Many people have textiles in their homes that could use a little extra care. Linens, a family quilt or a wedding dress hanging in the closet. If you are concerned about how these objects could be better stored, I have put together some resources to consider. While there isn’t space to cover every type of textile, I hope that these general guidelines and examples will point you in the right direction.
Much like what was included in the first installment about Photographs and Family Documents, archival (acid free, lignin free, buffered or unbuffered) boxes are ideal for storing textiles that you want to protect.
The buffered box, and buffered acid-free tissue, are ideal for cellulose-based textiles such as linen and cotton. When storing protein-based textiles such as silk and wool, lining the box with unbuffered tissue or cotton muslin is suggested. When in doubt as to the fiber content of a textile, use unbuffered tissue for wrapping or padding textiles.
-Buffering (calcium carbonate) is added to neutralize environmental acids.
-Unbuffered materials have a neutral pH.
To cushion a fold in fabric when you want to prevent a crease, one option is Stockinette Tubing.
These links will take you directly to textile storage solutions that they offer.
A sampling of what’s available includes:
Deep Lid Archival Textile Box Spacious enough to accommodate a large costume or several smaller textiles.
Children’s Clothing Preservation Kit For christening gowns and other children’s clothing.
Archival Hat Preservation Kit Everything you need to safely store one hat.
Archival Textile Roll Storage Box For storing rolled quilts or tapestries.
Garment Dust Cover Protects fragile lace, beads and embroidery.
Click here for a quick view of additional storage options.
These are only a few examples of what’s offered. There are many different types of archival storage boxes such as drop-front, shallow or deep lid boxes, extra large boxes, as well as kits to accommodate different types of items or collections.
See guidelines for: Display, Storage and Handling of Textiles
It seems the prevailing advice as far as cleaning textiles is, if at all possible, don't.
If you wish to preserve your textiles, you need to avoid or minimise the need to clean them.
This doesn't mean you don’t want to clean an item before you store it, just that you keep in mind the inherent fragility of some textiles.
Water and the manipulation of textiles when washing causes damage each time it’s introduced. Fibers are loosened or washed away and water causes shrinking it some materials. Dyes can also run if not fixed.
Dry cleaning can introduce additional problems such as wear and tear or a graying effect from other items in the machine.
Traditional methods such as clay, bran or cornmeal (yes, these were used at one time) can attract pests if not thoroughly rinsed away.
Vacuuming textiles can be done on some materials, but must be done very carefully. It’s recommended that you cover the nozzle with muslin, fine net or stocking or use a net mesh or muslin screen between the nozzle and the material.
Polyester Upholstery Screen Protects textiles when vacuuming.
So, what to do?
Before cleaning a textile, certain questions should be asked to determine both the best treatment for that particular combination of textile and soil, and to ascertain whether the piece is able to be cleaned, or may sustain damage during the process.
What is the chemical composition of the textile? In other words, does it have a high acid content? Were there chemicals used in its production that might contribute to how it reacts to water? Or how it may react to cleaning chemicals?
What are the characteristics of the fibers? For instance, cotton and linen, being plant fibers, are both stronger wet than dry, and so may be able to withstand a more mechanical stress than something like silk. Wool can absorb large amounts of water, but mats if washed in high temperatures. All silks become brittle with age, but weighted silks decay more quickly, and thus must be handled with extreme care. Additionally, some silks, once wet, can be permanently spotted. Learn the basic characteristics of the type of fibers you have, and how they have been treated before undertaking any kind of cleaning.
What colorants have been used, and how will they react to cleaning? This can apply not only to dyes but to mordants as well. Different parts of the world may have different dye processes, so here is where knowledge of when and where a textile originated, as well as a working knowledge of chemistry, can come in handy. If in doubt as to the wash ability of a dye, apply a drop or two of water to an inconspicuous place and blot with a clean white cloth. If the dye transfers to the cloth, even in small amounts, the textile should not be washed.
Are there finishes or surface treatments that must be preserved? For example, is the fabric painted? If so, it should never be washed; some other cleaning method should be used.
What kinds of soils are there? The older the stain, the more difficult it is to remove. After a certain point, it may be best to leave the stain or soil, or remove it only partially, in order to preserve the rest of the piece. Additionally, soils which may not be detectable to the naked eye might be present in the textile; flags, for instance, may be highly acidic due to long exposure to air pollutants, and should be treated by a professional conservator.
What cleaner is safest and most effective? Commercial detergents should never be used on antique textiles, whatever their claims of gentleness: the chemicals used in most clothes detergents are too harsh for old fibers to withstand. A wide range of specialty detergents are available from conservation suppliers, though most sources suggest Ivory dish soap as a last-minute substitution if needed. Never use chemical spot cleaners, as they are likewise too harsh for old fibers to tolerate. This is especially important for pieces in situ, as this may endanger other nearby pieces as well (the wooden part of an upholstered piece of furniture, for instance).
What additives and cleaning aids are needed? This can include physical supplies (water, screens, a vacuum cleaner), as well as chemical (water softener, cleaning agents, etc.).
How long can the specimen be exposed to the cleaner? Prolonged exposure may cause additional damage to the fibers.
What mechanical action can be used? The older and more fragile a textile, the less movement it will be able to tolerate during the cleaning process, so this should be considered before undertaking a cleaning.
Displaying textiles in your home
If you have things that you want to display, make sure you keep it out of direct sunlight to prevent fading and in a clean, well-ventilated area. Inspect your textiles often to spot any problems early on.
Framing Textiles A guide from the Minnesota Historical Society.
VELCRO® Loop Fastener A Textile hanging system.