Ecclesial textiles are an important part of the visual stories that weave a rich history and help shape the culture of a parish. They become symbols of the timeless, extraordinary faith handed down throughout generations. And, unfortunately, with age and use these textiles can become fragile and require special care. But before any piece requires restoration there is care that can be taken in handling, storing, and maintaining these treasures. Below is a list of some things to keep in mind when handling textiles to help you preserve them for many years to come.
Please, never, never dry clean antique textiles. Dry cleaning destroys old fabric and disintegrates embroidery. The damage caused by cleaning can be repaired but it is very difficult, time consuming, and usually requires a complete remake of the embroideries.
Always store textiles away from sunlight and, if possible, in a temperature controlled environment. Sunlight will destroy textiles quickly and fluctuations in temperature and humidity can take a serious toll, as well.
When possible store textiles flat in large flat file drawers or archival boxes, especially those with intricate embroideries. Storing textiles flat eliminates stress points on fabrics and embroideries that will cause unnecessary wear. Some larger textiles (copes, canopies, etc.) may require folding to fit them into a drawer or archival box. Just be sure the folds are as natural (at seams) and gentle as possible, and avoid any folds in embroideries if it can be helped. Please see the video below for an example of how to fold a processional canopy. If a vestments will remain unused for a long period of time and you do not have flat file drawers to put them in it may be better to gently and carefully roll them around a cylinder of acid free paper and place them in archival boxes than to hang them on hangers. Over the years I have seen many vestments in need of repair just from being hung on hangers for long periods of time.
Do everything you can to avoid folding embroideries. Again, if you do not have large flat files to place vestments and textiles in then it may be better to gently roll them and store them in archival boxes. This will not only preserve the shoulders from damage but it will avoid creases that can lead to wear in the fabric and embroidery.
Whether laying textiles flat or hanging them always use acid free paper or some kind of fabric buffer between layers.
Whether in drawers, boxes, or on hangers, place vestments so the front and back are facing each other with some kind of buffer in between to protect the fabric and embroideries. Please see the pictures below for examples. It is much easier to replace only the lining than it is to try to repair embroideries and outer fabric. If you have to hang your vestments and do not have a way to place a buffer in the middle then place them on the hanger with the right sides out and be sure there is something hanging between each vestment or they are in garment bags that do not bunch them up at the bottom. This will protect the embroidery and fabrics from rubbing against each other and causing damage.
While this list is not exhaustive, and each textile is unique, by following these guidelines you can help keep your parish treasures in excellent condition, worthy of the Holy Sacrifice, for many years to come and future generations to enjoy. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about handling your textiles. We are happy to help!