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How do you Store you Fabrics

sewslow67 | Posted in General Discussion on

I recently found my grandmother’s doll from the late 1800’s totally disintegrated because I did not store her properly.  I thought I was being so careful as I loved her like my grandmother did so many years ago, and she was in perfect condition. 

I had carefully wrapped her in tissue paper and then put her in a plastic bag, so moths and other little beasts couldn’t harm her.  When I took her out of my cedar chest to show her to a friend a few months ago, her little body crushed when I gently picked her up and her silk clothing fell apart in tiny pieces with just my gentle touch.  I was devastated.

What I learned from a friend in the antique business, was that one should never store anything in plastic – ever!  I currently have all of my fabric stored in those hard-plastic boxes, (to avoid moths etc), but must now find a better way, as many of these fabrics are silk, wool, and linen, which the little beasties like to eat.   So the question for everyone is this:

How do you store your fabrics safely?  Let’s get a discussion going so that others will not have the disappointment that I had with my grandmother’s precious doll.

Replies

  1. starzoe | | #1

    My fabric stash is stored in a large unused freezer (not plugged in, of course). It's in the garage, safe from heat, sun, plastic, little creatures. It is very easy to access, easy to reorganize and I don't have to go rummaging under beds and into closets and shelving to find anything.

    1. sewslow67 | | #2

      Hey Starzoe;  I'd like to say:  Very "cool" idea, as the kids say these days; but guess not ...since it's not plugged in.  giggle ...  So this will have to suffice: That is brilliant!  Just plain, unadulterated brilliant! 

      1. starzoe | | #3

        It really works for me. I got the idea from a cousin who kept horses and had trouble storing the feed until she started collecting non-working freezers for the barn.I'll have to admit the there is a stash of knitting wool in there as well. Plastic containers have their shortcomings.

      2. Ocrafty1 | | #38

        "Way too kewl!"  (tee hee)

  2. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #4

    The answer to the question is ~it depends~
    If it is something I am going to be using fairly soon, or am in and out of fairly often, the rubbermaid or similar boxes are fine. If it is fabric that is to be stored for historical purposes, then it is in proper tissue(acid free) in a cedar chest. Or a wooden storage box. Or a heavy cardboard box in an acid free box. Even some of the long term storage is in the Rubbermaid storage boxes, but there is still air circulation. It is the acid free tissue to protect from the plastic. It is a temporary solution to the mouse problem, until I can devise a better solution. I still find that the old trunks and hope chests I have are the best solution so far. Cathy

    1. sewslow67 | | #5

      Thanks, Cathy.  OK ...so I have another question to clarify.  Would it work if I wrapped each length of fabric in acid free tissue and then drilled small holes in the lids of the boxes for air flow?  No mice could get in but insects could still get in - and I'm not sure that would distract moths.

      I only had one moth problem in years, until I moved here, and now they are a real problem.  There is no way I could ever replace the nice clothes that I bought when I was working, so they need to last until ...well ...I no longer need them, (not to put too fine a point on that).  They are classic, so no problem about the designs, but ...I live on a limited income, thus the concern. 

      Plus ...I like these clothes and have no interest in replacing them - even is I win the lottery.  Heck, if I had a lot of money, I'd be out buying coats, mittens and boots for kids who have nothing!

      1. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #6

        Check how tight the lids fit on the plastic boxes, and buy the cedar balls and chips to put in the boxes as well. I also save all the little moisture absorbent thingys that come in all my medicine bottles and packaging and throw them in with the boxes as well. In some ways, our for bearers had it right when they stored and kept their precious belongings in cedar lined trunks. It preserved and kept many of those precious treasures we love to study in excellent condition. Perhaps you could talk your loving handy DH into a cedar closet and shelves as a possible winter project????? Cathy

        1. Sancin | | #7

          I wonder if storage depends upon the climate and the environment. After years of being careful with woolens in this dry cold climate, I realized I had never heard anyone talk about moths. Hence it has been nearly 35 years since I worried about storing woolens or seen a moth, other than those circling around light bulbs on a hot night. I think plastic varies in it's properties. Fine plastic that one wraps seems to do more damage. I have used Rubbermaid type containers for years with no problems. Environment or plastic I am not sure. I do go through my Rubbermaid containers at least once a year searching for things (even with the containers labelled) so perhaps that allows air circulation. I don't have mice in my fabrics, but have had them make nests in fluffy stuff - like the fibreglass insulation and stuffing type stuff. I currently have BIG problem in my cold storage room.....grrrrrr! Anyone know how mice survive the winters outside? Current ones seem to come into reproduce and the many I have trapped are pregnant.

