Handle textile with gloves when possible or wash your hands well before handling them. Before cleaning a textile, check carefully for bugs and deterioration and remove bugs, eggs, droppings, etc. Vacuuming a textile is recommended in order to remove dust and other small particles.

Vacuuming a Textile

Use a low suction vacuum cleaner with a soft brush or no brush at all. Make sure you avoid direct contact between the textile and the vacuum cleaner. The best way to accomplish this is to place a barrier screen on top of the textile. The best option for your screen is to use Teflon-covered fiberglass, which can be purchased at most hardware stores. The edges must be bound in washed twill tape. You can also place a nylon net or cheesecloth over the hose. Use soft movements without pushing on the textile. You may also use a micro-vacuum, such as those used to clean computer keyboards, in order to carefully clean hems, pockets, etc.

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Wet Cleaning

As much as possible avoid wet cleaning any antique textiles and never take them to the cleaners. If you decide to wet clean a textile in order to remove a stain or to whiten the overall appearance, proceed with caution and practice first on a less precious object. Once you are ready for wet cleaning make sure you test any dyed textiles for colorfastness. Use an eye-dropper with cleaning solution and a white blotter to see if colors will run. If you determine that the textile can be cleaned, then prepare the cleaning solution.
Mix a solution of one ounce of neutral non-ionic detergent and one gallon of distilled water. Use de-ionized water if possible, it is better than distilled. If you cannot find non-ionic neutral detergent, you can use Orvus (horse soap) or any detergent available in the supermarket which is scent and color free. Water used for cleaning should be just warm, comfortable at touch.
Once the mix is ready just fill container with water and put the textile on a fiber glass screen. Lower textile into the water slowly and let the textile soak in the water for 30 minutes to one hour. Do not squeeze, wring, scrub or beat the textile, just let it sit.

Rinse the textile by soaking in warm water until all detergent is gone. You can also roll the textile with towels to remove excess water. Let the textile lay flat to dry over a glass or plastic surface.

Boxing a Garment

If you want to put an antique garment in a box you can purchase an acid-free box from a supplier such as Gaylord.com. Before you put the garment in the box, make sure you pad any folds and untie laces, ribbons, etc. if possible. Don’t store memorabilia with garment; instead, put photographs, letters, and others in a separate box. Be careful with very unstable components that may be part of the garment, such as foam padding, rubber pieces, buttons, and buckles. Detach them if possible or wrap them with cotton fabric to isolate them from the actual fabric in the textile.

Line the box with acid free paper and place the garment carefully inside the box. Fold the item as little as possible and use a roll of acid-free paper every time you need to fold any part of the garment. You can use a piece of acid-free paper to separate garment parts from each other—sleeves from bodice, top and bottom, etc.—if you need to fold the garment in order to make it fit in the box. Do not over-fill the box, but if you add additional items to the box, make sure you use a piece of acid-free paper to separate each garment in the box.

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Rolling Textiles

Items such as coverlets, quilts, tablecloths and other flat textiles may be rolled for storage. Make sure you have an acid-free roll that is long enough for the textile so that you avoid folding the textile before rolling. If you must fold then do it along seam lines of possible. Items nto recommended for rolling include any textile with heavy embroidery, thick seams, painted surfaces, or multiple components.

The roller should be longer than the textile and at least 3-4 inches in diameter. Cover the roller with muslin or acid-free paper, and place the textile on a surface that is large enough to allow rolling. Place the roller at the one of the ends and begin rolling the textile slowly. Roll in the warp direction, since it is usually the stronger element. Once you have finished rolling, cover the textile with unbleached muslin and tie it with cotton or linen string. Leave the ends open to prevent moisture from accumulating in the textile.

Hanging Vintage Garments

Before you decide to put a historic garment in a clothes hanger, make sure the piece is strong enough. Ideally, the hanger should take shape of the garment’s shoulder. Wire hangers are often recommended because you can mold the hanger to the item’s shape. The wire, however, may be too light for the garment; or, more important, the wire may rust and damage the garment. Whatever kind of hanger you use, it should always be padded and covered with cotton muslin. You can use strips of polyester fiberfill to pad the hanger by wrapping the strips around the hanger. To cover the hanger, simply cut two pattern pieces of unbleached cotton muslin and sew on the top, leaving a hole for the hanging part of the hanger. After you place the cover over the hanger you can stitch—probably by hand—the bottom part of the cover or you can decide to leave it open.

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Garment Covers

Avoid using plastic covers for your antique objects. Plastic dry cleaner bags are made of polyvinyl chloride which breaks down quickly releasing acid and eventually damaging the object. Garment covers can be custom-made from unbleached cotton muslin, which is non-static and easy to launder. It is recommended to pre-wash the cotton in muslin hot water before creating the garment cover. Another alternative material for garment covers is Tyvek, which is used widely in the construction business. There are certain types of Tyvek that are easy to sew. Tyvek protects from humidity and dust and may even protect the garment from water spills.

Marking Textiles

Avoid writing or marking textiles directly in any way. If you want to label a garment or textile you can use an acid-free cardstock label and write information using an acid-free pen. Attach the label carefully to the garment by tying it to a buttonhole, neckpiece or just sewing it very loosely on the garment. You can also write with an acid-free pen on a linen or cotton tape loosely sewn to the textile.

The following links provide additional detailed information about the aspects we have discussed here. Please feel free to contact us if you have further questions.