This past summer we held a very successful exhibit at our museum in Kentville Nova Scotia on wedding dresses over the years that came from our textile collection. This exhibit lead to many questions about how to conserve them and other textiles. There are a few simple steps you can take to preserve a wedding dress and other textiles over a long period of time in your home or community museum. Consider your home environment to be very much similar to community museums where there are usually no specialized equipment to monitor humidity and temperature, insect infestation or mould outbreaks as would normally be found in a national or privately funded museum.Refer to a separate document in this blog outlining environmental considerations for community museums that is applicable to the home environment as well. Rest assured, there are a few simple things you can do to keep your dress in good condition. Here are some of them:
Keep in mind that these suggestions are applicable to many other textiles as well. The text uses wedding dresses but you can substitute all kinds of textiles in its place. Just be cautious with anything that is very old and fragile. Handle it as little as possible and when in doubt consult with a conservator first. Always, always be sure of what fabric it is. There are different concerns for different fabrics although these general suggestions are applicable to most fabrics.
1) have your wedding dress professionally cleaned shortly after the wedding to remove stains such as mud or red wine before they become firmly embedded. White wine, champagne are problematic but may not be visible. If you wish to do it at a later date consider engaging a professional preservation company with a good reputation to do the cleanup. Dresses that have not been cleaned and have sat for many decades may be better off to leave alone due to fragility of material. Make sure to ask lots of questions about cleaning methods, understanding fabrics, cleaning material used and risks involved before agreeing to proceed.
2) don’t wrap your dress in plastic. Some plastics produce off-gassing vapours which combined with high humidity produce a very mild acid that over a lengthy period of time will break down the fabric. Also, trapping moisture may invite mould or mildew.
3) don’t hang your dress on a wood or wire hanger. Use a padded hanger instead. Wood or wire hangers can stretch or distort the weave of the fabric due to the weight of the dress.
4) don’t try to clean the stains yourself. You risk setting them in and/or creating additional problems.
5) keep your dress in a cool, dark, dry environment with a constant relative humidity of 50% and a constant comfortable temperature. Avoid direct sunlight, it can cause yellowing. Avoid moisture due to introducing mould or mildew. You can store it with silica desiccant packets for humidity control.
6) for longer term storage wrap the dress in pre-washed, unbleached muslin and place it in a sturdy box. Or wrapped in acid free paper (stuff the sleeves to preserve the shape) and an acid free box for even longer storage. Make sure the box seals properly to avoid insect infestation. You can use cloth or tyvek bags for short term protection. Avoid using paper, ordinary or coloured paper may cause staining.
7) when storing minimize folding. If storing in a box consider using a box that is the same size as your dress. Each time you fold your dress you introduce the possibility of breaking the fibres in your fabric and over time introducing tears or breaks. This is particularly true for silk and linen.
8) don’t store other objects with your dress. Other objects may be incompatible over time causing staining, odours, or introducing other non-desirable complications.
9) do take your dress out from time to time to inspect it. Besides showing it to others and discussing family history, it is suggested that you look it over annually to make sure there are no problems.
10) use white, cotton gloves when handling. Of course, wash your hands thoroughly beforehand. Thus, avoiding staining from natural oils on your skin.