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storing clothes for the future

amyb | Posted in Gather For A Chat on

I have some adorable cotton baby clothes that I would like to store for future use–maybe my own grandchildren! These are not fancy, so I do not want to get into acid free paper and archival methods. Any suggestions?


  1. Tish | | #1

    Rinse them twice to remove all detergent residue. Then it depends on how long you're going to store them.  Five  years?  Put them in a closed box.  Ten or more years: try to get a box big enough to lay the garments flat.  Put a layer of white tissue between each layer of garments.  You might want to put some loosely wadded tissue into puffed sleeves.  Seal the box to keep light out.  Do not store in an un-insulated attic! 

    Good luck!

    1. stitchmd | | #2

      Do that rinsing in distilled water. Acid free tissue is not such a big deal and well worth it. You will find your clothes yellowed and brittle without it. The alternative is to sew a storage bag out of washed and well rinsed undyed fabric such as unbleached muslin or an old, white sheet.

      1. amyb | | #4

        I have quite a few items. I cannot figure out how to do a distilled water rinse in the washing machine. I think the cloth bag is a good idea. Maybe a pillow case? We are talking newborn/infant size clothes...

        Thanks for responding.

        1. MargaretAnn | | #5

          dear Amyb

          I agree with all the suggestions on storage, but especially on acid free tissue!  You can use a plastic box, but cloth is much better.  Rinse in distilled water by stoppping the machine after the first rinse.  Spin out as much water as possible, the put the clothing in a pot or pan or tub (absolutely clean).  Pour distilled water in until the clothing has room to move, and move the cloth the  around with your hands until you are sure it is rinsed.  Put it back in the washing machine and spin.  Be sure everything is bone dry before you store.  As a conservator, I have seen the sad results of a number of pieces that were badly stored.  Most of the damage cannot be fixed.  Acid free tissue is not hard to find.  Some office supply stores have it, art stores, needlework catalogs, and of course, archieval supply sources. 


          1. rjf | | #6

            Please don't laught at this question.  How about putting them in the freezer?     rjf

          2. stitchmd | | #7

            Freezing is great for killing insects, which attack wool. Cotton suffers from acidification and needs rinsing.

          3. MargaretAnn | | #8

            Pasdenom got to this before I did.  She sounds like one to listen to.  I agree.  Many people have things like quilts that are inconveniently large to freeze.  Silk, wool, hair freeze beautifully, and some of the oldest known fabrics survived because they were frozen. (check The Mummies of Urumchi.)  If you have freezer room, anything can benefit from a two day stay in the freezer if carefully sealed.  If you don't break the seal afterward, all the vermin are gone forever.  Be careful handling frozen items; they may be brittle.  If you are going for long term storage, use a rigid container around the cloth, properly wrapped.  Label and date the item to protect it from those who don't know what it is, which may be you after a while.  (Experience)  I am working now on some exquisite hand sewn baby clothes from the 1890s.  The silk is "shattered" (split), but the cotton and linen are good as new, except for yellowing.  You would be surprised how well some things survive with no special care at all, but that's no reason not to protect it if you can. Always store fabrics (not frozen) in your living quarters- not the garage, the attic, the basement, but in the rooms you live in.  Hope this helps.    Margaret-Ann

          4. stitchmd | | #9

            Thanks! I sat through a two day lecture on fabric conservation, wish I knew more.

          5. MargaretAnn | | #10

            Dear Pasdemom

            I fell in love with some beautiful old embroidery that I inherited, and was motivated to find out how to care for it.  Fortunately, my sister is a professional archivist and she knew where to find what I wanted to know, so I was able to learn, and now I am a conservator.  It is fascinating to see what wonderful things turn up, and tragic to see how some wonderful stuff has been ruined.  So many people do not value the hard work and creativity of "woman's work".    Margaret-ANn

          6. stitchmd | | #13

            Do you mean you are self-taught? My understanding was that to become a conservator you needed a master's degree, an amount of schooling I cannot take on at this point.

