Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Caring for & displaying those darned textiles

When the roommate & I started travelling oh these many years ago, we spent some time trying to figure out what we could collect that pretty much all countries would have.  We also wanted something non-breakable & not too pedestrian.  Well, we did end up collecting lots of coins, paper money & stamps, but we finally settled on textiles.  We met a couple collecting ceramics!  Yikes.  Breakable & HEAVY!

Textiles are great, because they are not heavy, and they fold & mush, so are pretty easy to get into a backpack.  And often we ended up wearing what we bought (for instance, in Bali, it's polite to wear a shirt--not a t-shirt--plus a sarong, whether you're male or female to a temple or festival).  And in Nepal, we needed warm jackets--we got lovely woolen ones we still wear.  Our yukata & hapi coat (Japan) still serve as summer housecoats, though mine is on its last legs.

However, it wasn't until I worked at the Brooklyn Museum that I found out that, in terms of care, textiles are a royal pain in the patooti!  The BM was trying desperately to divest itself of its textile collection of 19th century items.  Why? Because textiles need to be kept out of the light, you can't touch them with your hands (oils!), they are hard to clean, and, unless you collect polyester, they will eventually disintegrate; and don't forget moths!  All of these things make textiles extremely labor intensive, and not really worth the $$ for a museum like the BM without a huge endowment, especially if it's not a textile-specific museum.

So, the roommate & I do our best.  I purchased 4 dozen pair of white cotton gloves (see photo).  We wear these whenever we're handling our treasures.  We never use the same pair twice & I wash & dry them over & over. When cleaning, we use a technique we learned at the Quilt Studies Center in Lincoln, Nebraska:  place a piece of screen (from a screen door) over the item, hold it down at the edges & vacuum.  This gets all the dirt sucked up, without hurting the item.  BTW, the Quilt Studies Center is great fun.  Amazing collection, great archives, and lots of helpful info.  Unfortunately I also learned there that you should re-fold your quilts every 3 months so the folds don't become permanent!  Which is a hassle, but we try...

If you'd like a more hints about caring for your textiles, the Textile Museum here in DC has a How-To-Care-For page, which also includes how to hang sturdy textiles, if you'd like to try that. There is also a once-a-month ask a curator/conservator meeting wherein you bring your treasures & they tell what it is, where it's from & how to care for it.

So what did I forget to tell you?  Any great hints or ideas you have had about caring for or displaying your collection?  Please let me know...

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