          1. KharminJ | | #8

            I *do* know that it very much depends on "what kind" of plastic ~ even the unplugged fridge is probably plastic on the inside! Unfortunately, I don't really know which kinds are better or worse for fabric storage ...It gets into one of those "extremely complex" research projects - there are many different types - polyacrylics; polycarbonates; polyethylene; polyolefins; polypropylene; polystyrene; polyurethanes; polyvinyl chloride; vinyl plastics. OMG! there is way, way TMI at http://www.answers.com/topic/plastic and I'm not sure any of that page addresses whatever qualities it is that degrades our fabrics! Maybe someone with more chemistry in their background wants to delve into this further?

          2. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #10

            Sancin, most people do not realize that mice live in most homes. The little critters find the smallest holes and squeeze in. They are amazing climbers, and crawl up and into the shells of our houses and live happily there, unseen. They cause damage to wiring, insulation and the shell of the building by chewing up everything in the way of their runs, or pathways.
            They do the same outdoors, living in trees and sheltered spots, dead fall trees, grass hummocks and sheltered areas in rocks.
            The books "The Borrowers" are very good examples of how mice live in homes!
            I live in a very very old Eastern Ontario Farmhouse. It is impossible for me to keep the critters from coming in. Every year DH and I make improvements, and spend hours draft cutting and such. But our cellar is made from rocks that have been set into the earth, and the critters merely burrow through. So all foods are kept in plastic containers. And even the canned foods get washed off before being opened. Hanta virus ya know.
            A good mouser cat helps, but you have to remember that a mouser cat is a farmer cat and will get rid of only part of the population!
            Keep setting traps, and finding a run and setting an approved poison will help a huge amount, but you have to put up with the smell! You cannot use poison and a cat together tho. Not good for the cat.
            I hate using poison, it is a last resort. I actually like little animals, and mice are cute. Sometimes I catch them playing in the kitchen at night, it is awesome to watch. They are amazing little creatures. If they didn't do so much damage to my fabric stash, which I am still upset at, I could just overlook much of it. But it could also be a fire hazard in this old house. Yin/Yang kind of situation eh? Cathy

          3. Cityoflostsouls | | #12

            I like to watch the little mousees too but I keep poisen out (its expensive too!) and kill them all as my visitors don't think they are cute and they can get in any drawer and have fun.  They like all my rooms especially the kitchen.  I love the fact that we built this house in the middle of 69 acres but you can't be afraid of mice.  They love you so much.  My poisen dries them up and there is no smell-that's why it's so expensive I think-must be some reason.

          4. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #14

            He he he, the humidity here leaves a smell for about a week. The dryer the environment the better (or less) smell. It is supposed to just dry them up with no smell. With all the cattle feed here, the opportunity for replacement mice for the ones that we catch is phenomenal. Such is the downfall of rural living. Cathy

          5. jane4878 | | #15

            I'm a poison, mousetrap user.  I can't have a cat--allergies.  I heard somewhere that having a hamster kept mice away.  I thought that was crap, until I had a series of male hamsters and not one single mouse.  However the kids switched to females and we had a huge mouse infestation!  I never had an issue dealing with mice--dead or alive, until I saw a patient with Hantavirus.  He survived, miraculously.  Now I'm more careful with avoiding aerosols.  They chewed the rim of my Akubra cowboy hat--they don't last long if they mess with me!

