Time tested tips for preserving heirloom clothing - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Time-tested tips for preserving heirloom clothing

You don't have to visit a museum to find a precious treasure. Instead, just head to your closet.

Heirloom clothing like baby clothes, wedding gowns, or even a special sweater often get passed down and, sometimes, shoved in the attic.

To keep those memories alive, we headed to Washington, DC, to observe how curators at the Smithsonian Institution keep historic clothing in good shape for hundreds of years.

Whether it's a wedding gown or a tie-dye relic meant to be remembered, or really any fabric you want to last forever, there are things you can do to preserve these articles for future generations.

The first thing you need to do is stop folding. 

"The crisp lines actually cause the fabric to degrade at the crisp line," says Nancy Davis, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution.

For precious pieces of clothing, curators place acid-free tissue paper inside the creases.

Otherwise, make sure you frequently refold clothes in different directions to prevent permanent dents.

To preserve a clothing item, you have to pay attention to it. You have to keep it away from light and, most importantly, you have to let it breathe.

"We don't want them to be put in any kind of heavy-duty plastic, that is really the kiss of death for fabric," Davis says.

You won't find any plastic bins or bags at the Smithsonian Institution, and certainly not a dry cleaning cover.

"Take it off right away," Davis says.

The flow of air through fabric keeps the material fresh.

To keep dust off, curators use 100-percent cotton covers and that's the same material they recommend you wrap around hangers to keep them from leaving a mark on a family memory.

Most of us hang our more valuable outfits. At the Smithsonian Institution, however, they lay those garments down, because hanging clothes stresses the fabric.

Davis showed us a dress from the 1700's that is still in great shape because it's lying flat, wrapped in 100 percent unbleached cotton that keeps the drawers themselves from doing damage.

"Wood eats fabric," Davis says.

But that's not the only thing -- pests eat fabric, too.

That's why before you store away any garment for season or for good, you should get it professionally cleaned. For one-of-a-kind garments, consult a curator on where and how to have these fabrics cleaned.

Even ladies in the 1800's got underarm stains on their wedding dresses. For all clothes, and shoes, get any residue erased by a professional if you want it to last for eternity.

Then, find an acid-free box, because it's one of the best bargains for storing clothes safely and spaciously.

History's high heels are still stylish thanks to these simple tried and true tips from the Smithsonian Institution's curators.

Use them on the archives of your kindred's closets and you'll have good-looking family garments to pass down for generations.

The Smithsonian Institution recommends you keep clothing, or any material, in a climate you would want to live in.

That means taking pieces out of the attic and basement where moisture and humidity can ruin the fabric.

Additional Information: 

  • If you have to stack clothes, place the heaviest ones at the bottom to avoid weight pressing down on lighter, more fragile materials. (Source: Smithsonian Institution)
  • Professional vacuum bags that suck out all the air are ok, but not the DIY variety. Only if all the air is gone is the fabric left in good shape.
  • Use the little straps inside shirts, sweaters and dresses to hang them. They are there to alleviate the "pull" on fabric from hanging.
  • Stuff shoes with acid free tissue paper to provide support.
  • Clean off shoes before storing, salt and dirt from the road can eat away fabric.
  • Clean all clothes before storing because pests love to find old food. You should get it professional cleaned.
  • Keep textiles away from light.
  • Large flat textiles like flags and shawls can be rolled onto tubes. A large-diameter tube is best. If using an acidic cardboard tube, cover it with layers of acid-free paper, cotton sheets or cotton muslin. (http://www.mnhs.org/people/mngg/stories/textiles.htm)
  • Inspect stored materials periodically for insect damage. Do not use mothballs. Non-toxic "sticky" traps placed along baseboards are an effective way of limiting insects. A large number of insects in a trap will alert you to a problem and the source or cause can then be investigated. Prevention is much better than application of pesticides after damage has already occurred. (http://www.mnhs.org/people/mngg/stories/textiles.htm)

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow