SECTION 3: Archival Storage of Textiles
Selecting Storage Materials
Selecting Storage Furniture
The Storage Environment
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 their
utilitarian nature, most textiles survive by chance. Some are cherished and carefully packed away, while others
are displayed. Many, however, are used daily, washed frequently, and eventually discarded. Today we treasure
historic textiles because they document art, craftsmanship, and have a very immediate connection with people of
the past. We also save contemporary textiles for their beauty or their significance in our lives.
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. As with all art and artifacts, preservation begins with
proper storage, whether the textiles are family heirlooms or part of collections in museums, historical
societies, or archives.
The goal of this section is to provide the background information needed to select appropriate storage materials
for textiles. If your collections are small and in good condition, this may be all the information you need.
However, if you would like to know more about textiles and their preservation, look in the Further Readings
section. If your collections are extensive, in poor condition, or have significant value, it would be advisable
to consult a textile conservator. The American Institute for Conservation (conservation-us.org) provides a free referral
service that will give you the names of textile conservators in your region.
This section reflects our current understanding of storage requirements for textiles. It will be revised as new
information and products become available. Unless noted otherwise, all of the items illustrated in this section
are available from Gaylord Archival. Click here to request a free
Before selecting storage materials, you should evaluate your collection for the types of fabrics, the sizes of
the textiles, and their condition. It is also important to assess the storage space that you have available.
Although flat storage is ideal for some textiles because it minimizes damaging folds, space constraints may
limit the size of the boxes or storage systems that you select. For guidance on storage of a large or valuable
collection, consult a textile conservator.
Many materials used for household storage will damage textiles, including regular tissue paper, cardboard, and
wood. These materials are acidic and will hasten the deterioration of fabric, especially in historic textiles.
Paper-based storage materials for your collection should be acid-free; other materials should be inert and have
good aging properties.
Paper-based Products: Acid-free materials are either buffered (they contain a reserve of
alkaline material) or unbuffered. Buffered papers and boards should be in contact only with textiles made of
plant-based fibers, such as undyed cotton or linen. All other textiles and their dyes may be damaged by this
contact and should be stored using unbuffered materials. If you are unsure of the fabric, or if there are mixed
fibers and/or blends, choose unbuffered materials. In uncontrolled environments, paper and cardboard can also
help to buffer changes in relative humidity.
Acid-free Tissue: Gaylord Archival acid-free tissue is a lightweight (.001 mil thick) paper that
can be used to wrap textiles or pad three-dimensional forms. Buffered tissue has more body because it contains
calcium carbonate, which is added as a buffer to give it a pH of 8.5. Abaca is an unbuffered tissue that is
particularly soft and suitable for interleaving fragile silks or padding. Choose tissue according to the
qualities suitable for your textiles (body vs. softness, surface texture) and the type of fabrics you will be
Box Board: Acid-free boxes are recommended for storage of some textiles. Board can be solid
(made of the same material through-out); laminated (sheets of heavy pressed fiber adhered together); or
corrugated (one or more sheets of fluted paper glued between sheets of flat paper). Metal corners are used to
reinforce solid board boxes; corrugated board is dimensionally stable and does not require this reinforcement.
Acid-free board can also be either buffered or unbuffered. Always line a box, whatever its material, with
acid-free tissue before placing a textile inside.
Cloth: Undyed cotton fabric can be used in place of paper products. The fabric should be washed
in a neutral detergent (not soap), then run through another cycle without detergent and dried. Cotton muslin is
unsized and tightly woven, which makes it suitable for interleaving, outer wrappings, garment bags or coverings
for padded hangers. Do not use muslin in contact with very fragile silks or other textiles that are easily
Synthetic Materials: Synthetic materials should be used with care for textile storage. Some of
these materials are inert and may be used safely, but others will cause damage to the textiles. Wrapping or
containing textiles in any plastic film or container can cause moisture condensation and promote mold growth and
is not recommended. Dry cleaners' bags are particularly unsuitable for storage of textiles because they cause
yellowing and damage to textiles.
Some materials can be safely used for padding or lining boxes. Polyethylene foam such as Volara® provides
excellent drawer padding or box lining for accessories. Tyvek® is a spun-bonded olefin that is inert, pH
neutral, non-abrasive and durable. It can be used to make garment bags or furniture covers. Polyester fiber
batting can be used for padding; always use either needle-punched or heat-set batting, never resin-set. Always
cover batting with muslin to prevent the textile from attracting polyester fibers.
Other synthetic materials can be used to seal unsuitable storage materials such as wood, preventing off gassing
of acids and other volatile compounds. Marvelseal® and archival polyester are often used for this purpose.
