Especially this time of year, the most popular research question I receive is:
ďHow can I preserve my wedding gown?Ē
It is easy to do it yourself, and you will be preserving your gown the same way important textiles in museums across the country are stored. If itís good enough for the most valuable fabrics of our nationís past, then itís good enough for you!
Just follow these simple guidelines:
1. Do not take your gown to a dry cleaning service. Dry cleaners would like you to believe that their service is best, but in fact, you can do a better job yourself for less than what they charge. When your gown is dry cleaned, damaging dry cleaning fluid becomes trapped in the garment fibers. After an extended period of time, especially when sealed in an airtight box, this fluid may seriously degrade the fabric. In addition, plastic beads, sequins, buttons, trims, and metal fasteners can all emit harmful gases that cannot escape from a sealed box. Trapped chemicals act upon fibers in the dress, breaking them down, changing their color, and in many cases making existing stains more noticeable. Before attempting any cleaning method, consult with a textile conservator first. He or she will be able to provide specific advice for the type of stain, color, and fabric of your textile.
2. If you have a gown that is currently stored in a sealed box, break the seal and let it air out in a closet or room unexposed to direct sunlight. If you have not yet boxed the gown you are attempting to preserve, decide whether to store it in a box or on a hanger. Heavy dresses should be boxed, as hanging them puts undue stress on the seams and fabric. Be sure to purchase an acid-free box and tissue for stuffing the bodice and sleeves. Lightweight dresses can be hung on padded hangers and covered with a simple unbleached muslin garment bag that will protect it from dust and light while allowing the dress to breathe. Padded hangers can be made with quilt batting and sewn under a muslin cover.
3. When boxing up a gown, make sure to place rolled sheets of acid-free tissue inside the folds to prevent creasing. The bodice, sleeves, and headpiece may be gently stuffed with tissue to lend support and maintain the original shape. Remember to be gentle, and do not to stuff anything too tightly. Too much stuffing can be more damaging than none at all.
4. Store your gown in a cool, dry, space with little light. Basements are generally a bad place to keep textiles because of the moisture, and attics are often extremely hot in summer. A guest room closet is ideal. I get many questions about cedar chests and closets, and although they do keep moths away, they can also create an acidic environment that is harmful to delicate fabrics. So steer clear of cedar!
I recommend the following books on preservation of historical collections: