Looking after Packwood's tapestries

A view of the long gallery at Packwood

Packwood has a fantastic collection of textiles, especially the collection of European tapestries that Baron Ash collected during his work on the house. We invite you to learn how these tapestries are made, what can damage them and how we look after our brilliant collection.

How they’re made

Tapestries are a woven cloth made of usually woollen warp threads that provide strength and then either woollen or silk weft threads that provide the colour and detail. The warp would be held vertically on the loom and then the weft was woven on from side to side. These would be woven using a diagram known as a cartoon as it would be unlikely that the weavers could read.

Risks of damage

One of the biggest risks to our tapestries is from light. Our tapestries will start to take on a blue tinge with age as blues, dark reds, browns and blacks don’t fade quickly whereas yellows and greens fade very quickly in light. In addition to fading, light can also cause damage to individual fibres causing them to split.

Blue wool dosimeters fade if the area is exposed to to much light, indicating damage to the tapestry.
Blue wool dosimeter at Packwood House, Warwickshire
Blue wool dosimeters fade if the area is exposed to to much light, indicating damage to the tapestry.


We also have to be on the lookout for insects like moths. As our tapestries hang still for a long period of time if we don’t carefully inspect them, the damage caused by the insects eating the fibres could go unnoticed. 
 

How we look after our tapestries

Each year during our deep clean we carefully inspect all of our tapestries for any new damage that may have happened since the last year. We also monitor the light levels falling onto the tapestries throughout the year. 


Our conservation and engagement assistants also clean the tapestries by holding a suction controlled vacuum about ½ inch away from the tapestry. This removes any surface dust from the tapestry without causing any damage to the fabric itself. This would be done every 3 to 5 years for the front and every 5 to 10 years on the back to reduce the risk of any damaged caused while working on the tapestry. 

Cleaning of a painted cloth using a suction controlled vacuum.
Painted Cloth cleaning at Packwood House, Warwickshire
Cleaning of a painted cloth using a suction controlled vacuum.


Periodically we are also visited by a textile conservator who specialises in tapestries who assesses the condition of our tapestries. This allows us to budget our conservation resources to the pieces that require the work most urgently. This photograph below shows the tapestry “Coronation of Marcus Aurelius” which is one of our next priorities. This will cost us an estimated £90,000 and work will be done either at the National Trusts textile conservation studio at Blickling Estate or will be sent to a specialist tapestry repairer in Belgium after further inspection by our conservator.

This tapestry has been determined as in need of repair at an estimated £90,000
Coronation of Marcus Aurelius tapestry at Packwood House, Warwickshire
This tapestry has been determined as in need of repair at an estimated £90,000

How you can help

To find out more about our work at Packwood or to find out how you can give your time to the National Trust please see below. 
 

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