Think carefully before making repairs to antique textiles, particularly if your repairs are not reversible. Is your goal conservation or restoration? Or something else entirely, such as making a vintage garment functional for actual use? Keep in mind how rare or delicate the textile in question may be, and be honest with yourself about your level of expertise, and whether you have the right skills and materials to properly implement a repair. Most museum conservation-oriented sources advocate making as few changes – including fixes – to antique textiles as possible, and they state that repairs (and even most cleaning) should only be undertaken by a conservation professional, or under the direct supervision of a conservator. Also keep in mind that damaged textiles can be very educational in terms of how they are damaged and what construction details they may expose.

However, you may still wish to repair some of your textiles, whether to keep them intact during storage, cleaning, or display; to restore their aesthetic appeal, or take make them functional for use. Any changes should be documented, and no parts of an antique textile – no matter how small – should be discarded. Research your textile and any repairs you wish to make thoroughly before starting. Make sure you have all the materials and skills necessary before you start. If necessary, practice techniques on scrap fabric or reproduction clothing before you try them on antiques. Go slowly, be careful, and try not to make damage worse.

For detailed information on repairing textiles, consult one or more (preferably more) of these sources:

  • Frances Grimble’s book After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore, and Wear Vintage Styles, pages 209-244; also alterations on 245-287. This book is the ideal resource for someone planning to repair antique textiles; it is very detailed and well-written.
  • Naomi Tarrant’s book Collecting Costume: The Care and Display of Clothes and Accessories, pages 62-67.
  • Karen Finch and Greta Putnam’s book The Care and Preservation of Textiles, 1985 edition, pages 90-126 (though much of that is case studies in conservation and restoration rather than how-to information).
  • Additionally, you can consult the pages on Vintage Sewing Manuals, Online Historical Sewing Resources, and Books on Historic Costume for further information on historical construction and mending techniques and materials.

Next in the section on Textile Conservation Basics: Storing Antique Textiles

HomeIndexTextile Conservation Basics


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