Textile Conservation for Historic House Museums that Applies to Your Home Too

I spent the day yesterday at a Textile Conservation & Management Workshop sponsored by a couple of local house museums. Properly maintaining the collections stored in small museums is always a challenge.  Lacking sophisticated climate control, and for the most part, without any professional museum staff, volunteers earnestly endeavor to preserve the objects in their care but often lack the knowledge and skill needed to make the best decisions.  Something like sixty-five percent of historic house museums don’t have a full-time staff and typically operate on tiny budgets, so even purchasing the proper archival materials can be out of reach.  

I listened carefully to questions posed by volunteers representing various house museums and to the answers offered by the textile conservator.  As I did so, it became clear to me that in the context of small and chronically underfunded institutions, it is important not to make archival perfection the enemy of good and cost effective alternatives.  Most of what the expert had to offer the museum volunteers can easily be applied at home as well.  

Purchasing archival storage boxes can be pricey.  A budget conscious approach to the storage boxes is found in housing textiles or other objects in the wooden drawers of furniture within the collection or our own homes.  Lining the drawers with acid free mat material (which can be purchased at a local art supply store) keeps the objects from direct contact with the wood, out of damaging sunlight, and minimizes dust.  Acid free tissue paper can be used to interleave between layers, to prevent creasing, etc.  

Another common sense approach offered by the textile conservation expert that can be applied at home is to rotate items often.  If your draperies are the same length on different sides of the house, swap them every 6 months or so to even out the effects of the sun.  Upholstered furniture and rugs can benefit from this approach as well.  And since sunlight is capable of doing significant damage in a short span of time, drawing drapes and closing blinds when it’s reasonable to do so will extend the life of many household textiles and furnishings.