Have you ever realized textiles are part of your life from birth to death? Those carefully crafted garments, from baby items to wedding dresses, worn on special occasions tend to be pieces of the past you retain. Preserving those treasured keepsakes, especially proudly displayed heirloom clothing, can be a challenge.
Light, temperature, humidity, dust, and insects along with improper storage and display can cause irreparable damage. Knowing how to properly display heirlooms will preserve them from rapid deterioration. The greatest threats to your displays are:
- Light causes the worst damage. While UV radiation from sunlight and fluorescent bulbs are the most harmful, the entire light spectrum causes fading and brittle fibers.
- Excessive heat and humidity accelerate deterioration plus provide a breeding ground for insects, mold, and mildew.
- Dust acts like small knives cutting into fibers and will be the greatest problem with your collection.
Proper display can reduce these threats. Control humidity with humidifiers or dehumidifiers. Keep a constant flow of air to prevent mold and mildew. Avoid excessive heat by regulating with air-conditioning systems. Regularly inspect for insects (holes and tiny droppings are evidence) and vacuum to remove dust. Keep your display out of any direct light source.
One of the best methods of protection is seasonal rotation. Display for a few months then return to storage to rest the remainder of the year. Switching out items allows several to be displayed but still extends lifetime of each.
Get creative with your display but follow these tips to protect your heirlooms:
- Wood must never contact fabric; coat wood with water-borne polyurethane to seal acids.
- Use 100% cotton or poly-cotton blends mounting fabrics that are pre-washed to remove finishes and sizing.
- Float any framed item (all edges are visible) leaving plenty of breathing room inside frame
- Use Plexiglas (contains an ultraviolet filter) instead of glass; glass should never come in direct contact with fabric.
- Only use archival paper (cardboard, mat board, decorative paper) in mounting heirlooms.
- Rods, hangers, or dress forms should be padded with pre-washed cotton fabric.
How you display your heirlooms will depend on condition of the item, but whatever you choose, know your kids will come to appreciate family a little more, each time they look at the special accessories in their rooms.
For more information on archival storage and display of textiles: