View of The History of Fashion in 100 Objects exhibition at the Fashion Museum Bath

Quick tips for displaying, handling and storing textiles

Penny Ritchie Calder, 15.02.2018
Best practice advice
Displaying textiles
  • Only display textiles in locations where the temperature and humidity can be kept stable.

  • Light damage is cumulative and will result in fading and chemical changes which make fabrics brittle. Limit light levels to 50 lux and install UV protection.

  • Turn off all lighting outside opening hours. Never show textiles in direct sunlight.

  • Ensure each item can be fully supported, whether by hanging (using velcro stitched to backing fabric or a pole sleeve), on a board, on a mannequin or form. Gravity can cause stretching or tearing.

  • Employ trained specialists to help check and mount textiles, and allow more space and preparation time than you think you need.  

  • If affordable, use conservation-grade cases to keep out dust.

  • Textiles on open display should be monitored at least weekly, with dust removed regularly.

  • Light exposure for the most fragile textiles can be kept to a minimum by displaying them in drawers, behind curtains or roller blinds which visitors can open. Triggered lighting sensors or switches can also be used.

Handling textiles

  • Poor handling is one of the most common causes of damage, so handle textiles only when absolutely necessary.

  • Put clear identification details on the outside of storage boxes or covers, including a small laminated photograph.

  • Check which type of glove is suitable for handling the item. Nitrile is often recommended. Latex, cotton or non-slip gloves can slip, catch or damage certain materials. Sometimes clean hands without gloves are best, except where there are metallic finishes.

  • Check visually for any weaknesses that might be made worse by handling.

  • Assess weight and size and use enough people to help.

  • Support the item with inert materials when handling (for example, acid-free tissue, Tyvek).

  • Have a clean, uncluttered surface such as a table or clean sheets on the floor when inspecting textiles outside their boxes.

  • Keep dangling ID passes, jewellery, pens, liquids and sharp objects well away. Use pencils for note-taking.

  • When moving between locations, use a suitable carrying tray and clear the route.

  • If damage occurs, do not attempt a quick repair. Seek expert advice.

  • Be aware that some textiles are dangerous. Use appropriate personal protective equipment when handling items such as hats and fur treated with mercury, fabric treated with pesticides or coloured using arsenic, or archaeological textiles, which may retain contagious residue.

Textile storage

  • Control the temperature and humidity in storage areas – prevention is better than cure. 

  • Locate textile storage in a stable area of the building, away from extremes of temperature, damp basements or flood risks (including water pipes).

  • Keep the temperature between 10°C and 20°C, and relative humidity between 45% and 65%.

  • Allow air circulation: do not overcrowd boxes or hanging cupboards.

  • Prevent pest infestation. Keep all areas clean and free of rubbish, especially near the cafe or eating areas.

  • Quarantine new acquisitions and examine carefully for signs of infestation. A freezer can be used to kill off moths and their larvae.

  • Check stores and galleries regularly, especially warm, dark, undisturbed places.

  • If an infestation (for example, more than seven clothes moths) is discovered, section off the area and seal up infected items.

  • Consult a specialist if the problem is widespread.

  • Use the right storage materials. Use only inert chemical-free materials, such as acid-free tissue and boxes, archival polyethylene, and polyester materials such as Tyvek™ and clear Melinex™ film.