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Heirloom textiles such as wedding or christening gowns can be handed down through generations with pride–but only if they’re preserved well. To keep your garment beautiful and strong, apply these handy tips.
Clean your keepsake carefully.
Oils and sugars both have the potential to discolor your heirloom and give it a less-than-pleasing odor. Also, dirt and dust actually can cut fibers through friction and abrasion, as Encyclopedia Smithsonian points out. To avoid these complications, clean the clothing as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 hours. The actual method of cleaning will depend on the exact material the item is made from. Vacuuming through a very tight, non-metallic screen can help remove dust and dirt, after which you should wash or dry clean (the latter is very harsh and should be avoided if possible).
Important considerations here include the chemical composition of your piece (including dyes), the amount of heat used, the age of the garment and the characteristics of the fibers. Make sure the garment is fully dry before you store it, as any moisture can facilitate the growth of mold and mildew.
Cover your hands.
Your hands have both oils and acids on them that can be harmful to material. When you’re ready to pack up your heirloom, put on a pair of gloves to avoid transferring these substances.
Although most people work carefully when putting a cloth christening gifts, gown or similar item away, it’s unfortunately not that unusual for items like jewelry or belt buckles to accidentally snag the material. Shed these accessories before you start just to be safe.
Choose the right container.
Although garments do need to “breathe”, it’s best not to hang up heirloom pieces like wedding dresses or christening gowns because doing so can stress the material near the shoulders and neck, distorting the original shape. Flat storage offers much better support for the fibers.
If possible and practical for your storage area, choose an acid-free or acid neutral box that’s large enough to hold the garment with minimal folding. If you do need to fold the item, place a sheet of acid-free paper between the layers. Additional small rolls of paper should be tucked into the fold points so creases don’t form. Fold to fit the box.
Be mindful of the environment.
Moisture, light and extremes of hot or cold typically spell disaster for a textile over time. Subsequently, don’t put your heirloom in the attic or basement. Instead, pick a location with relatively stable humidity and temperature and minimal light. In most homes, these guidelines usually mean that a closet is the safest and most practical place to put the clothing.
Take the garment out from time to time.
Prolonged storage increases the odds that your heirloom will develop wear or a crease in one spot. It also decreases the chance you’ll spot problems like insects. Remove the garment at least once a year to air it out. When you return it to the box, fold it in a different spot to keep wear even.
Taking good care of an heirloom textile is not difficult, but it does require good preparation and consistency. Always remember that no two garments are exactly alike and adjust your cleaning and storage to the needs of the material.
Courtney Clower is a church secretary and avid writer. She likes to write about her insights on the web. Look for her articles on many websites and blog sites.