Preserving an Heirloom

I don't hold on to 'things' the way some people do. I'm probably as far away from being a hoarder as possible without being a minimalist. If it doesn't mean something to me, I really don't mind letting go of it. The collections I do maintain, however, always have some special meaning. Very often, the objects that I showcase in my cabinets have belonged to a relative, such as my grandmother's Wedgwood and Minton, my aunts' crystal glassware and some of her handmade pottery.

Not on display are items that are just as meaningful but perhaps need a bit more care in their preservation. I was recently given the tablecloth my great grandmother hand stitched and embroidered in the 1960s as well as the tiny outfit my grandmother knitted for me to wear when I first came home from the hospital after being born in December, 1976. Both had been stored in a cardboard box in my parents' basement for quite some time. When my mother offered them to me, I simply couldn't say no.
My grandmother knitted this ensemble for my mother to bring me home from the hospital after I was born. Because I was a winter baby and was born in the second-coldest capital city in the world (Ottawa, Canada), it had to be warm. Included is a pair of leggings, slippers, mittens, a sweater, an outer sweater and a cap. My great grandmother's tablecloth (below) is another masterpiece of homespun skill: each flower was embroidered by her. There are over 100 flowers in total. 
I decided to invest in a proper storage box for them and set about making sure they would be stored properly. Heirloom textiles and linens should always be as clean as possible before they are put into storage. The knitted outfit had developed a slight musty smell after having been stored in a basement for over 40 years. I hand washed it with a mild detergent and laid it out to dry completely. It needed some air, too, so I left it laying flat for several days to really breathe. This got rid of the smell and I was assured it was clean before I put it back in storage.

The tablecloth was another matter. Some of the thread my great grandmother used to embroider the gorgeous flowers is not colorfast and can easily bleed. I consulted the Smithsonian website and discovered that a gentle vacuum would remove any grit or dust particles that may have accumulated in storage. (The Smithsonian's page on preserving antique linens is an invaluable resource, by the way. Click here to view it.)
As a general rule, all vintage linens should be kept in cool, dry, dark places that are free of dampness. Basements and attics are not, therefore, the best choices since temperatures and moisture levels can be difficult to moderate. The Smithsonian suggests keeping them in an acid-free storage box in a bedroom closet or in a dresser drawer. I opted for the bedroom closet since I had a free upper shelf available. The box I purchased is a Lineco Museum Storage Box, readily available in multiple sizes and colours on Amazon. It is acid-free and is very nicely made: sturdy but not heavy. I also invested in acid-free tissue paper to wrap the garments and the table linen. This further protects them from dust, light and moisture.
I wrapped each item separately to reduce any fraying from friction.
They all fit nicely in the box.
I made a tag with the names of my great grandmother and grandmother and included the approximate dates the items were made. (The snowflake decoration was an added touch, since the package contains winter baby clothes.)
On the outside of the box, I used my P-Touch label maker to denote what it contains.
It's all ready to be placed in my closet, with easy access any time I would like to look at it. (Textiles should, in fact, be taken out and refolded from time to time to prevent permanent creasing or wearing along the folds).


Anonymous said...

I love the wheelhouse vibe AR. Now did you take a picture of the heirloom tablecloth to display in the say, living room or dining room?? Now Fracture, a company transforms images to to be printed on GLASS!!! Perhaps if you feature the company on your blog they may help you out some how or other.......


I assume, anonymous, that you are FK (judging by the 'voice') but I may be wrong... I did not know about this glass company. Very interesting service. Photos were taken in the dining room. Best light.