Monday, April 15, 2013

Caring for Small Textiles: Preventing the Past from Becoming a Pile of Dust (Or, Collect Responsibly!)

Step 1: Assess what you have
If you're like me, you might acquire antiques faster than you can keep up with their storage needs. It's important to get a handle on this early on so you don't end up with tintypes basking in the sun on your desk or fragile textiles accumulating dust on your dresser. Remember, keeping your collections---whether it's your family's stuff or new stuff you acquire---safe and stable requires that you practice what we in the public history field call "preventative conservation." Think of it this way. You probably don't want your teeth to decay, so you brush and floss regularly. Or, to protect your skin in the hot summer sun, you wear sunscreen. I encourage you to take a similar approach when it comes to caring for your stuff.

In that spirit, here is a quick guide to caring for small textiles. These tips aren't comprehensive, but they will get you started. Let's prevent the past from becoming a pile of dust.

Step 1: Assess what you have

Four small mid-nineteenth-century silk textile fragments with provenance notes. This one reads: Sample of Sarah Horne Thompson's Wedding Dress, April 12, 1858.

Step 2: Gather supplies

Step 2: Gather supplies

unbuffered and acid free-tissue, unbuffered and acid-free box, acid free plastic sleeves, and the objects

Step 3: Prep the objects

Remove and discard straight pins (they rust!) and store the provenance notes in plastic sleeves.

Step 4: Arrange the objects

Step 4: Arrange the objects

Layer the objects carefully inside the box with the tissue paper.

Step 5: Store the objects

Step 5: Store the objects

Put the box away in a cool, dry place.

Step 6: Notice that you still need to buy a box for slippers

It's always good to refrain from acquiring new 'tiques unless you can provide good storage.

Step 7: Enjoy your family treasures... 

...(or a strangers' treasures if you're like me and they didn't belong to your family) for years to come!


For more tips and tricks on storing, folding, and cleaning textiles, see the "two-minute techniques" produced by Sustaining Places, a University of Delaware Museum Studies project that provides resources for small museums and historic sites.

Good textile storage can be costly, but small amounts of supplies are rather affordable. Shop around for the best deals, and do some research to be sure the storage materials you are using are stable (i.e., they won't self-destruct onto your treasures). If you have no supplies, store the items away from dust, extreme temperatures, and moisture. In other words, store them in a space that would be comfortable for humans.

For more on general tips for "taking care" of your personal collection, check out the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute. When in doubt, consult a professional for advice.

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog!!!
    I blog about items that I pick here

    I will be posting soon a small travel journal/passenger log dated 1849-50 from Portland Maine to san Francisco

    Hope you enjoy