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The University of Southampton

Technological tapestry to provide conservation answers

Published: 3 June 2009

A technological tapestry has been unveiled at Intech, the interactive Science Centre in Winchester, which will help provide conservation solutions for historical artefacts using techniques more commonly used by engineers to assess damage in aircraft.

The tapestry, which has been designed by students at the University of Southampton’s Winchester School of Art and woven by West Dean Tapestry Studio, is part of a unique collaborative research project between textile conservators and engineers at the University. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project involves monitoring environmental damage to historical artefacts by the use of optical fibres woven into the fabric itself. The researchers, led by Senior Lecturer in Textile Conservation Frances Lennard, are investigating monitoring techniques commonly used by engineers to assess damage in aircraft. Here the same techniques are being used to give an accurate picture of damage occurring in historic tapestries before the damage is visible to the naked eye.

The project is supported by the National Trust and English Heritage. Frances Lennard comments: “Both organisations own large collections of tapestries in their historic houses and this research will help them understand their collections better and help to prioritise conservation treatments.”

The display at Intech was constructed with funding from the Institute of Physics Public Engagement Grant Scheme available to members of the Institute. The display was designed by Helen Williams, a PhD student in the School of Engineering Sciences.

As well as monitoring a completely new tapestry, the researchers are also monitoring a historic tapestry at the National Trust's Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. Visitors to this National Trust house this summer will be able to see the monitoring in progress and find out more about the project.

Notes for editors

  • Testing is now underway on a small tapestry specially woven for the project by the West Dean Tapestry Weaving Studio. The tapestry was designed by Winchester School of Art students, Charlotte Agius and Rosalie Woods, under the guidance of the world-renowned tapestry weavers at West Dean. The tapestry is now on display at Intech Interactive Science Centre in Winchester. Monitoring is taking place in situ using digital image correlation and optical fibres which have been incorporated into the tapestry during and after weaving.
  • The interdisciplinary research is led by Frances Lennard from the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC), Professor Janice Barton and Dr Alan Chambers, both of the School of Engineering Sciences (SES), and Dinah Eastop (TCC). The AHRC award is funding three years’ research (January 2007 - December 2009) and includes funding for a post-doctoral researcher, Dr Chen-Chun Ye, a specialist in optical fibres, and a PhD student, Helen Williams. The research is supported by a second PhD student Djallal Khennouf, who is also working on the project.
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