TSG Chapter VIII. Storage of Textiles: Issues and Methods Textile Conservators Face when Planning for Textile Storage - Section D. Storage Methods

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Contributors: Originally drafted by Dorothy Alig, Theresa Heard, and Gwen Spicer. Contributions from: Susan Adler, Deborah Bede, Alicia Bjornson, Canadian Conservation Institute, Lucy Commoner, Judith Eisenberg, Patricia Ewer, Lorna Filippini, Joy Gardiner, Martha Grimm, Robin Hanson, Susan Heald, T. Rose Holdcraft, Jane Hutchins, Claudia P. Iannuccilli, Marlene Jaffe, Mary Kaldany, Kennis Kirby, Teresa Knutson, Susan Mathisen, Zoe Annis Perkins, Betty Seifert, Textile Conservation Laboratory, and R. Scott Williams
Editors: Kathy Francis, Jane Lynn Merritt, Nancy Pollak, and Deborah Lee Trupin. Final Revision, April 2, 1998.
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Copyright: 2023. The Textile Wiki pages are a publication of the Textile Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
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Storage Methods[edit | edit source]

Purpose[edit | edit source]

Textile and costume objects should be stored in a physically safe and environmentally stable manner to minimize the processes of deterioration and aging. Storage techniques are designed and selected to offer maximum stability and protection to the objects.

Factors to consider[edit | edit source]

  • Storage techniques should be chosen to address the physical requirements of the objects.
  • The optimal technique should be chosen based on the object's shape, materials, condition, fabrication, and size.
  • The techniques selected will be influenced by the existing storage units and/or by available storage space.
  • Conversely, the amount of space needed to house a given object is determined by the techniques chosen. Space needed equals the dimensions of the stored object plus (archival-quality) packing materials, including protective box or cover.
  • The extent of access to the collections will also influence the technique chosen.
  • The need for compromise is frequently encountered in designing storage systems. The conservator should work within the limitations of the institution to select the best possible technique for an object.
  • Labeling is a part of storage technique. The object itself should be labelled with its accession number and the number should be on the storage container. Ideally, photographs and/or description and/or bar code should also be on the storage container.
  • The storage technique should provide dust and light protection.

Methods[edit | edit source]

Flat[edit | edit source]

The entire object is stored smooth, level, and unwrinkled on an archival-quality support.

  • Placing textiles on top of one another is not recommended. Layering of objects contributes to excessive handling and compaction. If layering of lightweight textiles must be done, interleave with sheets of archival tissue paper.
  • Units used for flat storage include boxes, drawers, trays, or shelves of various depths, heights, and widths.
  • Flat, unfolded storage requires a substantial volume of three-dimensional space to accommodate the range of sizes and shapes of objects.
  • Grouping objects by size maximizes use of space, but this may be undesirable from a curatorial point of view.
  • Objects are completely and uniformly supported.
  • Flat storage is the best method to minimize stress on flat textiles.
  • Requires minimal preparation of objects.
  • Ideal for:
- Small, flat textiles.
- Ethnic costumes, which are flat or rectangular in shape.
- Mounted and/or framed textiles.
  • A large volume of storage space needed for ideal conditions.
  • Furniture for flat storage of large items is very costly.

Rolled[edit | edit source]

Objects are rolled around a tube with archival-quality materials and suspended between two stationary supports.

