How to care for textiles and clothes

Detail of the white silk wedding dress worn by Mary Elizabeth Williams when she married George Hammond Lucy at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire

From wedding veils to patchwork quilts passed down the generations – the secret to caring for precious textiles and clothing is to minimise handling and exposure to light, dirt, damp and insect attack.

Here's some useful advice from our conservation experts on how to look after textiles and clothes:

  • Store clothing in large flat acid-free boxes, with minimum folds to prevent creases, using puffs and ‘sausages’ of acid-free tissue paper.
  • Remove metal pins, jewellery, buttons and other detachable fastenings as these can stain and weaken textiles.
  • Flat textiles such as shawls, sashes, tablecloths or wedding veils are better rolled than folded; squashed folds become creases that will, in time, crack and tear. Use a plastic drainpipe, interleave with acid-free tissue paper and cover with cotton calico or lawn.
  • Carpets and rugs are vulnerable to heavy foot traffic. To minimise wear and even out exposure to light and fading, rotate them annually.
  • Textiles in strong condition, such as upholstery, bedspreads and rugs can be vacuum-cleaned on low suction, using a crevice tool covered with fine nylon netting to prevent snagging of loose threads.
When one of Hardwick Hall's Gideon tapestries was taken down for conservation, it was rolled onto a drainpipe to evenly distribute the weight
Reverse of the border of one of  Hardwick Hall's Gideon tapestries.
When one of Hardwick Hall's Gideon tapestries was taken down for conservation, it was rolled onto a drainpipe to evenly distribute the weight
A curator moves a painting to show the fading of the red velvet on the wall in the Morning Room due to light exposure at Saltram, Devon
Curator moves a painting to show the fading of the red velvet on the wall in the Morning Room at Saltram, Devon.
A curator moves a painting to show the fading of the red velvet on the wall in the Morning Room due to light exposure at Saltram, Devon
A conservator uses a monofilament screen to protect loose threads from the suction of the upholstery vacuum tool of a chair upholstered in Gobelins tapestry at Osterley Park, Middlesex / NT 771777.1
A conservator uses a monofilament screen to protect loose threads from the suction of the upholstery vacuum tool of a tapestry chair at Osterley Park, Middlese
A conservator uses a monofilament screen to protect loose threads from the suction of the upholstery vacuum tool of a chair upholstered in Gobelins tapestry at Osterley Park, Middlesex / NT 771777.1