Store Heirlooms Carefully (heirloomcare)

Helping Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education.

Store Heirlooms Carefully

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

Click to email this page to a this page to a friend

As we clean and have valuable heirlooms to store it is important to store them properly. Follow these suggestions. Textile heirlooms and keepsakes require special care to preserve them for future generations. Controlling the environment, such as light, temperature, humidity, insects and storage, is the most important way to ensure the long term-preservation of heirloom textiles.

Low light levels are recommended for textile display areas and darkness for storage areas. Keep the shades drawn on windows in rooms where textiles are displayed and turn off any artificial lights when not in a room. Light damages fibers and causes fading. Sunlight and fluorescent light especially are damaging because they emit high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Damage caused by light is cumulative and irreversible.

Moist air, warmth and lack of air circulation encourage mold growth that can stain fibers and cause deterioration. Inspect textiles regularly for mildew. Mold can begin to grow at humidity levels of 60 percent and above. A relative humidity of approximately 50 percent and temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees are recommended. Avoid extreme fluctuations of humidity and temperature levels.

Avoid attics, basements, kitchens, laundry rooms and unheated areas for textile storage. Store items away from outside walls and areas where people smoke.

Keeping storage areas clean with frequent vacuuming and storing clean items helps deter insects. The major insects attacking textiles are furniture or carpet beetles and webbing clothes moths. They especially are attracted to wool, silk, hair and feathers.

Cedar chests and closets may deter moths but they do not kill moths at all stages of their development and have no effect on carpet beetles. Do not place any textile in direct contact with wood, as it releases acids over time that yellow and weaken textiles. Paradichlorobenzene, the active ingredient in mothballs, is harmful to humans and can no longer be recommended.

Ordinary cardboard, paper, metal and wood emit volatile acids that deteriorate textiles. Protect textiles from direct contact with wood, ordinary cardboard or metal with layers of acid-free tissue, acid-free mat board or washed unbleached cotton muslin periodically to retain its neutral state. Fabric covers allow air circulation. Also, change the acid-free tissue or mat board periodically.

Avoid colored papers and tissues, such as blue tissue, as some are not colorfast and can stain textiles, if moistened.

Items, such as plastic and metal parts and other similar items, should be protected with muslin or acid-free tissue prior to storage as they may cause stains.

Store textile items flat, if possible. If items must be folded, use acid-free tissue or muslin to cushion folds. Re-fold occasionally to distribute the wear.

Fragile items and garments should not be hung. If items are sturdy enough to be hung, pad the hanger with the polyester fiber-fill and cover with washed, unbleached cotton muslin. To support the weight of heavy skirts, use a shell or twill tape to support the item. Loosely stitch the shell or tape at the waist and to the hanger. Store with closures fastened.

Textiles strong enough to support their own weight, such as most quilts and woven coverlets, can be displayed by attaching a fabric sleeve to the top of the back side. Washed, unbleached muslin is ideal for fabric sleeves. Allow some ease to accommodate the wooden slat or rod used as the hanging device. Hook and loop tape also can be used to hang a textile. Attach the hook portion of the tape to a wooden slat fastened to the wall. Attach the loop portion to the fabric sleeve.

Remove textile wall hangings occasionally to allow them to rest. The stress of continuous hanging strains the yarns. No textile should be displayed permanently.

Take time to store your textiles correctly so future generations can enjoy them.

Ask Lorene

(This resource was added July 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180