            Jane

             

          6. Sancin | | #16

            Thanks for the discussion on mice. I have quickly become an expert. I just phoned a pest control officer and I have been doing the right thing, but seems I have an 'investation' - ha, as if I didn't know. He gave me a few good new suggestions so I am off and running after I get rid of my headache. Re plastic storage. I actually did do some organic chemistry courses at university in which I made plastic, but it is so long ago and the professor, while a renown researcher, was a terrible teacher and thus I have a mental block. After reading the description of the characteristics of plastic I wonder if it is not the characteristics of the items being stored that is the problem. In the case of the doll, there may have been some chemicals or soil in the fabric that caused the fabric to disintegrate or, the face, if made of clay was a little moist, that cause the breakdown when air was removed. Many fabrics are treated with chemicals to keep varmints away when shipped long distances, particularly through moist climates. When placed in plastics they also may change characteristics. I wonder if those who wash fabrics as soon as they bring them home and then store them in rigid plastic containers in a dry place have any problems with varmints or changes in fabrics. Perhaps all sewers need to become chemists as well!! Uggg.

            Edited 4/20/2009 8:00 pm ET by Sancin

        2. sewslow67 | | #9

          You've got a great mind; thank you for the suggestion.  After reading your post, I marched right out to "the back forty" and asked him.  He said that "he'd put it on "the list" ...which is great ...but he's got a very long list at the moment.

          The good news, is that he got rid of another vehicle - tee hee ...one down and a zillion to go.  Ahhh ...life with a collectiholic is sometimes a huge challenge.  At least my fabric fits in one closet

          Ah, yes ...it's hard to be humble.   ;-)

          Edited 4/19/2009 6:15 pm by sewslow67

          Edited 4/19/2009 6:15 pm by sewslow67

  3. Cityoflostsouls | | #11

    Thank you.  I had just stored my family dolls in a hard plastic container-I'll take them out today.

    1. sewslow67 | | #13

      You are most welcome.  I'm glad that you found the message as I'd hate for anyone else to have to bid farewell to an old friend and/or treasure. 

  4. jocelyne | | #17

    I am not a chemist but I have worked in the plastic industry. The boxes used for storage are likely made of PVC, a very stable plastic used to pipe water. I would not expect this to cause your problem. I store my fabrics in these boxes and have not had a problem yet. The only plastic I would fear using is shrink wrap as it contains large quantities of additives that easily leach out.
    As a quilt maker, I have been trained to not put quilts in contact with wood or wood products (As in paper) as the lignin (?) attacks fabrics and papers and turns them brown. The only exception is acid free paper. The same is true when preserving photos. Polyethylene plastic film (Bags) is considered safe though for archival purposes.
    I hope this helps.

    1. Stillsewing | | #18

      Reading all these posts has put me in fear of losing my stock of cloth. So much so, and allied to the good weather we have been having, I have set about washing all the cloth I have stored in various parts of the house. So far I have discovered that the "cotton" that I bought in Thailand 20 years ago is some type of synthetic, the unwashable ie "dry clean only" heavy cotton purchased when a couturier was closing down has washed and ironed beautifully!!All this raises another question for me. Someone on another tread suggests that cloth could be vintage after a year. I would think that the cloth that my mother purchased pre WW2 would nearly qualify for that description. Also the silk that a neighbour gave me about 30 years ago when clearing out her house which was at least 30 or more years old then.As for storage I have continued in my mother's good tradition --- old suitcases under the bed!! These are now kept in the loft as our modern beds do not have space for storage under them. Sometimes cloth would be in plastic, particularly white, just to keep it clean. No probs there either!The only damage that I can see is where lining fabric has gained an almost unremovable crease from being folded for so long.

      1. junctioncats | | #19

        I've got fabric that has been stored since around 1975 or so, and it has always been stored either in poly boxes with lids, or wrapped in acid free paper inside suitcases. I moved 10 times between 1984 and 2001, so it wasn't so much a storage issue as an issue of keeping all of it together.After reading this, I checked some of them this morning. Not only is there no visible damage, other than really hard creases, it all appears to be crisp and fresh.I'm thinking, as I read this, that storing an antique doll dressed in what could have been handmade cotton lace/fabric, is far different than storing even WW2 fabric. I've stored antique linens in the past, and have some stored now. They are wrapped in acid free paper and are in a molded poly box with lid. The lid is vented, and I've placed cedar chips in the box. Sorry to hear about the doll. That is heartbreaking when something like that happens.