  • Rolling may be used to store flat textiles in a compact, space-saving way when they are stable enough to handle slight strain or stress.
  • Rolled storage is recommended for low-profile textiles with little or no additional embellishments that add height. These may include: quilts, bedspreads, shawls, lengths of fabric, lace, ribbons, rugs, tapestries, and flags.
  • Rolling is not recommended for textiles with heavy embroidery, thick seams, painted surfaces, and multiple components.
  • Challenges in rolling textiles include: creating even tension, providing appropriate barriers against fugitive dyes or for embellished or sticky surfaces, and not crushing thick piles.
  • Textiles should be rolled in the direction of the strongest element; generally this is the warp direction (i.e., wefts are parallel to the tube).
  • Fabrics should be fully unfolded before rolling.
  • Single-layer, unembellished fabrics may be rolled either face-in or face-out.
  • If rolled storage is appropriate, pile fabrics, embellished fabrics, and multilayer fabrics should be rolled face-out.
  • Rolling more than one textile on a tube is not recommended because this practice requires additional movement of objects and limits access to specific textiles.
  • Selection of suspension system for tubes holding rolled textiles is based upon size, type, and weight of textiles. Heavy rugs, for instance, require a system capable of supporting heavy pipes and tubes, while small rolled laces may be supported on cradles within an archival-quality storage box.
  • Selecting a rolling tube of an appropriate diameter is necessary to minimize stress/strain on the textile.
  • Efficient use of space, especially for objects large in at least one dimension.
  • Good for single-layer and single-component objects of almost any size.
  • Provides fairly even distribution of weight and stress.
  • Easy visual access to outer layer if clear protective cover is used. Use of a clear cover, however, reduces protection against light.
  • Full examination is difficult, requiring removing protective cover, other materials, and completely unrolling object.
  • Access may be limited based on the design and placement of the storage furniture.
  • Fragile objects may suffer further damage from rolling.
  • Incorrect rolling may cause deep wrinkles, splits, and distortion.
  • Special support units for large or heavy tubes can be costly.
  • Additional time is required for preparing objects and storage materials.
  • May require two people to move object safely.
  • It may be difficult or impossible to move long tubes through some areas of a building.

Folded[edit | edit source]

Objects are folded so that each folded layer maintains a flat or nearly flat orientation, using archival-quality materials to support the folds.

  • Folded storage bends the fabric and is thus recommended only for objects with sufficient strength and flexibility.
  • Folded objects should be protected by archival-quality wrapping and/or by placement on/in a storage drawer, shelf, tray, or box.
  • Folded objects should not be stacked within the storage container.
  • When they are opened for examination or once every two years, whichever is soonest, folded textiles should be refolded in a different configuration.
  • Precautions include limiting folds and padding-out folds with crumpled archival-quality tissue paper or other appropriate material. Padding supports folded fibers and yarns and minimizes bending strain. Folds should be placed according to construction and condition of the textile. If possible, textiles should be folded in only one direction.
  • Reduces space required for storage, as compared with flat storage.
  • Archival-quality materials provide buffering against an unstable environment.
  • A folded object and its storage container can usually be handled by one person.
  • Provides less support than flat or rolled storage. If folds are inadequately supported, damage can result.
  • Requires periodic checking for condition and refolding to prevent damage.
  • Folding stresses, creases, strains, compresses, and bends textiles.
  • Requires archival-quality material and preparation time for storage of objects.
  • Access is limited and dependent on manipulating the textile.

Supported[edit | edit source]

Three-dimensional objects are stored on customized three-dimensional mounts of archival-quality materials.

  • The shape, size, condition, and construction of the object determine the shape and size of the mount.
  • The goal of the mount is to offer support without straining the object.
  • In addition to the shaped support, the mount should include a flat base large enough to provide stability and a margin for carrying the supported object.
  • An additional layer of protection against dust, light, pollution, and short environmental fluctuations can be provided by storing the supported object in an archival-quality box.
  • Supports the object with no unnecessary stress, flexing, or abrasion.
  • Helps to maintain or restore the original shape of an object.
  • Minimizes risk and eliminates the need to touch the object during examination.
  • Ideal for many accessories including hats and headdresses, footwear, and bags.
  • Storage support may be designed in such a way as to function as an exhibition mount as well.
  • Creating mounts is labor-intensive.
  • Insufficient or incorrect support puts objects at risk of damage.

Hanging[edit | edit source]

Objects are suspended or hung from hangers of various sizes and styles; the hanger directly supports a small portion of the surface area and mass of the total object. Archival-quality padding materials should be used to cushion and enlarge the area of support and to protect the object from the hanger.

