The conformation of type I collagen molecules has been refined using a linked-atom least-squares procedure in conjunction with high-quality X-ray diffraction data. In many tendons these molecules pack in crystalline arrays and a careful measurement of the positions of the Bragg reflections allows the unit cell to be determined with high precision. From a further analysis of the X-ray data it can be shown that the highly ordered overlap region of the collagen fibrils consists of a crystalline array of molecular segments inclined by a small angle with respect to the fibril axis. In contrast, the gap region is less well ordered and contains molecular segments that are likely to be inclined by a similar angle but in a different vertical plane to that found in the overlap region. The collagen molecule thus has a D-periodic crimp in addition to the macroscopic crimp observed visually in the collagen fibres of many connective tissues. The growth and development of collagen fibrils have been studied by electron microscopy for a diverse range of connective tissues and the general pattern of fibril growth has been established as a function of age. In particular, relationships between fibril size distribution, the content and composition of the glycosaminoglycans in the matrix and the mechanical role played by the fibrils in the tissue have been formulated and these now seem capable of explaining many new facets of connective tissue structure and function.