I ran across an article in Home Arts Needlework Magazine, 1936 apropos to this week’s topic. It came as no surprise to me that their advice was still valid today.
Please take a minute to consider how you store your vintage textiles. Whatever the type of fabric and fiber , from carpets to lace the principles are the same. The enemies of textiles are 1. exposure to sunlight, 2. moisture ( not my problem here, believe me), and 3. varmints, small and not so small.
So what is the best place for them? The answer is someplace where they will not be disturbed once you have carefully stored them, until you need them, someplace out of direct sunlight, away from extreme temperatures. Attics and basements definitely do not fall into the category of preferred storage areas. Nor are sheds and barns and unheated garages as those unwanted critters may be present and it does not take any time at all for them to damage your collection. Perhaps the high shelves of a closet or an armoire , or even under the bed might be more appropriate.
All your textiles should be clean when stored (those stains do not magically disappear) , but cleaning must be done with caution. Sometimes just a gentle shaking and airing will be sufficient. Avoid dry cleaning, if possible as the chemicals they use could actually do more harm than good (it is not actually “dry” cleaning). Always check with the cleaners if they are comfortable dealing with vintage fabrics, get references of local establishments, etc. You can always “spot clean” small areas with gentle soap ( not detergent, nor adult shampoo) as they have additives which makes complete rinsing difficult. But be warned you may end up with a “clean” patch in the middle of your “antique” white quilt. If you must wash a large piece, the bathtub is a good choice, with COLD water and the soap. ( I have discovered pure soap flakes at WalMart, but others will surely have them also, although not your average supermarket). Do not scrub, or wring, just let the fabric soak and then drain the tub and rinse with clean water several times until the rinse water runs clear. Care should be taken when removing the wet textile. If if is a quilt or rug or coverlet, it will be very heavy. The best solution is to drain the tub, then wrap the textile in a clean sheet and with a friend gather the bundle and spread it flat to dry. Hanging wet textiles puts strain on the seams and may break the fibers. So choose a warm day and lay it over your picnic table, which you have covered with a clean sheet and then cover your “laundry” with another clean sheet. Make doubly sure it is completely dry before storing.
If you store your textile folded you must refold them at least twice a year to prevent fold lines. One time in half then quarters, the next time in thirds. Then you can safely store it in a clean pillowcase or sheet. If you have something that is fragile, you will want to prevent the stress of fold lines by rolling it. Visit your local frame shop to see if they will sell you the cardboard tubes they get with posters. Then you must cover the cardboard by inserting it in a pillowcase. Gently roll the textile around the tube, you might want to include a layer of acid-free tissue paper (available on-line) with the tissue on the outside to keep your textile dust free.
Do not store fabric in direct contact with wood (shelves or drawers), they must be lined with acid-free tissue or clean fabric. Do not store in plastic bins. The fibers must be able to breathe and never, ever in a vacuum plastic storage bag. Save the vacuum bags for you winter jackets and everyday bedding.
Small articles in your collection may be stored in acid-free boxes wrapped in acid-free tissue. Keep things flat, if possible or roll them around small tubes(as above).
With a little care, your valuable vintage textiles will still be around for you and your family to enjoy for years to come.