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Factors Affecting Deterioration of Textile by Theresa Flores

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Factors Affecting Deterioration of Textile by
Article Posted: 05/28/2012
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Articles Written: 1738
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Factors Affecting Deterioration of Textile

Home Improvement,Fashion & Cosmetics,Family & Parenting
The collecting and daily use of textiles in our homes is an age-old tradition. We are wrapped in them when we are born; they provide us warmth for sleep; they are carefully crafted into garments that are worn for important rites of passage, such as christenings, bar mitzvahs and weddings; they adorn our walls and they cushion our feet.

The textiles that you collect and preserve will generally fall into two categories: those that you display, and those you use in a limited way, but still try to preserve for the future. The latter category includes such items as wedding gowns, quilts, and household linens. In using these textiles there must be the tacit understanding that while you are doing your best to pass these items onto the next generation, they will eventually become too fragile to use, or may be damaged beyond repair. A tear can be mended, a stain possibly removed, but damage cannot be reversed/recovered even by the hands of a conservator.

Textiles that are displayed in both homes and public buildings are subject to deterioration by many environmental factors - such as light, temperature and relative humidity, dust and dirt, insects, and improper storage or display. Thus the critical factors in maintaining your textile collection are control of environmental conditions, proper display techniques, and proper storage. Understandably, the standards museums strive for are not feasible in the home, but modifications can be made in order to provide the best conditions possible. These guidelines serve as an introduction and checklist for the care of textiles in the home.

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 is taking care 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 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 being 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.

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