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Top Textile Preservation Tips

Tips to Preserve Your Textiles and Embroidery Projects for Future Generations

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Needle Artists invest a large amount of time and effort when creating each piece of embroidery or needlework. Here are some tips for keeping your needlework heirlooms in their best condition.

1. Avoid Sunlight

Light from the sun and its harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can literally suck the life out of textiles. The high energy photons in sunlight's UV rays can bleach or fade fabric and thread by dusrupting the bonds in the dye. UV rays can also break down the fabric itself, causing it to become weak and brittle.

While fabrics and threads are often labeled as fade resistent or lightfast. These items are treated with chemical copounds that help set the dye - but this does not mean they will not fade. It simply means that it will take longer for these items to fade than non-treated fibers.

Handworked textiles and heirlooms should never be displayed in sunny locations such as walls or furnishings that face windows. Instead, display them in areas that don't receive the sun's direct rays.

2. No Starch Required

Avoid starching any piece that is going to be stored. Starch - also known as sizing - makes the fibers stiff, and therefore more prone to snapping and breaking than if the fabric is left un-starched.

Starches also contain components that can attract moisture and cause mildew, or sugars that attract insects or rodents.

To avoid these issues, only starch and press an item right before you are ready to use it. This single tip alone will help you preserve your items for many years of use.

3. Let it Breathe

Moisture, and the mold or mildew that forms after exposure to moisture, are fabric's worst enemies. To stay healthy, fabric needs exposure to fresh air.

Never wrap textiles in plastic or frame under glass that lays directly on the fabric. More about glass can be found in Tip 10.

When storing heirlooms in plastics, be sure the fabric is completely dry and free of sizing before storing in a container made of cast polypropylene. These can be found at most home centers, and are marked with a #5 in the recycling triangle or the letters “PP”. Other types of containers give off fumes that can damage or cause yellowing on textiles.

Items made from cast polypropylene provide a better moisture and vapor barrier than LDPE (low density polyethelene) boxes or bags.

4. Keep it Clean

The dust in our homes contains a wide range of harmful materials including chemicals, pollen, dead skins cells and hair, pollutants and dust mites. Over time, these can damage textiles - and they're just gross. Keep these elements from destroying your embroidery projects by dusting them often.

Projects that are on display and are not protected by glass can be dusted with a soft cloth or feather duster, or use the soft brush attachment on the end of your vacuum hose to safely vacuum away the dust.

5. Prevent Permanent Creases

Whenever possible, linens should be stored flat and not on hangers. Folding them neatly and storing flat reduces stress on the linens caused by the stretching or pulling effects of hanging.

The drawback to folding is creasing. To help prevent permanent creasing or damage to the fibers along the fold, re-fold the linens often, redistributing the creases to other areas of the fabric.

larger or long items, such as tablecloths or runners, can be wrapped around acid-free tubes instead of folding, and acid-free tissue can be used to padd folds, helping to prevent creases.

The single, most important thing you can do to avoid permanent creases or breakage of fibers along a fold is to avoid the use of any sizing (see Tip #2).

6. Give It Support

While many fiber artists display textiles and sturdy quilts on walls, old or fragile fabrics and textiles that are going to be hung vertically without the use of a frame should be supported before displaying.

To support an heirloom textile for hanging, it should be mounted on a fabric to stabilize it and prevent pulling or tearing caused by the effects of gravity. Support fabrics such as cotton or tulle can be hand-stitched to the back side of the item, creating an almost invisible support. Professional textile conservationists might also use a mesh cloth product called stabilex to support the fibers of a rare or very delicate piece.

7. Avoid Yellowing

One of the main causes of yellowing on linens or heirlooms is chemical transfer. This occurs when the embroidery fabrics come into contact with materials containing acid, such as the wood or finish on a shelf, from a cardboard box or tissue paper that the item has been wrapped or stored in, or from vapors in a plastic container.

Over-use of bleach, as well as atmospheric pollutants including oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and ozone can also cause yellowing. While bleaching issues can be resolved with thorough rinsing when laundering, atmospheric causes are harder to avoid, especially in blended fabrics and synthetics. These items cause a chemical reaction within the fibers themselves. Airtight storage conditions can help alleviate some of this type of yellowing.

Linens and textiles should never be stored in direct contact with shelving or materials containing acid, wood (paper is a wood product) and other contaminants. Instead, wrap the items in acid-free tissue paper or store them in archival-quality storage boxes.

8. Use Bleach Sparingly

When cleaning white linens, use bleach sparingly. Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, which alters the molecules in fabric and dyes, which can cause the fibers to break down over time.

The use of bleach can also cause yellowing if not properly rinsed from the fabric.

9. Wash Your Hands

Always wash your hands before handling your prized heirlooms. Our hands contains oils and acids that can transfer to the fabrics when handled, causing staining, yellowing and mystery spots that can be difficult to remove.

10. Frame it Properly

When framing fabric pieces, many needleworkers opt to display their prized pieces without glass. However, the use of glass (also called glazing) can help protect needlework when following a few simple rules during the framing process.

First, never lay the fabric directly against the glass. This can trap moisture between the fabric and glass, allowing mold and mildew to form. Instead, frame the piece using a spacer such as an acid-free mat, or use spacers. Spacers are available at any framing shop, and are made from a small, L-shaped piece that fits into the groove of the frame, forming an air pocket between the fabric and glass. A space of 3/8" is recommended when framing textiles under glass.

Second, use glass the filters harmful UV rays to help avoid fading of both the fabric and the embroidery threads used to create the piece.

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