museums Scotland/ Glasgow Museums 

Award holder - Dr Alison Hulme
Student - Lore Troalen


We will use well-established dye analysis methods to build new information about the extensive Burrell tapestry collection and then extend these methods to the extraction and identification of dyes and dye sources used on natural materials used in non-European traditions. Finally, we intend to expand our methods into the field of early synthetic dyes.


  • Sample all 20 "Sheldon" tapestries; identify the dye sources which have been used.
  • Establish the extent of use of linen as a highlight material in Rhineland tapestries; developing extraction methods and conducting light-ageing studies on dyed linen.
  • Extend this work to natural dyes on other natural material to inform analysis of ethnographic collections (particularly N. American mid-19th century quill-work).
  • Develop new methods for extraction and identification of synthetic dyestuffs leading to standard procedures and chronological data about use and condition.


Can existing methodology can be applied to other substrates and heritage artefacts?


Dye extraction will initially follow established procedures, with method development for the later studies on ethnographic and synthetic dyes. Identification through the PDA-HPLC library established by our previous work. "Unknowns" will be examined further by LC-MS. Artificial light-ageing followed by further analysis by PDA- HPLC and LC-MS.


  • Identification of dyes sources for a consistent series of English tapestries.
  • New methodologies for extraction, identification and light fading of dyes on linen.
  • Extended dye reference database of non-European and early synthetic dyes.
  • New information about the restoration of tapestries, through the identification of synthetic dyes, will have been published in the Burrell Tapestries Catalogue.
  • A science-based definition of appropriate conditions for display and conservation to guide the nature of the local display environment in the Royal Museum Masterplan.


Improved knowledge about key pieces within the Burrell and NMS collections, increasing their value to tourism, and providing new historical and socioeconomic information. In addition, the study of materials of non-European origin will augment dialogue between the museum and 1st Nations peoples.


University of Edinburgh: Dr Alison Hulme, Prof Hamish McNab; National Museums Scotland: Dr Jim Tate; Glasgow Museums: Jane Rowlands



Lore graduated in 1999 with a Licence de Chimie (BSc equivalent) and in 2001 with a Maîtrise de Chimie Organique (MSci/MChem equivalent) at the University of Paris 11 (Orsay, France). Passionate about material sciences, archeology and how science can help in understanding or authenticate objects, she then took a DEA post-graduate degree (Master of Advanced Studies equivalent) in Archaeo-materials at Bordeaux University, France. She  worked at the Centre for Research and Restoration of the French Museums (C2RMF) in the polychromy research group, followed by a year at Heritage Malta as Conservation Scientist and Assistant Lecturer on the Bachelor of Conservation degree course. Since 2005 Lore has worked as Analytical Scientist at National Museums Scotland. She enjoys the multidisciplinary approach of conservation science and finds it very rewarding to collaborate closely with colleagues from other departments. 

Lore’s PhD focuses on historic dyes analysis and aims to develop a methodology to investigate natural and early synthetic dyes found on a range of material and objects. Natural dyes have been used from ancient times and analysis can provide information on the dye source used, the artefact’s integrity and indirectly the existence of trade routes in dye materials, while synthetic dye characterisation informs where modern dyes have been used in restoration.

To date, Lore has documented and sampled a group of 16 mid-16th-century English ‘Sheldon’ tapestries, from the Burrell collection and the Bodleian Library. She has investigated yellow, orange, red and green threads with PDA-HPLC, which allowed the characterisation of natural dyes such as weld, dyer’s greenweed, madder, galium and woad species and led her to attribute the tapestries to several workshops and not a single one, as had been expected. Her research brings more light to early English tapestries—little studied in contrast to the vibrant tapestries of the Low Countries. 

Lore is now focusing on dyed porcupine quills, an unusual material used by Native Americans to decorate leather goods and baskets. She has prepared a large range of standards by adapting ethnographic recipes to dye raw quills in the laboratory and has developed a method for extracting and analysing them by PDA-HPLC. She has also documented the quill work collection held by NMS and will shortly begin to investigate a unique set of dyed raw quill samples and objects collected by NMS from North America in 1862. She hopes her research will provide new information on mid-19th century quill work and will help colleagues to conserve and display these extremely light-sensitive materials.

Image: Lore documents an object decorated with porcupine quills.


Burrell Collection Tapestry No. 46.80: Hercules Initiating the Olympics. © Glasgow City Council (Museums)

Burrell Collection Tapestry No. 46.80: Hercules Initiating the Olympics. © Glasgow City Council (Museums)