  • Objects must be strong and stable enough to withstand hanging. Sturdy costumes and draperies most often have these qualities.
  • The construction of some objects makes them inappropriate for hanging storage. For example, knitted, bias-cut, or heavily embellished or beaded objects should not be hung.
  • Ideally, sufficient space is needed to allow objects to hang without touching adjacent objects. At a minimum, there must be enough space so that objects are not crushed.
  • When the amount of space is less than ideal, fabric covers or dividers will reduce damage from abrasion.
  • Shape, size, and style of the hanger or hanging devices should be chosen to provide support and minimize strain.
  • The hanger or hanging device should be strong enough to support the object without bending or breaking.
  • A sealant or barrier is recommended to isolate the object from the hanger. (See also Storage Furniture, Table 2
  • Additional archival-quality materials may be used to provide additional support. For example, tissue paper or padded forms can provide contour and support; sewn in tapes or straps can relieve strain and offer points of attachment.
  • Hanging storage provides relatively easy access.
  • Hanging storage creates fewer folds and creases than folded storage.
  • Crushing and compression is difficult to control.
  • Customizing hanger and creating cushioned supports can be labor intensive.
  • Hanging storage provides less support than folded storage. The weight of the hanging object leads to strain causing distortion and/or structural damage.

Framed[edit | edit source]

Mounted and framed textiles may be supported by sturdy metal mesh rack screens. (Mounted and framed textiles may also be stored flat; see above.)

  • Object mounting must provide sufficient support.
  • Frame must be structurally stable.
  • Frame hardware and hanging hooks on rack screen must be secure.
  • Hanging devices should be checked whenever the object is examined or every two years, whichever is soonest, to insure safety and security.
  • Storage of mounted and framed textiles in slot systems where the frame rests on a shelf is not recommended because of the risk of damaging the frame.
  • Provides relatively easy access.
  • Safer for large and ornate frames than flat storage.
  • Objects may not require additional preparation for storage or exhibition.
  • Strain from gravity may cause distortion or structural damage to the textile. Flat storage may be preferable.
  • Offers less protection from dust and light than flat storage. Covers for framed objects may be made for additional protection.
  • Movement of a rack screen may cause vibrations that can damage textiles.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Bandes, S.J. 1984. Caring for collections: Strategies for conservation, maintenance and documentation. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums.
Buck, A. and J.E. Leene. 1972. Storage and display. In J. E. Leene, ed., Textile conservation. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press: 113–27.
Commoner, L. 1992. Storage containers for textile collections. In Conservation concerns, K. Bachmann, ed., Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press:91–96.
Dudley, D.H., I.B. Wilkinson, et al., eds. 1979. Storage and care of objects. In Museum registration methods, 3d revised ed. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums:65–87.
Giuntini, C. 1992. Storage of historic fabrics and costumes. In Conservation concerns, K. Bachmann, ed., Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press:69–78.
Glover, J.M. 1984. Conservation and storage: Textiles. In Manual of curatorship: A Guide to museum practice, J.M.A. Thomson, ed. London: Butterworths:333–55.
Heard, T.A. and S.J. Kadolph. 1993. Storage practices in textile and costume collections. (Technical Report). Tigard, Ore. and Ames, Ia.
Heard, T.A. and S.J. Kadolph. 1995. Textile and costume conservation: Defining storage methods. [Manuscript submitted for publication, 1995.]
Kadolph S.J. and T.A. Heard. 1995. A Decision-making model for storing objects in costume and textile collections. [Manuscript submitted for publication, 1995.]
Kadolph S.J. and T.A. Heard. 1996. Museum storage and textile conservation: Evidence in collections. [Manuscript submitted for publication, 1996.]
Lambert, A.M. 1983. Storage of textiles and costumes: Guidelines for decision making. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology.
Landi, S. 1992. The Textile conservators manual. London: Butterworths.
Mailand, H.F. 1980. Considerations for the care of textiles and costumes: A handbook for the non-specialist. 3d revised ed. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art.
National Park Service, ed. 1990. Museum handbook. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.
Renshaw-Beauchamp, R.B. 1983. The Conservation of ethnographic material. Museum 35(3): 194–97.
Shelley, M. 1987. The Care and handling of art objects: Practices in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Stolow, N. 1987. Conservation and exhibitions: packing, transport, storage, and environmental considerations. London: Butterworths.
Tarrant, N. 1983. Collecting costume: The Care and display of clothes and accessories. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Thurman, C.C.M. 1978. Museum notes: The Department of Textiles at the Art Institute of Chicago. Museum 30(2): 122–26.

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