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The conservation and restoration of textiles refers to the processes by which textiles are cared for and maintained to be preserved from future damage. The field falls under the category of art conservation as well as library preservation, depending on the type of collection. In this case, the concept of textile preservation applies to a wide range of artifacts, including tapestries, carpets, quilts, clothing, flags and curtains, as well as objects which ‘’contain’’ textiles, such as upholstered furniture, dolls, and accessories such as fans, parasols, gloves and hats or bonnets. Many of these artifacts require specialized care, often by a professional conservator. The goal of this article is to provide a general overview of the textile preservation process, and to serve as a jumping-off point for further research into more specialized care. Always contact a professional conservator if you are unsure of how to proceed in the preservation process.
Historic textile collections can largely be divided into three categories: museums, historic societies/locations, and private collections. The needs of each of these locations will vary. A private collection, for instance, is less likely to have as high a traffic flow as a museum, and may thus be able to take preservation steps that a working museum cannot (such as keeping lights to a minimum for longer periods of time). The different venues may also have different problems that arise, such as the fact that many historic homes do not have climate control, and rely strongly on natural light to display their furnishings, both of which may contribute to textile decay.
The chief cause for decay in textiles is almost always the environment in which they are stored. Light, temperature, and humidity can all contribute to a textile’s health or deterioration, depending on their intensity. Additionally, pests, chemicals, and pollutants may also cause damage to an antique fabric. Airborne chemicals, such as smog or cigarette smoke are also harmful to the textiles, and should be avoided if at all possible: high-efficiency air filters should be installed throughout the building to reduce the presence of airborne chemicals that may stain, discolor, or weaken fabrics.
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