        1. sewslow67 | | #28

          My grandmother's doll was dressed in pure silk, which disintegrated when touched.  I'm not sure what her head was made of, but her body was made of kid leather and stuffed with something that looked like it might have been straw. 

          The body was cracked badly and some of it fell into small pieces (which surprised me) and her little head (which I had originally thought was bisque) had lots of crack lines on it, but it wasn't broken (like dropping a china cup would be). 

          And yes, it was terribly disappointing that I couldn't pass her on.   However, I have wonderful memories of the dearest grandmother than anyone could ever ask for, and for that I am very grateful.

          1. junctioncats | | #35

            The cracking on the head is called crazing. Really, really old china gets like this when it is exposed to either very warm temperatures (such as an attic in summer) OR quick fluctuations in temperatures. I don't think it could have been bisque with the crazing, I suspect the head was made of bone china or something similar.The doll sounds like it was exposed to a wide range of temperatures while it was in storage. Leather dries up really quickly when exposed to too low a humidity level. I understand completely about the memories. I have tons of memories of both my grandmother and mother, especially connected to sewing, knitting, and crocheting. Even though most of the items they handmade aren't around any longer, those memories are precious and will never disappear.

          2. sewslow67 | | #36

            Thanks for the additional information.  As for storage:  The doll was kept in my grandmother cedar chest that was always next to my bed in a climate controlled environment (heated in the winter, air conditioning in the summer).  I had one of those electronic air controlled devices in my furnace, that controlled humidity along with the temperature.  That is what is so strange to me, in that it seems like the plastic shouldn't have been such a huge issue.

            Either way, it's a done deal and, like you say, we all have our wonderful memories, and nothing can beat those. 

      2. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #20

        Part of my Textiles training was how to store things for home use like good linens and such. One thing that was suggested is that they be turned or re folded every year, even if they were not used. This simply meant unfolding them and refolding in a different manner so the folds do not become permanent. Heavens! If I had to do that to my stash, I would spend all my time just refolding it! This is why many retailers and wholesalers put fabric on rolls. If you have antique or vintage fabrics, perhaps rolling them, and putting them in storage that way would help prevent permanent creases. Putting acid free tissue between folds also buffers the folds, and keeps them from getting so sharp. Hope this gives you some help and hope. Cathy

        1. Stillsewing | | #21

          You are such a fund of knowledge! Over the years I have taken out the various lengths of cloth, looked at it/them, for whatever reason, put them back but always in different folds as you advised. This was on the instructions of a mother who was a very wise woman who maintained such an amount of cloth and other items that I still trying to downsize on many fronts. I have often thought that all the handling of the fabric would almost equate to actual wear and so should need cleaning for proper storage. Anyway I will soldier on!I do have a few items on rolls but I keep thinking that I will use what I have and do away with storing. This is not helped by the fact that I keep making holiday trips to India and Nepal and getting tempted! My last purchase in Katmandu, if you could believe it, was Irish linen but embroidered in Nepal. Did I need it? no but I hope to use for a suit for a wedding later this year. In the last few days I washed and ironed some silks that I bought in India and thought that the quality might not withstand washing. The opposite is the case! they have improved by washing which will be an encouragement to make it up and wear it. I'm not too keen on dresses that are not washable.How do know that tissue paper is acid free?

          1. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #22

            The package will note it is acid free. It is sold for preservation packaging. You might have to hunt it down a bit. Specialty paper suppliers would give you a good starting place, as well as archival supplies. Cathy

          2. Stillsewing | | #24

            Thanks for the info. I was at a lecture in our national Art Gallery soem time ago and they were talking about preserving art work and using various materials to do so. I wasn't thinking about cloth then! If I can't source the acid free tissue paper easily I will go them and seek advice. I really think that i should store my mother's fine linens properly.

          3. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #27

            Good thought! Museums often have good resources as well. Good luck. Cathy

          4. miatamomma | | #31

            I found acid-free tissue paper at a store that sells drafting and art supplies.

            Sue

          5. Stillsewing | | #37

            Thanks I will try that. I am definitely going to store what I have and want to keep PROPERLY. I have a feeling that my next project is to check what is stored (and hidden) around the house, and get rid. That is, after I finish the curtains I have let myself in for making --- never again ----- it is really heavy work.

          6. KharminJ | | #26

            Also try picture framing shops ~ they may not have tissue for sale, but can probably point you in a good local direction!Kharmin

          7. sewelegant | | #23

            I know you live in Ireland so this may not help, but I have purchased acid free tissue from ths source:

            http://www.clotilde.com/list.html?criteria=tissue+paper

            You might check with a dry cleaners to find out where they get it.  They  will package a wedding dress for storage in many of those establisments.

          8. Stillsewing | | #25

            I will try locally first but thanks for the contact. i am getting braver about buying on line and will do so if I have to. I have just remembered that I also have a christening outfit of something over 70 years in store. So far none of my family have produced a member of the next generation on whom I can bestow it! So I really should do the decent thing and store it properly!

        2. sewslow67 | | #29

          I got some of those huge fabric rolls from Calico Corners (they were going to toss them) and that is what I use to store all my Ultra Suede.  Some of us gals were able to get a bunch of it when we met a guy who worked for that mill while attending a conference.  He said to get the ### of what we wanted and he'd get it for us for $12-$15 a yard.  I kind of went nuts.  I just wish I'd gotten more of those huge tubes/rolls as I could use them for lengths of silk tween.   Oh, well ...maybe later.

          1. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #33

            I got my rolls when I worked in a fabric shop. We just threw out the extras! They used to pile up in a hurry, and space was at a premium. You could always inquire about them at your local shop. They may let you have a few if they have extras. Cathy

          2. sewslow67 | | #34

            Good tip, Cathy; thanks.  I'll check next time we're in the city.  I could use a couple for some silk tweeds and silk dupion.  All those fabrics have really been on the back burner, as it were, because there is no where to wear them after moving to a small mountain village.  I should probably just get rid of them.

          3. User avater
            JunkQueen | | #39

            In the 'for what it's worth department', paper is wound on heavy tubes, too. When I worked for a large printing company, we got our paper in on 40" tubes, or jumbo rolls of 2,000 to 5,000 pounds. We'd trim it down to smaller rolls for use on the presses. You might be able to get some of those tubes if there is a printer nearby. Newspapers probably get their rolls of paper on about 24" tubes.

    2. sewslow67 | | #30

      Thanks so much for this information.  I copied it and sent it to myself for my files.  I am so not a chemist ...(my worst subject in school) so this is really helpful information.  Thanks again, joycelyne; I really appreciate you taking the time to share.

      1. jocelyne | | #32

        You are welcome. :-)

  5. User avater
    dnjmama | | #40

    If you are using tubes to keep wrinkles out for long term storage, be sure you don't wind up introducing an acidic component. 

    Be aware that cardboard is often constructed from poorer grades of wood pulp, and lignin is high in wood pulp  (lignin is the thing in wood pulp that turns acidic over time--rag paper does not contain anything approaching the pulp level of lignin). 

    Problem is, I don't know how you can protect against it.  Maybe you could wrap the tube with something to be a barrier to the acid if it should develop?  But what?  Aluminum foil? Just wrap the tube in acid free tissue a few times?  I don't know.  Anybody? 

    1. junctioncats | | #41

      Maybe wrap the tube itself in plastic wrap? Acid can wear away at aluminum foil, but I suppose you could use acid free paper if it completely covered the tube? I'm not sure, those are just guesses. I would presume that if the fabric can only touch the acid free paper, it would be fine. But then again, this entire thread made me pull out my entire closet full of "stash" and check everything, just in case. :-)

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