Well I spent yesterday evening at the Grand Rapids Art Museum visiting the Princess Diana Exhibition (and what a fantastic exhibition it was). I can honestly say that It was very surreal to be standing so close to items once worn by such an iconic figure from the latter part of the 20th Century! While I was viewing the “room of clothes” which featured many of Lady Diana’s dresses that were worn throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s; today’s blog topic struck me like a ton of…well…fabric and that topic is Textile Preservation.
Here you have a collection of clothing (textiles) from a very famous person. Textiles that are not that old (30 plus at the oldest). Textiles that have been under extreme care from conservators and yet one can still see changes in the materials due to aging. If these items are changing under such ardent care, what can we do to preserve our own family textiles (clothes, quilts and the like)?
Well, here are a few simple tips that will help ensure your family textiles will last from generation to generation:
REMEMBER…THIS IS ONLY MY ADVICE…ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH (INCLUDING CONTACTING A GARMENT EXPERT) BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY PRESERVATION TECHNIQUES ON YOUR OWN!!!
Try and minimize exposure to light, both natural (sun) and man-made. The longer the exposure, the more likely the item is to fade. Light can also damage the very fibers of the material. If you wish to place an item on display (1) try to keep it out of direct sunlight and (2) try to rotate the item on and off of display (for example, place the item on display during special times of the year – or – place the item on display for a period of months during the year rotating it into a dark closet, drawer, etc. for the remainder of the year).
Store your textiles in a “neutral” environment. An uninsulated attic would be a bad place due to the extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. This would also apply to a garage or a storage shed. An unfinished basement can also be bad due to extreme shifts in humidity. The best place for textiles are in a neutral environment, like the main living space of a house, that is not subjected to extreme fluctuations. What fluctuations can do is cause material to breakdown creating discolorations, brittleness, mold growth, stains, etc.
Textiles are best stored flat with as few folds as possible. If you fold something to tight and it sits for to long the fold may become a permanent crease, or worse yet, a tear. If you need to fold something use acid free tissue paper to create a “soft fold” vs. a “hard fold.” If you plan on hanging textiles a soft, padded hanger covered with a neutral fabric (acid free) is the best way to go. Hard edges on hangers can cause damage to a garment over time. DON’T store textiles in airtight plastic bins. Textiles need to breath and the chemicals in the plastic can cause a breakdown in the fibers and a discoloration of the material
It is always fun to try on those old clothes. DON’T! As garments age, so does the stitching. Pull to hard and you may find that the sleeve has come entirely off. Also, these garments were most likely made for someone with a different body shape than yourself and squeezing your 21st Century body into an 18th Century garment can cause irreparable damage!
You must be very careful when cleaning an antique textile. DON’T use modern cleaners as they can react with the material causing staining. DON’T use water. Even lightly wiping an antique textile with a damp cloth can cause the water in the cloth to mix with the years of dust on the garment creating a mud-like material! DON’T place the item into the washing machine or the dryer. Both of these machines can severely damage your vintage piece. As for dry cleaners…use with caution! I have worked with people who have had vintage pieces cleaned successfully and with those who have not! DO empty pockets of vintage clothing. It is amazing what one can find from old tickets to tobacco products and food. Cleaning out the pockets will prevent your textile from attracting rodents and insects. DO lightly vacuum your textile. Vacuuming helps remove the years of dust that have accumulated…just be careful. Use your vacuum wand and place a piece of cheese cloth, ruberbanded, over the opening. This will prevent the textile from being sucked up into the tube possibly causing damage. It will also prevent the loss of buttons, etc. BEWARE! If your vacuum is to powerful it will harm the item! As for restoration, contact your local museum and ask for a recommendation.
Finally, you should monitor your family textiles. Take them out once every six months. Look them over. Inspect them. Doing this will allow you to catch any nefarious happenings before they permanently harm your family treasure.
Finally, what I have given you here is just the basics. For more in depth techniques contact your local museum or you can find numerous sites on-line. We also have preservation material (in book form) here in the Portage District Library’s Heritage Room.
February 15th, 1861
Fort Point overlooking the narrows of San Francisco Bay is formally opened and garrisoned however its guns would never fire a shot in anger. Currently a National Historic Site, the fort saw a variety of uses after the Civil War and one point was destined for demolition to make way for the Golden Gate Bridge. Only the recognition of the historical value of the fort by Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss and the addition of a special arch during the bridge’s construction saved it from passing into the pages of history.