Isolate textiles from these materials with acid-free tissue to protect them from sharp edges, static, and
Because textile collections are so varied in size and scope, and individual items can be extremely fragile, it is
important to follow strict guidelines when preparing your collection for storage.
Handling: When handling your collection, plan your actions so as to minimize movement of the
textiles. Any flexing or strain causes damage to textiles, although it may not be immediately discernible. See
Conservation Concerns for an excellent discussion on condition of textiles.
Textiles easily pick up soil and oils, so be sure hands and all surfaces are scrupulously clean. Cotton or latex
gloves can be worn when handling textiles, but be sure to take them off when performing other activities to
avoid picking up dirt. Replace gloves when they become soiled. Do not smoke, eat, drink, or use pens and markers
near textiles. Remove jewelry and watches that might snag textiles.
Be sure your work surface is large enough to fully support your textiles. Place all textiles on acid-free tissue
on the work surface, and use the tissue to rotate or move the textile. Support textiles on acid-free cardboard
when moving them from one place to another. Larger, rolled textiles can be moved on their tubes.
Cleaning: Most textiles can be safely surface cleaned by vacuuming; do this before storing
textiles and after removing them from display. For all but the most robust rugs or tapestries, vacuum the
textile at low suction through an upholstery screen. If your vacuum does not have adjustable suction, use your
fingers to keep the nozzle elevated slightly to reduce suction.
For wet or dry cleaning of historic or valuable textiles, consult a textile conservator. Cleaning is a delicate
process that can cause substantial damage and should be performed by an experienced and trained conservator.
Modern christening gowns and other new textiles of cotton, linen, or synthetic blends in good condition may be
carefully hand washed. Use a pure detergent (not soap, which causes yellowing) and distilled water. Modern
wedding gowns or christening gowns should be cleaned immediately after wearing because soil and stains become
more difficult to remove as they age. Most wedding gowns will require dry cleaning. Use a reputable dry cleaner
and request fresh or filtered solvent.
Repair: If your textile or garment is new, a skilled seamstress may be able to make the required
repairs. Historic or valuable textiles, however, should be examined by a conservator who has the experience and
expertise to evaluate condition and recommend appropriate treatment. The American Institution for Conservation (conservation-us.org) offers a free referral
service and will give you the names of textile conservators in your region.
Labeling: Identification information should be placed on the storage container so textiles are
not unwrapped and handled needlessly. Boxes, tubes, or other supports can be labeled in pencil. Avoid the use of
pens or markers around any textile. Sew-on tapes made of cotton twill can generally be used safely. Consult a
textile conservator when establishing labeling procedures for an historic or valuable textile collection.
Selecting Storage Furniture
Before planning a storage installation, it is advisable to consult a textile conservator about configuration and
materials. The size and type of furniture needed is determined by the type and number of textiles to be stored.
Powder-coated steel storage cabinets are currently considered the best choice for textile storage. Wood and wood
products, including cedar chests, are unsuitable for textile storage because they create an acidic environment.
See Conservation Concerns for more details about wood and other materials. The NEDCC Preservation
Manual also has excellent information about the choice of storage furniture.
If wood or otherwise unsuitable cabinetry must be used, it must be completely sealed on all interior surfaces
with an appropriate barrier material or coating.
The Storage Environment
While a textile is in storage it should be protected from damage caused by exposure to light, dust, fluctuating
or extreme temperatures and humidity, harmful storage materials, mold, insects, and animal pests.
Temperature & Relative Humidity: Textiles should be stored in an environment that is
consistently cool and has a moderate humidity. Attics and basements are not suitable locations for storage of
textiles because of their extremes of temperature and humidity. High temperatures speed deterioration and high
humidity encourages insect and mold activity. Conversely, a low relative humidity contributes to the desiccation
and embrittlement of fibers.
Cold storage is beneficial for textiles because deterioration is slowed and insects are less active. However,
many storage areas have other uses and the climate also has to accommodate human comfort levels. The ideal
climate is generally considered to be 65-70° F and 50% relative humidity with minimal fluctuations in both.
For more detailed recommendations, see the publications in Further Reading.
If necessary, portable humidifiers or dehumidifiers can help maintain a stable RH so long as they are kept clean
and are routinely monitored. This equipment must run 24 hours a day.
Light: Light is particularly damaging to textiles because it causes fading of dyes and
deterioration of fibers. Its effects are cumulative and irreversible. Textiles should not be exposed to light
while they are in storage; protect them with blackout covers or by storage in boxes or closed cabinets. When
exposure to light is necessary for examination or display, filter all light sources to remove ultraviolet
wavelengths and keep illumination levels as low as possible.
Recommendations for the exhibition and display of textiles are outside the scope of this section, but several of
the publications in section 5 contain suggestions for minimizing the risk of exhibition.
