Materials You Need – (Part 1 of 6) Conservation and Preservation of Heirloom Textiles
Materials You Need – (Part 1 of 6) Conservation and Preservation of Heirloom Textiles


[Ann Frisina] Hello and welcome
to the Textile Conservation Lab of the Minnesota Historical Society.
My name is Ann Frisina and I’m the textile conservator.
We have created a series of podcasts to assist you in the
storage of heirloom textiles. In this podcast I’ll be showing you
suitable storage materials made out of paper, plastic and fabric.
Storage materials are very important because they lie in
direct contact with your textiles. For that reason, only stable
materials that will not cause harm should be used. Let’s look at acid-free paper
materials first as they are the most commonly used in textile storage.
Now acid free paper products are made from a fiber base pulp that has the
lignin and other impurities removed. These are paper materials that
are pH balanced. Paper materials that are not acid free, like this brown
tube here, are not used because they can discolor your textile over time.
Now, how can you tell if something is acid free? Knowing the pH of
paper based materials is extremely important. The acidity and alkalinity
is expressed by a scale, which I have here, from 1 to 14. And in
this scale 7 is considered neutral. Any number below 7 is acidic and
any number above 7 is alkaline. When ordering paper base materials
it’s important to check the pH between the range of 7 and 8.5 and that
is considered neutral for conservation. There are 2 types of tissue paper
that you can choose to use when you’re storing your textiles.
The first one is a buffered tissue paper and it’s buffered
with this material called calcium carbonate and what this calcium
carbonate does is that it acts to neutralize any acid that might form
in the tissue at a later date, so if you’re got something stored in
tissue for a long period of time, like a plant material based item,
such as cotton or linen the thought is that the buffering will prevent it
from becoming, the environment around it from becoming acidic which as we
talked about before breaks down plant material such as cotton and linen. In comparison there’s unbuffered
tissue and that means that there’s absolutely no buffering compound
added to it it’s simply a neutral pH. Now the unbuffered tissue can also
be used for the cotton and linen plant fibers but it can be used,
not only for plant fibers but the wool and silk and animal fibers
as well and thats the thing. The calcium carbonate buffered
paper, this buffered paper, can not be used for any kind of wool or
silk item and should not be used. Where as the unbuffered paper
can be used for both wool and silk, animal fibers as well
as cotton and linen plant fibers. Now a quick note about boxes,
boxes come in buffered materials, all are buffered calcium carbonate
that being said it’s always important to line a box before you
put a textile into it with a piece of tissue paper thats a suitable choice
or a piece of washed undyed muslin. One more thing about tissue paper,
it’s not uncommon to receive a wedding dress after it’s been stored at a dry
cleaners with this blue tissue here. I don’t recommend using any
kind of tissue that has any kind of coloring in it.
It’s very easy for this tissue paper to, when it becomes wet,
say in a flood or say you have a high humidity situation in the
basement, to transfer the dye onto the textile it’s next to, and so
for that reason all of our tissue paper is either undyed or white.
Although most storage materials are paper based some can be made
of plastics. Now plastics for the most part are considered damaging
to textiles long term preservation, however 3 types of plastics are
considered suitable for long term storage and they include polyester,
polypropylene, polyethylene. The first item I want to talk
about is polyester file, and it’s often referred to as melinex as a
trade name and this polyester film comes in sheets, it comes in rolls
or even pre made envelopes, which are fabulous for storing small flat
textiles like samplers or fragments. Another material thats great to use
is marvel seal. It is an aluminum film with polyethylene on the other
side and this matte side is the polyethylene side and the shiny
side is the aluminum side. It’s a barrier film and it will prevent
any kind of water vapor or off gassing, like acidic acid from
transmitting through it and it’s great to use on shelves to line
them to protect the textiles that might be sitting directly on a
wooden shelf or in a drawer or cedar chest for that matter or
even on an acidic tube. If you have to use an acidic tube it
can act as a barrier that you can roll your textiles around. Finally I want to talk about a
polyethylene product called coroplast, and the coroplast is the trade name
and it’s basically a board just like any kind of corrugated board and
it’s a wonderful material, it doesn’t change over time and it doesn’t off
gas and it’s very very rugged. If you have boxes made out of
coroplast and there is a flood or a leak of some kind it will protect
your textile from getting wet. However that being said many
conservators are worried that if there is a fire of some sort, it will melt.
The polyethylene boxes, coroplast boxes, unfortunately come in very
few sizes so if you do want to use a coroplast box to store your
textile your probably going to have to make your own boxes. Whilst storing textiles, fabric
is commonly used to assist in the process and the first fabric I’d
like to talk to you about is muslin. Undyed muslin is commonly made out of
cotton fibers so it can be a cotton – polyester blend. The thing to remember
whenever you’re using a fabric is that it must be washed prior to use
and tyne reason is, is that because when the fabric is woven finishes are
applied to assist in the weaving and processing of it and you want to
remove those finishes. Whenever you’re washing a textile for storage
you need to use a base surfactant called Orvus W.A. paste and by
surfactant I mean soap. Orvus is a soap that is commonly used by textile
conservators and it is available in many quilt shops today so it should
be within your community. When you’re using the Orvus you want to be sure
to use a small amount and rinse all of it out. If you have too much
soaping there and the soap remains in the textile it can be a nice
little tasty snack for later insect infestation and you don’t want to
attract anything so all the soap has to be removed from your textile
when you’re washing it. Another textile that we commonly use is called
stockinet and this is a material that they use, they usually put this
on a limb when they are putting a cast on, so it come, it’s a tube form
and it comes in many different sizes. These are two sizes that I use quite
often. Now this cotton stockinet is also, while it’s a knit fabric
it too needs to be washed prior to use so you need to again wash it the
the Orvus W.A. paste and be sure to rinse out all the soap. Finally I’d
like to talk about batting and felt. These two materials are commonly
used to cushion your textile and I recommend that people purchase
these from conservation suppliers. Most batting and felt is made with
an adhesive applied to the fibers to make them stick together. However
that adhesive is detrimental to textiles and I recommend against
purchasing any of this within a dress making shop, instead you should go to
a conservation supplier and buy a batting or felt that is either spun
bonded or needle punched and what that means is that no adhesive was
used when they were made. So almost always or always, go to a conservation
supplier when you’re purchasing these two items. Obtaining the proper storage
materials is a costly, time consuming process however it’s the only way to
promote the long term preservation of your textiles while in storage.
Please go the Minnesota Historical Societies website for information on
where to purchase these supplies in catalog form or online. Please join
us in our next podcast where we will show you how to use these materials.

1 thought on “Materials You Need – (Part 1 of 6) Conservation and Preservation of Heirloom Textiles”

  1. TAN CHENG says:

    Hi, I am interested to find out is there ever a need to change the acid free used in the storage of textile and costumes? What is the indicator to change?

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