          7. MargaretAnn | | #16

            Dear Pasdenom

            To become a professional conservator, you really need an advanced degree, and there are very few programs in the country.  Check http://www.Aic.Stanford.edu.  There is no official degree or certification for Fabric Conservator, so the only way to check is to read credentials and ask museums and such if they can recommend someone.  I was taught privately by a professional University archivist.  I already had most of the required course work (Chemistry, Biology, Art History etc.)in my undergraduate and masters degree, so I just (!) had to learn the specialized material, and do supervised work.  This means that I do not have recognition from the three major schools.  My work is mostly on things that I inherited, and things trusted to me by friends and friends of friends.  It is a fascinating study, and it helps to know how to sew and do fine needlework before you begin.  I love it, except when I am given a once lovely piece that has been damaged beyond repair.  I have seen a silk wedding dress from the 1920s, with lace and beadwork, and a large purple dry cleaners logo on the front transferred from the plastic bag it had been stored in.  The stain could not be removed without damaging the fabric.

            This is a long answer to a short question.  I hope you are patient.  Margaret-Ann

          8. stitchmd | | #17

            Thank you for your reply. Because of family responsibilities I have limited time and cannot travel to attend school, so while I would like to consider a career change it just isn't feasible. I will give some thought to the type of apprenticeship you arranged for yourself. I have some background in the subjects needed and am well versed in sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery. Right now I do volunteer work at a small museum in conserving their textiles. They cannot afford to hire a conservator, so rely on volunteers with interest and some skills.

          9. MargaretAnn | | #18

            It sounds as if you are on your way.  Is there a large museum near you that might help?  You know, it is only in the last few years that there have been graduate programs in Conservation.  Until recently, apprenticeship was the only way to learn.  Since you are already working as a volunteer, it seems that they could use all you could learn, and there is a great deal you can learn on your own.  If there is a local Conservator, perhaps that person would be willing to help you.  You are not planning a profession, but you want to learn so you can help, is that correct?  My worst fear, and why I studied so intensely, what that I would damage something through ignorance.  My first lesson was: do no harm, and do not do anything you cannot undo.  You've probably gone beyond that already.


          10. stitchmd | | #19

            I want to learn for both reasons. I am terminally burned out from the health care system and scrounging around for what else I might do. I am very drawn to this field because I love textiles and have some scientific background that could cross over to it.

          11. MargaretAnn | | #20

            I say, go for it!  There must be a way.  Good luck


          12. stitchmd | | #21

            Thanks for the encouragement.

          13. SisterT | | #11

            The freezer is where one keeps chapters of a dissertation, not clothing, silly!  :)


          14. rjf | | #12

            Oh-ho!  My freezer takes on a whole new dimension...unread books, unanswered letters, unpaid bills.  It's beginning to take on a science-fiction aspect.  How scary to take out a frozen pizza and discover it's a box of unpaid traffic tickets.    rjf

          15. SisterT | | #14

            I have friends who stored chapters of their dissertations in freezers, and in friends' freezers, just in case a house or apartment caught on fire.  The internet seems to have taken on that function now.  A friend was threatened with a hurricane, so she e-mailed her dissertation to a couple of us for safekeeping in cyberspace.

            This has absolutely nothing to do with conserving clothing and fabric and a lot to do with a bored person in bed with a bad sinus infection... Sorry for the interruption.  The rest of the conversation here has been quite interesting!


            Edited 2/7/2004 9:56:26 AM ET by ST

          16. rjf | | #15

            I'm sorry to hear about the sinus infection.  Rest is good but boring so nonsense on the web helps maybe?  The dissertation storage is really a great idea, much better than wedding cake which is still taking up room but keeping out the warm air.  How does the lyric go?  "It took so long to make it and I'll never  have that recipe again"?  But I do have a nice picture of it on the fridge.       rjf

    2. amyb | | #3

      I think I read in MS Living that plastic is not the place for long term storage. I was considering some kind of sack. Dark plastic tubs are easy to find at Target.  Where do I purchase acid free paper?

      Many thanks!

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