There are books on textile conservation available, but they are often very expensive and highly specialized and technical, intended for a readership of professional textile conservators and conservation students. The most commonly offered, and most frequently repeated, piece of advice in these books is to consult a professional textile conservator before doing anything. For many small museums and individual collectors, this is not a viable option, at least not on a regular basis. Nevertheless, even books intended for conservation specialists include information that can be useful in the conservation of a less rarefied collection, though it may take some searching to find the parts that can actually be implemented without specialized equipment or training. However, these specialized books can be difficult to find. They are not typically available at local libraries, they often have high sticker prices, and older books must be used with care, because conservation practices and technology have changed over recent decades.

Even with access to an extremely large university library system, I was unable to acquire any recent editions of professional textile conservation manuals for review, though I have examined several 1970s and 1980s professional manuals, including an earlier edition of a current publication, a 1990s book for individual collectors emphasizing wearable vintage clothing, and two relatively recent Costume Society of America publications, as well as a wealth of vintage sewing manuals, books on the history of costume, and museum publications containing schematics and construction details of garments in their textile collections. Additionally, there is information on all of these topics available on the internet. For reviews of and links to such information, see my Online Resources page.

For the small museum or individual collector with limited resources, there are two books in particular that I can recommend. Both are oriented toward individual collectors of vintage and antique textiles.

  • Ordoñez, Margaret T. Your Vintage Keepsake: A CSA Guide to Costume Storage and Display. N.p.: The Costume Society of America, 2001. Distributed by the Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock. Available on Amazon.
  • Grimble, Frances. Illustrated by Deborah Kuhn. After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore, and Wear Vintage Styles. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Lavolta Press, 1998. Available on Amazon.

Your Vintage Keepsake is a small book of 31 pages, available for under $10 on Amazon. It is a straightforward, practical guide to storing and displaying vintage, antique, and otherwise precious textiles, beautifully illustrated with full-color photographs. It is very well organized and covers a great deal of territory quickly. It offers instructions on making inexpensive but high-quality padded hangers. It also includes a list of recommended Suppliers of Archival Materials . This book is highly recommended.

After a Fashion is a large banquet of a book written by an expert in the field of historical costume, which has a list price of $38 but is available used for as low as $17 on Amazon. Covering the historical development of costume from the Middle Ages through the Art Deco period and emphasizing the wearing of vintage clothing and the construction of authentic reproductions, this book addresses many angles of interest to the individual collector of antique textiles, and would also be quite useful to a small museum. The sections on cleaning and repairing clothes are extremely thorough and detailed. There is a great deal of information on alterations that is primarily relevant to 20th century vintage garments that are not particularly rare, for the purpose of wearing them, but even that information can be useful in a museum setting, because it also discusses historical methods of alteration, which may help to identify and understand old alterations in extant garments. The information on hand-sewing techniques is quite thorough and useful, though similar, albeit often less detailed, information can also be found in Vintage Sewing Manuals from around 1960 or earlier, in Online Historical Sewing Resources . The book’s section on storage is helpful but not extremely detailed.

These two books offer an excellent start in learning how to manage a small-scale textile collection, especially when their perspectives are combined. Even if you cannot afford to buy more specialized manuals, I highly recommend purchasing these two.

Regarding more specialized, professionally oriented books on textile conservation, I can make general recommendations. My university library system offered up several such examples from the 1970s and 1980s, all of which emphasize best practices and frequently cite the importance of hiring conservation professionals. The most recent of these publications is:

  • Finch, Karen, and Greta Putnam. The Care and Preservation of Textiles. London: B.T. Batsford, 1985. Available on Amazon.

Like other similar books of the same period, this guide offers some useful information for small-scale textile conservation, but much of it does not apply, and it is dated, a real concern in a technologically-impacted field like textile conservation. I would not recommend purchasing dated conservation books, except perhaps if they are available inexpensively and are inspirational in terms of storage methods.

Another book of that period broke the mold somewhat by being directed primarily toward the individual collector, and in spite of being nearly three decades old, I found it to still be relevant and useful, though again, the technological and chemical aspects may be outdated:

  • Tarrant, Naomi. Collecting Costume: The Care and Display of Clothes and Accessories. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983. Available on Amazon.

Recent, well-regarded publications in the field of textile conservation include:

  • Landi, Sheila. The Textile Conservator’s Manual. 2nd ed. Butterworth-Heinemann Series in Conservation and Museology. London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1998. Available on Amazon but very expensive.
  • Mailand, Harold F., and Dorothy Stites Alig. Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1999. Available on Amazon for $18 and up.

There are also a variety of highly specialized publications available which are unlikely to be of great use to most small museums or individual collectors, but could well be of interest to some, including books on conservation of leather, connecting object research with textual research, using x-ray technology in the study of textiles, and theories of textile conservation practice. Even though it can often be physically, financially, and conceptually inaccessible to most of us, there is a great deal of research going on in the field of textile conservation and new developments are continually being made. One intriguing new book, the product of a recent conference, which I had the opportunity to review, is highly technical but could be useful even for small-scale collections if included articles happened to be relevant:

  • Janaway, Rob, and Paul Wyeth, eds. Scientific Analysis of Ancient and Historic Textiles: Informing Preservation, Display and Interpretation; Postprints. AHRC Research Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies, First Annual Conference 13-15 July 2004. London: Archetype Publications, 2005. Available on Amazon but very expensive.

Moving away from the field of textile conservation specifically, there are other types of books that can prove very useful for small-scale textile conservation. Vintage sewing manuals from the early 19th century through around 1960 are extremely useful, and many are available on the internet in digital form. 20th century sewing manuals are also readily available in local libraries and used book stores; they are often illustrated and written with sufficient detail to be understood by a modern sewist, even one without a great deal of experience, whereas 19th century sewing manuals can require some translation. For more information and resource links, see Vintage Sewing Manuals.

Books on the history of costume are also very useful when dealing with a textile collection, in order to better understand and better appreciate the collection, in order to accurately date pieces, and in order to understand the context in which pieces were originally created. Such books are invaluable when creating an exhibit, in order to understand how pieces went together to create ensembles, and what the aesthetic of a given period was like. I have posted a select list of excellent Books on Historic Costume which may assist in researching your collection, emphasizing costume of the 18th through mid-20th centuries, as earlier textiles are fairly rare and less likely to be in small-scale collections, and more recent textiles do not generally qualify as antiques.

There are also a variety of online sources of interest to those taking care of small-scale textile collections, included digitized books in the public domain, museum websites, conservation professionals’ websites, costume history sites, historical sewing sites, and pages that document the process of diagramming an extant garment and reproducing it, which can serve as excellent examples of the process. Most online resources are available free of charge, and can connect collectors and those involved with small museums to others like them and across fields of textile enthusiasm. See Online Resources for links to and reviews of useful sites.

Books are an excellent source for research, but they are hardly the only source, and for small-scale textile conservation, much can be accomplished using primarily or exclusively online resources. That being said, I do still highly recommend purchasing the two books I initially discussed, Your Vintage Keepsake and After a Fashion, both of which are inexpensive, thorough, and reliable, offering good central resources to return to time and again.

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