Caring for your textiles
Looking after a museum textile collection is a very complex scientific process there is light, temperature, humidity and off gassing to consider when displaying and storing items. The light in New Zealand is so strong it can damage textiles permanently and that is why most of Shantytown’s textile collection remains in storage.
Generally the word Textile refers to woven fabrics – but in heritage collections it has a broader meaning and can include costumes, rugs, dolls, parasols, shoes, patchwork, quilts and needlework samplers. All textiles are fragile to many elements – light, temperature, dust, dirt and insects just love textiles. Providing a dust free and temperature and humidity controlled environment ensures longevity to your items. Follow these basic steps to keep your textiles safe for years to come....
Handling: Make sure your hands are clean when handling and remove jewellery items that could catch on the textile and cause damage. When handling always support the weight evenly and if moving items put them in a box to be moved. Don’t carry on a hanger without using your arms for additional support.
Flat storage: Storing textiles flat is the preferred method of storage. Use an old sheet – preferably white so you have no cross – colour of dye and wrap your special item in the sheet making sure that the folds are rolled and padded using acid free tissue rolled in a sausage and placed in the folds and not pressed flat. You can store these large items on a shelf a large chest or chest of drawers in a dry place inside your home. Objects such as shoes, hats or baskets should only be stored in flat shelving or boxed with a lid. It is best to wrap items in acid free tissue but an old sheet or pillow case to stop the dust getting through will be suffice.
Hanging storage: you can hang clothing on padded hangers – you can make these yourself using Dacron (polyester padding) and unbleached calico. Use a metal or wooden hanger that is strong and pad out and cover with the calico. The clothing should be hung with all fastening closed and finally covered with a fabric bag and labelled.
Rolled storage: items can also be rolled using a large cardboard or plastic roll. Pad the roll with Dacron and calico then roll your item using acid free tissue or a white sheet interleaved with the item as it is rolled. Make sure the rolled item is secured with cotton cord and labelled.
Display: If you have items you want to display in your home – just remember light is the most damaging to your textiles. This not only fades the colours but will make the textiles fibres unstable. Once an item is damaged from light this is irreversible. Museum practise advises you only display textiles between 3-6 months – but if you want your item to be on permanent display – ensure it is kept away from direct light (including artificial light), away from a heat source and that the display technique will not put any strain or damage your item. For example if you want to display a tapestry have it professionally framed using conservation standards – you can request this at your framers.
Cleaning: Washing a textile is an irreversible process as the dye can bleed; the fabric can shrink or even disintegrate! The best way to remove dust and dirt is to use a vacuum brushing technique. If you can turn down the suction on your vacuum even better – and place panty hose on the nozzle and use the brush tool attachment and gently wipe over your item. If an item needs a thorough clean – contact a Conservator for advice.