Storing Oriental Carpets

Museum staff store carpets in the Avenir Center

Consider the following factors before you store an oriental carpet:

Finding the best storage location

The best location for the storage of your collection is a room that is cool, dry, and where blinds or curtains can be used to block natural light. Few of us have the luxury of a spare room that we can devote to storage, and instead have to make due with closets, cupboards, and under the beds.
While it is possible to adapt many spaces in a house for storage, try to avoid using attics and basements, which are usually without climate control and suffer the largest swings of temperature and relative humidity.
Once you have decided on a location, consider the following:
  • If you live in a climate where humidity is high during some part of the year, make sure that there is some way to circulate the air to avoid mildew problems (even a fan will help); consider using a dehumidifier to bring humidity down to a more moderate level.
  • If you live in a climate where humidity is low during some part of the year, consider raising the level of humidity slightly with a humidifier.
  • Block windows with shades or blinds.
  • Have a housekeeping plan for your storage area(s) as dust and dirt attract insects.
  • Avoid storing items directly on the floor; carpet beetles in particular like to take up residence between the floor and the back of your rug.

Storage hardware

If you have the space, bolted together metal shelving can be used to store your collection. Pad the shelving with a cushioning material like bubble-wrap so that the edges of the shelves do not make indentations on your pieces.
If you are storing your collection in wooden drawers or on wooden shelves, it is important to provide a buffer between the wood acids and your collection. There are at least two options:
  • Line the drawers or shelves with acid-free tissue or acid-free barrier paper; the paper should be adequate to absorb excess acids for two or three years before it needs to be changed. 
  • Coat wood with water-borne polyurethane varnish and allow it to dry thoroughly; use an additional physical barrier such as bubble-wrap or a layer of cotton sheeting or muslin.

Storage materials

The best way to store rugs is to keep them rolled. Obviously, if you fold a rug for a long period of time, creases will form. Additionally, the foundation of the rug will weaken from the pressure being exerted on the folded area, and if brittle, the foundation can break.
It is also best to roll a rug around a support tube (avoid using polyvinyl chloride tubing – PVC pipe – which can give off damaging chemicals as the PVC breaks down). Again, there are two options: 
  • Acid-free, archival tubes are the best choice (although expensive at over $2.00/foot); three-inch diameter rug tubes are usually the best choice as they are very sturdy.
  • A regular cardboard rug tube can be adapted by wrapping the tube with a layer of acid-free tissue; generally it takes several sheets lined up together to cover the length of the tube, so to hold all of the pieces in place and to insure that they last as you roll and unroll your collection, cover the tissue with a layer of washed cotton sheeting or muslin before rolling the rug around the tube.

Rolling techniques

Pile in or pile out? The debate goes on. Consider:
  • What is the condition of the pile? Is it fragile, with loss of knots? Is the pile silk?
  • What is the condition of the foundation? Are there numerous splits and breaks? Is it brittle?

The overall condition of the piece should determine the method of rolling. In general, the pile is more vulnerable than the foundation, so all things being equal, it is better to roll with the pile in.

If the foundation is weaker than the pile, or if a lining has been sewn on the rug, roll with the foundation in. If a rug is lined, wrinkling will always occur during rolling; it is therefore better to roll with the lining in, thus allowing the lining rather than the rug to wrinkle. In addition, roll in the direction of the pile rather than against the pile to avoid abrading the pile or placing stress on the knots.
It is often difficult to get started rolling and to keep the rug straight on the roller. To assist in getting started, use a leader of washed cotton sheeting or muslin (this can be the same piece rolled around to secure the acid-free tissue). The piece should be the width of the rug you are rolling, and long enough to go completely around the tube once plus about 2 feet.
Roll the fabric onto the roller and lay the rug (face or pile up and with the pile direction moving away from you) on the two foot extension. As you roll, the excess fabric will catch the rug and allow you to roll the rug smoothly. Try to keep the roll as straight as possible (with the warps perpendicular to the roller) while rolling. If a rug is especially crooked it may be necessary to add a little "ease" into the roll to keep the warps straight to avoid rolling the rug in a spiral. To add this "ease", move one edge of the roller forward slightly with each turn around the tube, continuing to line up the warps perpendicular to the tube. This will make the roll slightly looser than it would be if you were able to roll the rug straight from top to bottom.
A length of muslin is also a good finish for your rolled rug. Muslin acts as a good dust and light barrier. The fabric should be wide enough to extend beyond the edges of the roll, sufficient either to be tucked into the ends of the tube, or tied down onto the tube to protect the edges of the rolled rug from dust.
The muslin cover needs to be long enough to roll around the outside of the rug at least 1 and 1/2 times to be secure. Just as you started rolling with a leader, place the muslin covering on the face of the rug just before the end and roll until the muslin covers the rug completely plus about 1/2 turn of the tube. The roll can then be secured with cotton or polyester twill tape (available from a fabric store that sells drapery materials and supplies). Ties can also be made by tearing muslin or cotton sheeting into two inch wide strips. It normally takes two or three ties to secure the cover in place and prevent the rug from unrolling.
If you need to mark the muslin cover to indicate the contents, mark the fabric with a permanent ink marking pen prior to rolling the fabric around the rug. You should plan on washing the covering every few years to remove accumulated dust and dirt.
Many museums wrap rolled textiles in a sheet of clear polyethylene rather than muslin. The advantage of using polyethylene is that it can help protect your rugs from insect infestation if the wrapping is secured with ties and the edges of the polyethylene are securely tucked into the ends of the rolling tube. Polyethylene can also protect rugs from water damage in the event of a leak. In general, mildew should not be a problem for rugs rolled in polyethylene unless a rug gets wet and stays in that condition for any length of time. Polyethylene is also good as a general dust cover draped over a group of rolled pieces since it is inexpensive and could readily be discarded once it is dirty.

Maintenance of storage areas

Most moth and carpet beetle infestations appear in stored rugs. The source of the infestation may have occurred earlier when the piece was being used, but in the quiet, dark surroundings of storage the infestation may quickly grow.
It is therefore important to have a good housekeeping plan for your storage areas. Once each month, unroll at least one item from the different locations of your storage area(s) to make sure that there is no evidence of infestation. Choose different items each month. Wipe off shelving and shelf padding and if necessary clean or replace covers and padding. Vacuum the room thoroughly to eliminate insect-attracting dust. Check baseboards and window sills for dust as well.

Suppliers of archival materials

2340 Brighton Henrietta Town Line Road
Rochester, NY 14623
(800) 975-6429
PO Box 101 
517 Main Street 
Holyoke, MA 01041-0101 
(800) 336-4847