Preserving heirloom textiles for future generations

Thursday, August 23, 2018
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Holly Jay

Family reunions seem to be on our list of things to plan, attend or for which to prepare during this time of year. Think back to those carefree days of youth and the fun with classmates, and with family members as we grew and prepared for what our lives may become.

Nostalgia seems to take over when thinking back to times spent with family at family reunions and holiday get-togethers. Some of the best memories were listening to the adults talk about what life was like for them as children. Many had difficult times during the Depression and World Wars I and II. Rationing and shortages made life more complicated during these times. Then there were times of celebration with holiday parades, Saturday matinees and wedding dances.

Special heirlooms hold sentimental value related to the stories and storytellers, several of which are quilts or heirloom textiles. These memories can be cherished along with the items, and preserving them for the memories they hold and the hard lives and fun times they represent of those that have passed on may be important for your generation and generations to follow.

If a quilt from Aunt Mary or a doily from Grandma can be preserved and with a little extra care, it too will last for future generations. Preservation family heirlooms for future generations should include these steps:

First: Light – Keep fabrics displayed in areas where direct sunlight can not shine onto the items. Filtered light is best. Sunlight and fluorescent light both have high levels of ultraviolet radiation and may cause irreversible damage to textiles.

Second: Humidity – Keep humidity at levels of 50 percent with a temperature of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid temperature and humidity fluctuations. Air circulation can help prevent the development of mold and mildew in fibers.

Third: Insects – Inspect for insects regularly. Insects are attracted to wool, silk, hair and feathers. Cedar chests and closets may deter moths, but do not place textiles directly in contact with the wood. Mothballs are not recommended.

Fourth: Storage – Attics are too hot and basements can be too humid. Avoid unheated rooms. Protect quilts by wrapping them with muslin or acidfree tissue prior to storage to avoid stains and discoloration from storage containers. Store quilts flat, refold in different positions to avoid stress on fibers and do not hang delicate items. You also can roll them onto tissue-wrapped cardboard tubes to avoid folding altogether.

Fifth: Cleaning – Remove dirt and dust with a gentle vacuum. Cover the end with a nylon stocking to avoid damage to items. Remove stains as soon as possible, testing for color fastness. Dry cleaning can damage fragile textile items. Damaged areas can be stabilized by adding a lightweight sheer fabric loosely stitched over the damaged area to add stability.

Sixth: Displaying – Add a fabric sleeve to the back of quilts or coverlets to fit a dowel or curtain rod to hang. Quilt racks and hangers can be used, but do not hang an item permanently. Allow it to rest and the fibers will last longer.

Information has been compiled through extensive research done through the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. If you have never been to the IQSC it is a great stop for those interested in quilting and all things textile related.

For more information or if you have any questions, contact Holly Jay at MSU Extension Office, Big Horn County, at (406) 665-9770 or stop by 317 N. Custer Hardin.


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