Conserving MAG's Tapestries

Before and After

See the tapestries before and after conservation:
Battle of the Animals
Musical Game Park
Nativity of the Christ Child
Trellised Garden with Animals

Videos from the Textile Conservation Laboratory

During the conservation treatment of Trellised Garden with Animals and Battle of the Animals, conservators at the Textile Conservation Laboratory of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine documented the process from beginning to end. This series of videos shows the painstaking and exhaustive nature of the work required to conserve Renaissance tapestries.

Cleaning the Tapestry

Over centuries, soot, dirt, and even insects make their way into the wool and silk of the weave. In preparation for conservation treatment, the surface of a tapestry is first carefully vacuumed and then cleaned with micro-suction cleaner. Only then do conservators wash, or “wet clean,” the tapestry with a solution of special detergent and water. Shown here: Trellised Garden with Animals being wet cleaned.

Rinsing the Tapestry

Depending on the level of grime, tapestries are washed more than once. Conservators continually test the rinse water for remaining dirt and detergent. The tapestry is considered clean only when the rinse water runs completely clear. Shown here: Trellised Garden with Animals being rinsed.

Stabilizing the tapestry

In order to stabilize the slits, or gaps in the weave caused by brittleness or the effects of gravity, tapestries are rolled on a large device called a tensioner. This holds the tapestry taut so that the conservator can make the appropriate repairs. This is the most time-consuming part of tapestry conservation. Shown here: Trellised Garden with Animals being stabilized.

Tapestry Linings

= Sides
The lining of a tapestry, usually made of linen or cotton, serves two purposes. It protects the back from any damage while the tapestry is hanging; it also provides a visual barrier to the irregularity of the reverse weaving. Important information about a tapestry’s condition and earlier appearance emerges when the lining is removed, including any earlier restoration campaigns. The colors on the reverse are usually truer to the original than the front, which is often faded from centuries of light exposure. Shown here: Conservators attaching lining to Trellised Garden with Animals.

Tapestry Hanging Systems

Until recently, tapestries hung from large iron rings sewn into the lining. The gravitational stress of hanging unevenly often caused sagging and structural damage. Today, Velcro is used to distribute the weight evenly across the tapestry’s full width. One strip of the material is attached to the back of the lining at the top of the tapestry; it adheres to a second, which is attached to a slat mounted to the wall. Shown here: conservators sewing Velcro to tapestry and then hanging tapestry by Velcro.