Textile Adventures Part Deux

This week's guest blogger is Rachel Yerger, curator in the Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums. Rachel was hired as part of the PHMC's Collections Advancement Project and is supporting numerous inventory, collections care, and exhibit projects at sites on the Trails of History. I'd like to thank Rachel for the text and photos and for keeping the saga going. (If you're looking for things to do this weekend, please check out the February program listings.)

You may recall a blog post from a few weeks ago by my colleague Lauren Jaeger. In case you missed it, Lauren recounted our adventures in freezing and vacuuming textiles for the Lumber Museum ("Freezing History," Jan. 9, 2015). Well the excitement didn’t stop with the vacuuming! In "Textile Adventures Part Deux" we will take a look into the world of housing textiles. The nice thing about housing textiles is that many professional practices can easily be done at home with your own family’s heirlooms. (The Missouri Historical Society has list of basics for at-home care and storage of textiles.)

There are many factors to take into consideration in storing textiles. The first question you need to ask is, “Is this clean?” (As we learned from Lauren’s “Freezing History” post, the Lumber Museum textiles have been freshly vacuumed.) Next, determine what supplies you need to store your textiles effectively (check out this brief supply guide from Museum Textile Services). The two easiest ways to store textiles are to lay them flat or to roll them. You can also hang clothing/costumes on a padded hanger, but that can be tricky and is dependent on the type/condition of the textile. (The National Park Service has guidelines for storing clothing and costumes.) Regardless of which method you choose, the rule of thumb is: fold/crease as little as possible. Folding heavy or delicate fabrics can often be damaging, especially when they are stored for long periods of time. So for some textiles, such as heavy quilts or rugs, the safest bet would be rolling. The best way to roll a textile at home is to use a cardboard tube lined with uncoated polyester film sheets (such as Mylar® type D).

(Above and below) An example of a rolled textile from the State Museum of Pennsylvania. This is a linen shawl with sequins and a gold leaf paisley pattern c. 1820s.

The textiles we froze and vacuumed from the Lumber Museum were mostly clothing and blankets, all made from an assortment of materials. There was everything from wool CCC uniforms to a silk pillowcase, leather mittens to cotton long underwear. For our purposes we felt that flat storage, by way of acid-free textile boxes, was the best method for the Lumber Museum’s textiles. Luckily, we were able to reuse some of our original acid-free boxes (which were frozen and cleaned) in addition to new acid-free textile boxes we had in stock. When we were packing the acid-free boxes it was important to remember to keep heavier textiles, such as a wool jacket, on the bottom of the boxes, and lighter textiles, like a cotton shirt, on the top.

Unfortunately, while rehousing some of our Lumber Museum textiles, folding could not be avoided. In situations like this, where slight folding is unavoidable, it is important to pad the folds with acid-free tissue or washed unbleached muslin. By padding the folds, the pressure on that area of the textile is decreased. If you are folding a blanket try using an accordion fold that avoids any preexisting fold lines. It is also important to remember to refold the textile every so often so pressure isn’t on the same spot for years on end.

The final step in storing textiles, or any collection, is labeling the outside of the box. Though simple, and almost obvious, it’s amazing how important this step is. Once you are finished packing or rolling, be sure to label the box or tag the roll with a catalog number (if there is one) and object name. It is also helpful to do this on multiple sides—that way the chance of putting it back without the label facing out is slimmer. This helps avoid confusion in the future and protects the object from any unnecessary movement or unpacking.

Our storage and rehousing journey did not end with labeling. The ultimate challenge came when a few textiles, like the pair of tall plow boots boxed in the image below, would not fit into any of the boxes we had in stock.

A tall and narrow box for Plow Boots.  We made it so the front can open for easier access to the boots.

Fortunately, we had a few large pieces of acid-free board that we could use to make additional boxes and a few trays. The trays were made for fragile items, like the felt pennants seen below, to provide the objects with extra support and protection. The benefit of making boxes and trays (aside from saving money) is that you can customize the box/tray to fit the object’s dimensions.

Trays (flip tops will be added for additional protection)
Thus started what Lauren and I began affectionately calling "arts and crafts time." I must say, I learned something about myself during "arts and crafts"-- I would be the world’s worst engineer! It’s hard for me to build something from scratch without being able to physically see how the parts are going to come together. But after the careful application of the "measure twice, cut once" rule, the boxes and trays we made fit the objects and allowed us to move and store them in a functional manner.

Making boxes and trays takes time, but I found it to be quite rewarding. If you are short on funds and have the time for some "arts and crafts," box-making is the way to go. If you aren’t sure of where to start, I highly suggest checking out STASH (Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History), a collaborative storage solutions website built by collections professionals that provides the user with methods of storage for all types of collections.


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