Environmental Control

One of the greatest threats to textiles is light. The worst damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from natural daylight and from fluorescent light bulbs. However, while the UV rays damage most rapidly, the entire light spectrum causes textile dyes to fade and the fibers to become brittle. This includes plain incandescent interior lighting. There is some protection in keeping window shades pulled down or shutters closed during the sunniest times of the day. UV filtering materials or films can be placed over windows and fluorescent bulbs, and used in the glass or Plexiglas® framing textiles. Perhaps the most important rule of thumb for care is to use or display your textile for limited periods of time. Ideally, rotation should be done seasonally—display your textile for four months, and then allow it to "rest" in proper storage for the remainder of the year. This method of care allows several different textiles to be exhibited, while extending the lifetime of each one.
High temperatures, excessive heat, and high humidity accelerate the deterioration of textiles and provide a desirable climate for insects, mold, and mildew. If mold and mildew are caught early enough (before staining has set) the textile should be moved to a more stable environment, and a conservator should be contacted immediately.
Ideally, a climate of 65-70°F and 50-55% relative humidity is best. However, the maintenance of an environment with as little fluctuation as possible is most important. Temperatures can be controlled with central heating and air-conditioning systems. These can be supplemented with window air units, or space heaters for individual rooms. Humidity can be modified with humidifiers or dehumidifiers. Fans and a constant flow of air can also be helpful to prevent mold and mildew. Textiles that are found wet from a leak or high humidity should be immediately dried with a fan.
Air pollution is also an enemy of textiles. Sulfur dioxide fumes from automobiles and industry affect some dyes. However, dirt and dust will probably be the greatest problem with your collection. Dust particles act like small knives, cutting into fibers as the textiles expand and contract in response to changes in relative humidity. A regular schedule of inspection and vacuuming is necessary to maintain your collection. Further, textiles brought into your home for the first time should be inspected and isolated before they come in contact with other pieces in your collection. This allows you to insure that you have not brought any insect pests into your home. For more information on pest control, see The Textile Museum publication, Pest Busters.

Textiles at Twelve

Weekly lunchtime programs—including films, lectures, and gallery talks—focus on the textile arts and global cultures.