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PRESERVE YOUR ANTIQUE BEADED CLOTHING

Who isn't seduced by those Edwardian gowns or 1920s Flapper dresses with all of the fantastic beading and sequins?  Ever wonder how to properly maintain one of those beaded garments?

Beaded Garments Need Special Care

It should seem obvious that a beaded garment requires special consideration.  When not in use, how do you store your beaded apparel?  You might instinctively reach for a hanger, perhaps even a padded hanger, but that would be a mistake.  Likely, a very costly mistake!  As many 1920s flapper dresses were constructed of silk, specialized storage systems need to be employed.  Protecting your antique beaded garments is analogous to protecting your investment.

Precautions To Consider BEFORE You Store

It's always best to error on the side of caution when storing beaded garments.  For this reason, before storing any garment be sure to have it professionally cleaned or laundered, if possible.  Remember that not all antique or vintage  garments can be dry cleaned (or laundered).  Doing so may damage your clothing beyond repair.  So, how do you clean antique beaded garments?  In most instances, it isn't possible.  If you wish to preserve your textiles, you need to avoid or minimize the need to clean them in the first place.  Prior to dressing, always wash your hands, do not use any lotions or handle any food, avoid perfumes and hair sprays.  You need to prevent transferring any oils to your garments.  Dirt and dust will stick to the oils and this will only lead to greater problems for the fabric.

How To Store Your Garments

Your antique/vintage beaded garments, whether dresses, blouses, sweaters, etc., should never be stored on hangers.  The weight of the beading will put stress on garment seams.  The beading may even cause tears in the fabric itself, if the garment is heavily beaded or, if the base fabric is delicate, such as silk or netting.

Beaded garments should either be laid out flat in a garment archival storage box, or rolled (in cotton or muslin sheeting (free of sizing and bleach) or, acid-free tissue paper).  To help maintain the garments' shape and prevent fiber abrasion, you may wish to stuff the sleeves or even, the entire garment.  What kind of acid-free tissue should you use?  Here's what The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute says:

... it is suggested that a neutral pH, unbuffered acid free tissue paper be purchased ...  For storing costumes or other items, some "stuffing" or interleaving may be necessary to maintain a three dimensional shape or to prevent abrasion between textile surfaces.  For these purposes, a lighter 12 pound paper is suggested.  This lighter acid free paper is also known as "laminating tissue."

Using garment archival storage boxes is the best method for storing your antique beaded garments.  These are acid-free corrugated cardboard boxes with lids.  Keep in mind that you need to have ample space to store these boxes as they are quite large, and these boxes can be quite expensive.

If your space and budget are limited, you may choose to roll your garment instead.  You can use acid-free tubes for rolling your garments onto or, you can simply roll the garment without using a tube.  In either case, lay the item as flat as possible onto the tissue paper.  By laying the garment as flat as possible, you reduce the chances for wrinkling.  Cover the garment with additional sheets of tissue paper.  Start rolling from the bottom hem of the garment up to the shoulders of the garment.  You want to ensure that your garment doesn't fall out the sides of the tissue.  Once you've finished rolling your garment, wrap it in cotton/muslin sheeting.  It's best to store it away from any sunlight, moisture, excessive heat, and insects.  Using an archival storage box in your wardrobe or closet is a good idea and they come in different sizes.

Ready Your Garment To Wear

When you are ready to wear your garment, simply remove the item from the box, or unroll the item, onto a flat surface, your bed perhaps, and inspect for any damage.  Often times, threads holding the beading may become rotted and break very easily.  If you spot a broken thread of beading, you should mend it straight away.  Gather up all of the loose beads and put them someplace safe.  You may need a special beading needle and a special thread size depending on the size of the beads and the complexity of the design.  Finally, once you've completed your bead repairs, your garment should be ready to wear!

In our next post, we'll talk further about antique and vintage garments and whether to make modifications or not.