The Importance of Preserving Textiles
Hello! I’m Abbigail Uhl, an intern at KHS this summer. I’ve been working with Jennifer Spence and Adam MacPharlain to preserve the Churchill Weavers fabric archive. The Churchill Weavers collection is important to preserve because it contains a comprehensive archive of textiles spanning numerous years, from 1922 to 2007. Churchill Weavers co-founder and the original preservationist of this collection, Eleanor Churchill, began keeping samples from the onset as a design archive of the company’s output, including data attached to each item. It was unusual for mills to keep samples, and the history of weaving is largely unrepresented due to the natural fragility of textiles, insufficient record keeping, fires, floods, and improper storage. This complete design archive’s survival into the twenty-first century is a remarkable achievement.
Why should we preserve textiles?
Textiles connect us to the past because they allow us to feel the same fabrics that past generations came in contact with regularly. Most historic textiles that survive today have been used and exhibit wear and tear from everyday use. All fabrics have a lifespan and our goal is extend their lifespan for future generations to appreciate. The Churchill Weavers collection is unusual and important because these items were used as samples, and most remain in good condition.
Why is preservation necessary for this collection?
Fabrics are inherently attractive to vermin and insects as potential sources of food and habitat material. Mold, mildew, humidity and temperature changes, and poor storage can also damage textiles. The fabric archive was stored in a basement at Churchill Weavers before KHS acquired the collection and moved it to the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. The company’s good intentions to preserve the archive were thwarted due to the less than ideal storage environment of the basement which allowed vermin along with temperature and humidity fluctuations to desiccate the textile collection, leaving accumulative and irreversible damage to some pieces. Additionally they stored items in cardboard boxes that further harmed the fibers.
As you will see in the upcoming photos, it is necessary to catalog and analyze each textile in order to treat any existing impairments and prevent further deterioration. Click through the gallery to see the damage caused by improper storage.
[gdl_gallery title=”gallery-cwuhl1″ width=”275″ height=”300″ ]
Treatment and cleaning of moldy and soiled textiles is non-invasive. We use a textile screen, soft brush, and a vacuum with a HEPA-filter to remove mold spores and lift dirt. Occasionally stains remain that can only be removed by a conservator.
How do we preserve textiles?
Exceptional care is used when handling historic textiles. We wear gloves when working with textiles to prevent the transfer of natural oils and salts from our skin to the fabric, which could result in stains. We do not wear jewelry such as bracelets, rings or long necklaces as they may snag delicate fibers.
It is ideal for textiles to be stored flat as no stress should be placed on any one area of fibers. Storing textiles flat causes the least amount of stress possible, since the fibers are supported evenly. In this collection, many larger items must be folded. The textiles are put in large acid-free boxes that give them more room so that there are fewer folds. Each article that requires folding has a piece of unbuffered tissue paper that is rolled to the same size to support the area of loading. Tissue is also layered between pieces in a box to protect them individually from abrasion or dye migration.
Once each item has been re-housed with the protection of acrid-free tissue paper, it is then stored in our temperature and humidity controlled storage room for long-term preservation. Preserving the textiles of this comprehensive historical collection of hand-woven heritage will foster understanding of the Churchill Weavers business and weaving in generations to come.
Click through the gallery to see examples of proper preservation and storage.[gdl_gallery title=”gallery-cwuhl2″ width=”275″ height=”300″ ]
Abbigail Uhl, history and literature student at University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana