When storing antique textiles, you will want to protect them from as many dangers as possible, as best as possible, within the confines of practicability and budget. In short, you want to keep them away from light, away from excessive humidity or dryness, away from excessive heat, away from insects, away from mold and mildew, away from dust and dirt, and to an extent, even away from themselves – acid-free tissue paper or washed cloth should be placed between items and in folds of items, to protect your textiles and prevent creases from becoming permanent. Textiles can be stored hanging, rolled, or flat (usually in boxes). The way you store your textiles will depend on your goals, the amount of space you have, your budget, and what types and conditions of textiles you are storing. When hanging, textiles should be on padded hangers, which can be purchased or made in a variety of ways. Some garments should not be hung, included anything beaded, anything that is already damaged and will tear further under its own weight, and anything stretchy, knit, or bias-cut.

To buy acid-free tissue, boxes, hangers, etc., you can purchase from a conservation supply store such as those listed on my page Suppliers of Archival Materials. Some supplies can also be found or improvised elsewhere, but beware of material content; acidic tissue paper will destroy or damage textiles and most plastics out-gas harmful fumes.

The extremely informative six-video series, “Conservation and Preservation of Heirloom Textiles” shows textile conservator Ann Frisina of the Minnesota Historical Society giving a thorough introduction to materials and techniques for properly protecting and storing heirloom textiles:

More on Making Your Own Padded Hangers:

The second video linked above is useful, but involves relatively expensive conservation supplies not readily available to everyone. Other resources have additional suggestions on making padded hangers:

  • “Padded hangers provide the best support, but are expensive. You can make your own by winding cotton batting around a wooden hanger, then covering it with clean white cotton fabric.” (Frances Grimble, After a Fashion, page 201)
  • “All hangers should be padded, not only to support the dresses better and prevent any hard shoulder-line creases, but also to protect the garments from any splinters, rust, or acid leach from wood or metal. The best materials to use are unbleached calico [in the US: muslin] and grey skin wadding [batting], or one of a terylene variety. If the trouser rail is not required then a square of wadding can be cut and wrapped over the hanger’s triangular shape. If the rail is needed then strips of wadding will have to be wound round each side. Even for just hanging up a skirt it is a good idea to put something like gauze on the rail so that the loops on the skirt have something to grip. A loose calico [muslin] cover to slip over the padding is necessary to stop wadding fluff getting onto the clothes and can be taken off and washed occasionally. If preferred, the calico [muslin] can be tacked loosely over the padding to keep it from slipping. Whichever method is chosen it should be the easiest and cheapest to suit the collection.” (Naomi Tarrant, Collecting Costume, pages 51-52)
  • “How can you design and make a padded hanger? Many designs are possible if you do the following: Compare the slope of the garment’s shoulder line to the hanger’s angles. Heavy wire hangers quite often fit better than purchased padded hangers that slop very little. A wooden hanger may have the correct shape and good strength for supporting a heavy suit or coat. Next consider how wide the hanger needs to be to best support the garment without distorting its sleeves. Because you are going to pad the hanger, size and shape are more critical than whether it is made of metal or wood, but plastic hangers may not be a good choice. They can lose strength, distort, or become brittle.” (Margaret T. Ordoñez, Your Vintage Keepsake, page 6)
  • Directions paraphrased from Your Vintage Keepsake: Lay your chosen hanger on some (washed) quilted fabric. Pencil in a line around the body of the hanger, also going up the steam 2-3″, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ seam allowances all around, except more like 2″ across the bottom, which will be left open so that the hanger cover can be removed. Next cut out two layers of the quilted fabric, following the penciled lines. Then with right sides together, stitch the two cover pieces together along the top edges, leaving an opening for the steam and hook, and leaving the bottom edge open. Turn the cover right side out. Loosely hand-stitch a wide strip of polyester quilt batting along the top edges of the hanger, putting the hook through a hole in the batting. Then put the cover onto the hanger, putting the hook through the opening in the top.
  • Using information gleaned from all of these approaches, a variety of solutions to the padded hanger dilemma could be achieved.

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

Next in the section on Textile Conservation Basics: Copying Extant Textiles

HomeIndexTextile Conservation Basics

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