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College of Human Ecology

K-State Curator gives suggestions for preserving family memories

Monday, October 30, 2006

MANHATTAN -- Proper preservation of family heirlooms can ensure memories pass along through generations, according to Marla Day, curator of Kansas State University's Historic Costume and Textiles Museum.

"Heirlooms can trigger memories of people, places and events that happen in our lives," Day said. "Through them, we can tell our family history and their story."

Day said examples of items typically preserved include clothing worn for special occasions or events, unique or one-of-a-kind clothing, couture or designer label clothing, quilts, samplers, christening and baby items, military uniforms, dolls, ethnic rugs and wedding items.

When preserving heirlooms, Day suggested several techniques that will benefit both the heirloom and the memory behind the object.

First, determine the amount of space you can devote to preservation.

"The amount of space will determine the way to best preserve your heirlooms," Day said. "For example, if only hanging room is available, you should use padded hangers and fabric dust covers for preservation. But if your space is under the bed, you should fit the items in an archivally safe box."

Also in terms of space, Day cautioned against trying to preserve too many items.

"You just can't keep everything," Day said. "You must consider what is most important for the future and store these items."

Day recommends considering the environment of the storage space.

"Your storage area should not be exposed to light as it will cause color to fade," Day said. "Even lightbulbs give off heat that is damaging to fabrics.

"Also, consider the moisture of the storage environment," Day said. "Heat dries textiles out, while dampness produces mold. A good rule of thumb is to store items in climate controlled areas where you live, such as a bedroom or family room. This helps to avoid extreme swings in temperature."

When storing items, Day stressed the importance of cleanliness, loose storage and proper documentation.

"Stains on an object when it is put away lead to permanent stains over time as the stain becomes integrated with the clothing fiber. Having clean items also decreases the chance of pests," she said. "In addition, you want items to be loosely packed. Loose storage prevents permanent creases and irreversible damage to the fabric.

"Also, in order to keep the story, you must complete the ensemble and document it correctly," Day said. "Consider what it is about this object that makes it special. If you're preserving a wedding dress, include a picture of the bride, a picture of the groom, the wedding announcement and perhaps other garments worn by attendants or family that day."

After proper storage, it is essential to monitor your items, according to Day.

"Check the condition of your stored heirlooms frequently," Day said. "This will prevent excess damage from pests and time."

Most importantly, be sure to share the story behind the heirloom.

"Remember to display your items during a special time of year, so all family members can share in the story," Day said. "If you don't share the story, the memory won't be passed on."

K-States's Historic Costume and Textiles Museum: A collection of more than 15,000 items donated during the past century by K-State faculty, friends and alumni, the K-State Costume and Textiles Museum is a repository of clothing, accessories, fabrics, quilts and other apparel and textile items with historical, artistic, educational or research significance.

The museum contains items dating back to the 1700s, and is well-known for its collection of Chinese textiles from the Ch'ing Dynasty and its ethnic costumes and textiles. The collection includes a rich assortment of items from more than 200 years of Kansas history. Used as a resource for teaching and research, the collection is housed in a climate- and light-controlled environment. Artifacts are displayed in exhibitions held in the ATID Gallery, in display cases throughout Justin Hall, and special off-site events.

This article was posted on Monday, October 30, 2006, and is filed under Apparel, Textiles, & Interior Design, College News.