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Preservation of Textiles & Garments

The term “textile” covers a wide range of objects made of fiber – historic dress, flags, samplers, quilts and tapestries – as well as costume accessories such as handkerchiefs, hats and gloves. Due to these items’ utilitarian nature, most textiles survive by chance. Unfortunately, textiles are among the most fragile of all artifacts. They are easily damaged by insects, mold, handling, and exposure to light, heat and humidity. Preservation begins with proper storage, regardless of their historical significance.

Be sure to always handle textiles with care. Ensure that hands are clean, remove all jewelry, and do not use hand lotions or products. Clean cotton gloves will keep textiles clean, but can abrade very fragile surfaces. Before you begin, make sure you have a clean, flat work surface. Place fragile items on a padded worktable covered with cotton sheeting. Be careful to support the entire textile at all times.

Large Textile Care

Rolled storage works well for large collections of flat textiles, such as rugs and quilts. Use tissue or muslin to wrap the tube and to draw the textile onto the tube. Consider using a barrier between the tube and the textile, such as polyester, Marvelseal or tissue. Use a protective material such as tissue, Tyvek, polyester, or muslin to wrap around the textile after rolling to protect the exposed section of the textile from dust and abrasion.

Garment and Small Textile Care

Garments present challenges for storage because they are three-dimensional. Storage in boxes or drawers avoids the strain of hanging storage, but results in creasing of the garment. In general, if a costume is suitable for hanging, this is the preferred method. Unsuitable costumes include those in poor condition, those with heavy beading or decoration, bias-cut garments and any garment with weak or insubstantial shoulders.

When hanging a costume, use a hanger with wide shoulders and cover it with polyester fiberfill, then with washed cotton muslin or stockinette. Additional support can be added in the form of twill tape stitched into the waistband or other strategic area and then tied to the neck of the hanger. Further protect your garments from dust and light by covering them with a muslin or Tyvek garment bag. Remember to avoid crowding, as this can cause creasing.

When storing a garment in a box, it is important to select a box that will best fit your item. If possible, it is best to select a box that is longer than your garment. If this is not possible, it is important to place folds in the material thoughtfully and sufficiently pad the folds with acid-free tissue or polyester batting covered with washed cotton or stockinette. Fold items as little as possible. Avoid stacking multiple garments in the same box, to minimize creasing.

Note: If your collection is of historical value, we recommend you consult a textile conservator. Find one near you via the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works’ (AIC) Find a Conservator tool.