Caring for linens

Viewing 7 reply threads
  • Author
    • #132864
      Deb Wood

      Hello – we are a historic house museum with lots of linens. A few belonged to the owners, some are vintage pieces donated over the years, and some are reproductions created specifically for the house.  We are inventorying the house now and are sorting through which pieces fall into which category. But I see a problem that needs to be addressed soon, and would appreciate advice.

      Several of the pieces that belonged to the owners – tablecloths and monographed napkins for instance – have been on display for many years. I have been told that in years past they were occasionally taken home by someone to be washed, starched and ironed and then the tables were reset exactly as they were. My inclination is to give these pieces a rest by taking them out of exhibit for awhile and storing them appropriately, but should I do anything about cleaning them, other than vacuuming?  I am noticing brown spots on some pieces.

      Thanks in advance —



    • #132871
      ginny daley

      I know from my years as a vintage textile dealer that you don’t want to store linens with starch in them.  I think the starch breaks down fibers over time.  I don’t think I would ever use starch on any museum linens at all, even while on display.  There are ways to get the brown spots out (like Rit Rust Remover, soaking in denture cleaner, etc.), but I wouldn’t trust this chemistry on collection pieces.  I’m guessing that there is a good reference source for basic textile conservation (maybe AASLH has one) that can help ground you in best practices.  Good luck!

      Ginny Daley, University of Kentucky

    • #132870

      Agree with Ginny! Sizing and start attracts bugs.

      CCI notes are a good resource

    • #132869

      Ginny,  Would the same apply to WWII Nurses’ cotton whites?   It occurs to me that linen fibers might be stiffer than cotton.  Ed Flesch

    • #132868
      ginny daley

      Ed – Yes, this really applies to any type of fiber, but especially anything natural (as opposed to say polyester).  I know you can get a clean crisp look with cotton or linen by simply spritzing with water or steam when you iron, although I don’t know what the best practices are for using heat & water on collection pieces.  Certainly wouldn’t try this on anything with wool or fragile.  I’m sort of surprised that linen, and not cotton, would be used for any WWII uniform but glad to learn this! – Ginny

    • #132867

      Good morning,

      Deb, that’s great news that these textiles have been taken off of long-term display. You’re absolutely right that vacuuming them is your first line of protection against the pollutants and potential pests that accumulate over time. (see our handout for vacuuming tips Before undertaking any further cleaning, however, you should speak with a textile conservator who will help you develop a game plan for your particular situation. You can find one in your area by visiting

      Camille Breeze

    • #132866

      Ginny,  Yes, WWII Summer uniforms were all cotton – crisp white broadcloth or seersucker print for nurses and khaki gabardines for everyone else.  All very starched.  The first time we received the whites, I tried washing one.  It fell apart.  Ed

    • #132865
      ginny daley

      I just want to echo Camille’s point that the best course may be to do nothing until you’ve called in an expert.  Take the conservative route, lest you end up with a disentegrating garment like Ed’s example!  And this is true for any type of material (textile, paper, photographic, etc.)  You can get grant funding for conservation consultations from NEH


Viewing 7 reply threads
  • The forum ‘C2C Community Archives – 2012 through 2014’ is closed to new topics and replies.