State Historic Site
By Curator Sharie Mooney Prout; from Trail End Notes, November 2009
“HOW DO I clean my dusty but delicate lace?” you may ask yourself upon occasion. Or “What’s the best way to store my large linen family heirloom tablecloth?” Read on for a few simple steps that we employ at the museum to care for our own aging textiles - steps that you can do at home.
First off, let’s start with how to clean your treasured items. The safest way to remove dust from textiles is by vacuuming. For this you will need a vacuum cleaner with a wand or brush attachment at the end of the hose, and a piece of mesh screen. (If the screen has been cut, place masking tape over the cut edges so that the screen does not snag your textile.)
The purpose of the screen is to minimize the loss of fibers from your material, and prevent the vacuum from sucking up any loose threads or decorations, such as beads and fringe.
If you want to wash your delicate items or treat any stains on them, it is best to contact a professional about the best way to do this. By “professional,” we don’t necessarily mean a dry cleaning professional. The chemicals used in modern dry cleaning can damage historic fabrics. Instead, check the Web for “textile conservators.”
Next we’ll address the ideal way to store your linens and lace. The best way is to keep textiles flat and unfolded. This is the easiest to do with smaller items like doilies or napkins. If your object is too large to store unfolded, as in the case of tablecloths and long table runners, there are three other museum-safe ways to store them:
One final note: store your silk and/or woolen textiles separately from your cotton and/or linen ones. Fabrics with botanical origins (cotton) are not chemically compatible with those of animal origin (silk). Constant, long-term contact can result in mutual deterioration and, ultimately, destruction.