Textile/Quilt Storage

Amy Friendtextile conservation6 Comments

I was chatting with Krista and mentioned that I worked with art collections in museums as a collections curator prior to staying home with my children. I worked at two different museums and both had textile collections that I rehoused in order to better preserve them. She thought that it would be interesting for quilters to learn more about textile conservation and storage. I will give it a go and you can see what you can apply at home.

Generally speaking, the biggest dangers to quilts in a home are light, temperature and humidity, pests and other materials. You can try to display quilts out of the direct sun (especially heirloom quilts or quilts that you would like to become heirlooms). You can draw the shades, hang quilts on walls that do not receive direct sun, or install UV filtering glass in a window that shines on a particularly precious quilt. Temperature and humidity extremes can damage textiles. This is why attics and basements are not the best storage areas. You should try to achieve a consistent temperature of about 70 degrees in the winter with a relative humidity of about 30-35% and 75 degrees/50-55% rh in the winter. This, of course, is the ideal and not always practical in the home but think about what areas of your house come closest to achieving this goal. Pests are pretty obvious. Good housekeeping and careful monitoring can keep them from damaging your quilts. As far as other materials are concerned, you don’t want your quilts in direct contact with wood, plastic, paper/cardboard or painted surfaces (for the first two weeks after they are painted especially) because these materials all emit chemicals that discolor and degrade fabric.

When you are storing quilts, the ideal storage is either flat or rolled. Flat is rarely possible due to size. Rolling quilts is a great solution. Museum storage companies sell racks for hanging rolled textiles for a high cost. Neither museum that I worked at could afford those options to I came up with a solution pictured here and above:

I wouldn’t think something like this would be all that practical for most homes but I have seen some of the sewing studios that you have and perhaps a wall could be dedicated to storage. The chains and other hardware used to construct these racks can be purchased at any hardware store. Then the textiles were rolled. You can purchase acid free lignen free cardboard tubes from conservation supplies companies such as Gaylord Brothers or University Products. You can also use regular cardboard tubes but to keep some distance between them and your textile, I recommend covering them with Mylar which acts as a barrier. Then you can roll clean textiles onto the tubes along with sheets of acid free tissue. Once rolled, I covered the entire textile with Tyvek which is a great breathable dust cover. You could also used washed, unbleached muslin. If you just have one special quilt, a less elaborate but similar storage solution could be made by purchasing two bike storage hooks and attaching them to your wall with a metal pole (closet pole) resting between to hold your cardboard tube.
Most serious cleaning of heirloom quilts should be done by a conservator. It is a good idea to at least vacuum them at home though. You can use your regular vacuum on low suction and cover the nozzle with nylon window screening (to prevent loss). If you attempt to wash an heirloom quilt, you need to support it properly. One way to do so is by using fiberglass window screening. You should run clear water through the quilt and use a mild cleaner like Orvus paste then thoroughly rinse. Dry flat. Check for colorfastness too before wetting the entire textile.
If you need to fold your quilts, you can help prevent damage by padding the creases with acid free tissue and storing them in acid free boxes. Periodic refolding is a
good idea to keep creases from becoming permanent.
I thought I would give you some examples of how I have applied this knowledge to storing/displaying things that are special to me in my house. My wedding dress is stored in an acid free box with acid free tissue padding the folds. I keep it under my bed, rather than in the attic where the temperature and humidity are extreme. I try to take it out every now and then and rearrange it to prevent permanent creases (which is reminding me to go do this now!).
I am planning on hanging my Cathedral Windows Quilt when it is complete. The quilt will be hung using the standard pocket on the back with a wooden dowel slid through it. I was thinking of covering the wood with a piece of Mylar to act as a barrier to prevent discoloration. The quilt will be hung in my front hall which is dark compared to most areas in my house, thereby preventing it from UV damage.
I posted my storage solution for special dresses and costumes that I am using awhile back. See here if you are interested.
I hope this was interesting!