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Historic Royal Palaces
Textile Conservation Studio

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ABOVE: Conservators practice their handiwork on tapestries from Hampton Court Palace.

One of the most impressive sections of Hampton Court Palace is off-limits to the public: It's the Textile Conservation Studio, which is under the direction of Kate Frame, the articulate Canadian-born Head of Conservation and Collections Care for Historic Royal Palaces.

The studio was founded at the turn of the 20th Century and incorporated into William Morris's decorating and textiles firm, Morris & Co., in 1912. The studio's official history explains the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years:

"When the William Morris Company managed the studio, the traditional practice of restoration was strictly a craft. It entailed the complete replacement of any weak areas of textile with an approximate copy of the original. However, by 1970 this was being criticized by academics for the irrevocable losses it incurred. In the case of tapestry, this was especially significant since the image is woven into the fabric. Any losses among the thousands of different colored weft threads caused both the image and weave to disintegrate. Restoration could skillfully fill these losses with conjectured replicas of the original. However, by inserting new strong weave, further strain was put on the surrounding woven structure. The rate of loss and replacement thus gathered speed. Evntually, nothing of the original would have remained had the approach not been changed."

In 1976, the Textile Conservation Studio shifted its approach from restoration to conservation--i.e., from replacing worn sections of textiles to preserving what is left. The studio explains: "Generally, no attempt at replication is undertaken, and all conservation work is reversible and visible to the discerning eye only."

Next page: How the work is done




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