Caring for Fragile Textiles - Useful Tips
Updated: Apr 22
Please take great care in researching the origin of very old textiles and ensure you have the right information about your particular textile before proceeding to clean, repair or store it. These are my suggestions only.
Tips for Everyday Cleaning
Vacuuming is the easiest and least hazardous form of cleaning - especially for those pieces which hang vertically on display.
To wash or vacuum textiles on a horizontal surface, first cover them with a 1x1 metre nylon filament screen. This will ensure that you do not damage the item in the cleaning process.
Be very careful when washing delicate articles. When in doubt, consult an expert - either at a museum or a dry cleaner before proceeding.
If you are washing an antique quilt, try to determine if the “batting” is wool. If so, do not wash as it will shrink, pulling the blanket away from the binding.. You do not want the wool inside to shrink and ruin the piece.
Washing & Drying
Place a nylon filament screen in a basin full of room temperature water.
Dip the item into the water, and hand wash using a gentle detergent, such as Woolite.
Once you're done cleaning the item, pick up the nylon filament screen and bounce it up and down over the basin to remove the water. If the water in the basin is still visibly dirty, replace it, and repeat the process until the water runs clear.
Once your item is clean, replace the basin one last time with clean water (minus the detergent) and rinse using the process as above.
To dry, remove the nylon filament screen from the basin (leaving the item on top) and place on top of a dry towel. You can also take the item outside to dry, but ensure that you cover it with a bed sheet.
Large articles (do this on a HOT summer day):
Place a clean bed sheet in a bath tub full of room temperature water.
Put the item into the tub, and hand wash it using a gentle detergent, such as Woolite.
Once you're done cleaning the item, pick up the bed sheet and bounce it up and down over the tub to remove the water. If the water in the tub is still visibly dirty, replace it, and repeat the process until the water runs clear.
Once your item is clean, replace the tub one last time with clean water (minus the detergent) and rinse using the process as above.
Lay towels on the floor, and lay the item on top. Gently roll up the towels and squeeze the water out of the item.
To dry, lay the item on a dry sheet on your lawn and cover it with another sheet.
With the right side of the article facing out, use a linen roll (for example: a piece of cardboard covered with acid free paper) and roll it flat. You can put more than one article on the linen roll, so long as you separate them with a sheet of acid free paper.
Store in a cool, dry location, away from fluctuating temperatures and humidity.
Store larger articles in a flat box lined with acid free paper. You can put more than one article in the box, so long as you separate them with a sheet of acid free paper.
Ensure that you take articles out of storage every six months to re-fold in another location so as not to put strain on fibres. You can also insert an acid free or cotton tube along the fold to take stress off fibres.
Did you know!? Bugs eat starch! Therefore, you must remove any articles that have been starched before storing.
Concerned your items have been in contact with bugs? Put them into a sealed plastic bag and put it in the freezer for a couple days.
For more information and tips about caring for textiles, I highly recommend “Caring for Textiles” by Karen Finch O.B.E. & Greta Putnam.