Pest Management: There are two main types of insect pests, which can damage textiles: clothes
moths (webbing or casemaking), and dermestids (carpet beetles). Wool is the preferred food for both of these
pests, although they will eat other materials if they are soiled or to get to an attractive material. These
insects prefer a warm, humid and dark environment. The best way to prevent infestation is to provide an
inhospitable environment: keep textiles in a cool, dry location. Light exposure and air circulation resulting
from periodic inspection will also discourage insects.
Vacuum your textiles before putting them in storage to remove particulate soil that can attract insects (see
"Cleaning"). Do not use mothballs, moth flakes or other chemicals to prevent infestation; they are
hazardous to your health and can harm your textiles. Cedar chests and herbal preventatives are generally
Monitor your storage area for insect activity by placing sticky traps in strategic locations. Several of the
references in this guide have more information on pest monitoring. If you find evidence of insect activity in
your traps or in your collection, isolate any affected textiles in a polyethylene bag and consult a textile
Rodents can also damage textiles; they don't eat the fabrics, but will shred them to make nests. Protect your
collection by storing it securely in boxes or cabinets, and monitor rodent activity with appropriate sticky
Selecting specific interleaving paper, boxes, cloth, and storage systems requires care. Physical condition, size
of collection, anticipated use, and budget all play a part. The second half of this section presents several
case studies to show how products available from Gaylord Archival can be used to store a range of textiles.
CASE STUDY I: SMALL FLAT TEXTILES
Flat storage for small flat textiles such as embroideries and handkerchiefs is ideal because it places no strain
on the object. Whenever possible, select a box or drawer large enough to store the textile without folding.
A. Storing a single textile in a box
- Choose the type and size of box that best fits your textile.
- Select an appropriate lining material:
Buffered tissue for undyed cellulosic fibers
Unbuffered tissue for silk, wool and all dyed textiles, or mixed or unknown fibers
- Lay the lining across the bottom and sides of the box. Place the textile in the box.
- Fold the lining over the textile. Label the box.
B. Storing more than one textile in a box
If space constraints make it impossible to store only one textile in a box, follow steps A1–3 above,
placing the heaviest item on the bottom. Place acid-free tissue between each item and fold the lining material
over the top textile.
C. Storing fragile textiles
Small, very fragile textiles such as archaeological fragments should be protected by a special storage mount.
This mount consists of a piece of acid-free board covered with polyester felt and washed cotton fabric, with a
window mat hinged to one side of the support board. The mat should be larger than the textile and made of
material that is thicker than the textile. The textile is placed on a piece of acid-free tissue on the mount,
and covered with another piece of tissue before the mat is closed. These mounts can be stacked inside a box or
CASE STUDY II: LARGE FLAT TEXTILES
Rolled storage is generally the best method for large flat textiles such as quilts, carpets, shawls, and table
linens because it prevents creasing and provides complete support. Painted textiles such as flags should be
stored flat whenever possible; they should never be stored folded in a box. Folded storage in a box or drawer
may be necessary for some textiles because they are not flat enough to roll, or they have bulky surface
A. Rolled storage
- Select an archival quality storage tube that has a diameter of at least 3", or larger for
heavier textiles such as rugs. The tube should be 6–8" longer than width of the textile.
- Cover the tube with acid-free tissue, tucking the ends into the ends of the tube. Cut another piece
of tissue slightly shorter than the length of the tube, and roll this onto the tube leaving the last 6-8"
- Most textiles should be rolled in the warp direction, and rugs or other pile textiles must be rolled
with the nap See page 41 in Preserving Textiles for a drawing that illustrates this. Place one end of
the textile on the loose acid-free tissue; make sure the textile is straight and free of creases. In most
cases it is best to place the textile facedown so that the obverse of the textile is on the outside of the
- Begin rolling the tube, picking up the end of the textile with the tissue. Be sure that the textile
rolls without creases, and that it is as straight as possible. In most cases it is not advisable to
interleave with tissue as you roll, but do this for fragmented textiles or those with sharp surface
decoration. A textile that has a lining will be difficult to roll smoothly; avoid creasing the textile
itself but creases in the lining are inevitable.
- Cover the rolled textile with acid-free tissue or washed muslin and tie cotton twill tape around
the covering beyond the ends of the textile. For larger textiles, loosely tie twill tape around the middle
of the tube, being careful not to compress the textile.
- To label the rolled textile, write the accession number on the tube with pencil, write the
accession number on the cotton twill tape ties with a permanent marking pen, and sew a piece of tape with
identification information onto the muslin. If several textiles are unrolled for study, it will be easy to
match them with the correct storage materials.
- If possible, suspend the tube on brackets or a dowel. This will eliminate the pressure on the
textile caused by storing the tube on a shelf.
