How Do I Archive Clothing?
My tips for storing and preserving important clothing and textiles.
My Grandmother’s 1940s wedding gown, my Dad’s 1950s christening gown and my 1980s baby dresses all managed to survive well enough in my parent’s attic to be worn by future generations of family members. These precious items were wrapped in plastic! Gasp! (Plastic is a huge archival no-no.) They were subjected to hot summers and cold winters in the Northeast, yet miraculously remained in very wearable condition. As my infant daughter Lydia starts to outgrow some of her special baby clothes,I want to make sure I am storing and archiving clothing properly for future generations. Luckily, you don’t need to have a degree in Museum Studies or Historic Preservation to archive and store your precious pieces to last many more years to come.
Here are my tips for for preserving and archiving your important clothing and textiles:
Step 1: Start with Archival Garment Storage boxes. The Container Store makes a great product.
These boxes are made of acid free materials and will resist dust, dirt and light. Your go-to plastic storage bins cannot provide the same level of protection. While some of my family’s heirloom clothing has managed to survive sixty or even eighty years without the proper archival clothing materials, I’m trying to protect them for the next one hundred years and beyond.
Step 2: Get serious about stain removal: Before you carefully pack away your clothing, make sure all items are stain-free. If not, take them to a professional dry cleaner for stain removal. Over time, the fibers that are stained will deteriorate at a more rapid pace. My Grandmother’s 1940s silk wedding gown was packed away with some stains on the train. Unfortunately, those stained areas really suffered over time, but a tailor was able to cut away the damaged pieces and re-work the train.
Step 3: Acid-free tissue paper: The next step in properly archiving your garment, is to gently stuff it with acid-free tissue paper. Stuff the tissue paper into the body of the outfit along with the sleeves. Make sure to fold tissue paper around the entire garment so nothing is showing. The tissue paper will help maintain the shape of the garment and prevent fibers from breaking down. If you’re storing something flat like a table cloth or quilt, fold in sheets of acid-free tissue paper as you fold the fabric.
Step 4: Roll it up: Depending on the garment, rolling the garment may be the best option as folding will create creases.
Step 5: Details: Be sure to remove any pins, medals, badges or dry cleaning tags.
Step 6: Choose the right storage space. Find a good climate controlled storage spot in your home where your archival garment storage boxes can live undisturbed. Living on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, I always think of things like flooding, so my important archives are never stored anywhere near the floor.
As I pack some of Lydia’s special pieces into archival boxes, like her hospital issued baby cap from the day she was born or her very first onesie, I can’t help but think that the future generations of my family will be excited to open these time capsules filled with textile memories. Now that I am archiving clothing the right way, I’m also thinking of older pieces which are still improperly stored. I recently called my Mom to ask her to bring down her 1980s wedding gown from the attic and store it in an archival garment storage box. Maybe someday my daughter will want to wear her Grandmother’s wedding gown. Or who knows, maybe she will hate everything vintage!
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