From the Golden Age to the Digital Age: Modelling and Monitoring Historic Tapestries

 From the Golden Age to the Digital Age: Modelling and Monitoring Historic Tapestries is a research project funded by The Leverhulme Trust. It runs for three years from January 2016.

The project is developing two techniques widely used by engineers to investigate the effects of different conservation and display techniques on the structure of historic tapestries, in a collaboration between the Centre for Textile Conservation and the School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

There are many rich collections of tapestries on display in museums and historic houses, but their construction using the finest materials of their day and their exposure to many years of light, pollution and handling means tapestries are often in need of extensive conservation treatment. This study utilising engineering technology will enable conservators, curators and conservation scientists to base decisions in a more complete understanding of material properties when treating these complex objects.

The study will employ both computational modelling and strain monitoring using digital image correlation. These two techniques in combination will give us a much greater understanding of the effects of commonly used conservation stitching techniques on the tapestry structure. We will also investigate different methods of displaying tapestries, particularly the use of sloping boards, a technique which is becoming increasingly popular in Europe.
The project builds on work carried out at the University of Southampton for the AHRC-funded project: Towards In Situ Monitoring of Tapestry Degradation Using Strain Based Engineering Techniques.

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The project team

Principal Investigator: Frances Lennard, Centre for Textile Conservation

Co-Investigator: Dr Philip Harrison, School of Engineering

Post-doctoral Researcher: Dr Jafar Alsayednoor, based in the School of Engineering

PhD Student: Cecilia Voss, based in the Centre for Textile Conservation


Tapestry monitoring at Stirling Castle

The project team has begun work monitoring a newly woven tapestry, The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn, at Stirling Castle, in collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland. A time-lapse camera is capturing an image of the tapestry once every hour and strain monitoring software will be applied to the images to help us understand the tapestry’s deformation over time. We are taking advantage of this very exciting opportunity to monitor a tapestry from the first day it was hung, contributing to our understanding of tapestry behaviour. For more information see the Textile Conservation blog. [] Look out for the camera when you visit Stirling Castle.

In a more recent development the Historic Environment Scotland Digital Documentation Team captured a 3D scan of the tapestry - this laser scanning technique produces a 3D point cloud of the tapestry. We are trialling this additional form of documentation to see if it can provide data of sufficient resolution to inform the strain monitoring.