- Select a box that is large enough to minimize folds for your textile.
- Select an appropriate lining material—acid-free tissue or washed cotton sheeting—and
line the box with this material.
- Place the textile on a clean flat surface and fold it to fit the box, using as few folds as
possible. Pad all folds with rolled acid-free tissue or tubes of polyester batting covered with washed
muslin or stockinette.
- Place the textile in the box, fold the lining material over the top of the textile and close the
- Label the box with information about the textiles stored inside of it.
CASE STUDY III: GARMENTS
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. Costumes that are unsuitable include those in poor condition, those with
heavy beading or other decoration, garments cut on the bias, and any garment that is weak or insubstantial in
the shoulder area. However, we recommend that you consult a textile conservator before storing a collection of
valuable, historic costumes.
Costumes that are hung for storage should always be on padded hangers. A hanger with a wide shoulder can be
covered with polyester felt or batting and then with washed cotton fabric or stockinette. Additional support can
be added in the form of twill tapes stitched into waistbands or other strategic locations and then tied to the
neck of the hanger. Some skirts and pants can be stored hanging using commercial skirt hangers padded with
muslin-covered batting. Garments can be further protected from dust and light by covering with a cotton muslin
or Tyvek® garment bag. Do not crowd hanging garments, as this can cause creasing.
More information on hanging storage and directions for making padded hangers and garment bags can be found in
Preserving Textiles, Caring for Your Collections and CCI Note 13/5 "Hanging Storage for Costumes."
- Large costume storage boxes come in a variety of sizes. If possible, select a box that is longer
than your garment.
- Line the box with acid-free tissue or washed cotton fabric.
- With the garment on a flat surface, arrange the various parts, such as sleeves, in a natural
position. Skirts should be arranged with vertical folds placed so that the fabric is not strained. Try
to make as few folds as possible to make the garment fit the box. If the garment is longer than the box it
will be necessary to fold it crosswise to fit. Position this fold in a location that will cause the least
strain on the fabric. Using acid-free tissue or tubes of polyester batting covered with washed cotton fabric
or stockinette, pad all of the folds in the garment. In most cases sleeves should not be padded, as it can
be damaging to insert and remove the padding.
- Gently lay the textile in the box and fold the lining over the top. If possible, avoid stacking
garments in a box to minimize creasing.
CASE STUDY IV: COSTUME ACCESSORIES
Costume accessories can be composites of various materials, including plastics, so it is best to select an
unbuffered tissue to isolate and wrap individual items. The boxes may be buffered or unbuffered, but should
always be lined with acid-free tissue or washed cotton fabric.
Unless a collection is in constant use, most fans should be wrapped in acid-free tissue and stored in partitioned
archival boxes. Consult a textile conservator if the fan is fragile or has painted decoration.
Store gloves flat in archival boxes, interleaved with acid-free tissue.
Shoes can be stored in archival boxes, on shelves or in drawers. Pad them with archival tissue for support.
Delicate or fragile shoes should have a padding designed by a textile conservator. Store shoes upright; taller
shoes and boots can be stored on their sides. If a shoe has ribbons or flaps that are unsupported, they can be
secured with loose twill tape ties.
Hats can be stored in archival boxes or in cabinets. The hat should be supported so that it does not rest on its
brim and the weight of the hat is not borne by the crown; there are several possible methods of providing
support. The hat can be padded with acid-free tissue, or a support can be made from acid-free corrugated board
or some other archival material, padded with polyester batting, and covered with acid-free tissue. In general,
cotton fabric is not suitable for padding or wrapping historic hats.
Handbags can be constructed of cloth, tapestry or other fabric. They can also be a combination of leather and
fabric. Many handbags are made of synthetic materials—from bakelite to vinyl—or other natural
materials such as straw, wicker, or tortoise shell. Loosely stuff the hand-bag with acid-free tissue to retain
its shape. If the handbag has exterior decorations, such as shells, beads, or sequins, it should be gently
wrapped in acid-free tissue to prevent any snagging or accidental loss. An individual archival box or an
archival storage carton with trays and compartments for individual bags is recommended. Be sure to line the
compartment with acid-free tissue.
While jewelry is technically not a fabric or textile, it often accompanies a costume and is therefore appropriate
to discuss here. Jewelry can be placed in small artifact boxes or in divided trays or cartons. Wrap each piece
individually in acid-free tissue or, to be able to see the piece without handling it, you may also use padding
covered with acid-free tissue to create a well for the object. Do not place jewelry in loose batting that can
get caught in the prongs or tangled between the gemstones and settings. Silver jewelry can be stored in a pouch
made of Pacific Silvercloth to prevent tarnishing.