Textiles are highly sensitive to a range of external influences. The TextielMuseum’s collection managers are always happy to give makers in the lab tailored advice on preserving their work. From Depot 4, next to the knitting department, Rosalie Swagemakers shares some general tips that are relevant for storing all textiles.
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The care with which works are made in the TextielLab doesn’t stop once they come off the machines. Textiles are highly sensitive to external influences. (Day)light causes discolouration, the fibres can expand and contract with changing temperatures and humidity, while high humidity increases the risk of mould. Then there are the insects with a penchant for ‘dirty’ textiles. Moths and carpet beetles, in particular, love dusty fabrics and knits.
Collection manager Rosalie Swagemakers in the depot. Photo: Tommy de Lange
Oasis of calm
With more than 25 years’ experience of managing the TextielMuseum’s collection, Rosalie Swagemakers can rightly be called an expert. Her office can be found in Depot 4, one of nine storage spaces housing a total of around 18,000 textile works. She ensures that the depot meets all the necessary conditions for light, cleanliness, temperature and humidity. One of the first things you notice about the depot is how full it is; the museum has been looking for new storage space for some time. Despite this, Swagemakers describes her spot among the rolls, boxes and chests of drawers as an oasis of calm. The contrast with the hustle and bustle of the TextielLab on the other side of the door could hardly be bigger.
To help keep the climate in the depot constant, the door usually stays shut, but makers from the lab are always welcome to drop by and ask questions. Questions like: what’s the best way to preserve your work once it is no longer being exhibited or used? “The answer is different for every work. It depends on so many things,” says Swagemakers. “A designer or artist doesn’t necessarily have to take the same approach as a museum. There are simpler and cheaper ways.” For tailor-made advice on how to store your specific item, send an email with a photo to email@example.com. In the meantime, the general tips below will help you get started.
Preservation tips for textile designs
1. Light, air and insects
Store your work in the dark. Light causes textile fibres to degrade. In addition, look for a storage space with minimal fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The ideal environment for textiles is a constant temperature of 18 degrees Celsius and humidity between 50-60 percent. Make sure your work is clean and covered but can still breathe. Avoid using plastic. It contains plasticisers (substances used to make certain materials softer and more flexible) and promotes fungal growth. Regularly check that the storage conditions are still optimal and insect-free. If necessary, place detection traps nearby.
2. Store smaller works in a box or drawer
If possible, lay the work flat in a drawer or cardboard box. Alternatively, ‘fold’ the work around a roll of acid-free silk tissue paper or fibrefill to avoid sharp folds developing. Try and avoid folding altogether, as the fabric along the fold will wear sooner. Stuff any 3D shapes with wads of acid-free paper or fibrefill.
If you use a box, bear in mind that normal paper and cardboard acidify over time, which discolours the textile. You should therefore line regular boxes with a layer of cotton or Tyvek (a non-woven, synthetic material made from high-density polyethylene, HDPE). You can also buy special acid-free boxes. However, these are quite expensive and can acidify in 10 to 20 years as well. The golden rule is to check regularly whether your boxes and lining have discoloured. If they have, replace everything. While you’re at it, check that no silverfish have snuck in.
The materials mentioned here are available from Jansen-Wijsmuller & Beuns (jwb.nl).
3. Store larger textiles rolled up around a tube
Wall and floor coverings, blankets and larger textiles are best rolled up around an acid-free cardboard tube. A cheaper option is to cover an ordinary cardboard box with Melinex, a plastic foil that does not contain plasticisers. A knitted cotton ‘sock’ or length of unbleached cotton also work as a lining. Don’t have a cardboard tube available? Use a wide PVC pipe and cover it with a cotton sock.
Once rolled up, the textile also needs to be protected from light and dirt. Use a piece of unbleached cotton or material such as Tyvek. Don’t wrap the roll with plastic as this can increase the likelihood of mould.
4. Storing clothes on a hanger
To store clothes hanging up rather than lying flat, cover a hanger with a layer of fibrefill and cotton. This distributes the weight of the garment and prevents an imprint of the hanger forming in the fabric. You can then cover the item with a (not-too-heavy) garment bag or custom-made cotton cover.