Friday, August 26, 2011

Caring for Heirloom Garments

One of the most common questions presented to me when a client picks up her heirloom garment , is "How do I care for this garment"? I always include a copy of my recommended care instructions with each garment.
I do not claim to be an expert on this subject, but rather these methods are what have worked for me in 30 years of creating heirloom garments.
If you have a garment that is of museum quality, is over 50 years old, or one that you are unsure of the fabric used, it would be advisable to consult a true expert in the field. The Martha Pullen Company is a great place for information.
What I am addressing today, is newly  made garments, or those that are less than 25 years old.
The most damaging element to an heirloom garment is storing it unclean. This may sound redundant, but it is surprising how many stains can be present and yet, unseen!
A baby garment, such as a daygown or Christening gown, that may have only been worn for a few minutes for a portrait, most likely will have some dribble from baby's mouth. Saliva contains sugars can destroy fibers over time. So, even though the garment may appear to be clean, with no stains or spots showing up, it is always advisable to wash it to be absolutely sure that it is stored clean.
Never assume that the garment is clean, always wash before storage. Before washing, check for any rips or tears and make repairs.
One of my favorite products that I have used for years is Biz™.

Biz™ is safe for delicates and will remove almost any stain. A twenty minute soak in a sink will usually be enough for most garments. If you have heavy stains, you can soak longer. There are many other good products on the market, designed specifically for heirloom and vintage garments and linens.
Method for heavy stains, accumulated dust and general dullness:
In a plastic bucket or container, mix 1 cup of Biz™ dissolved in a gallon of hot water. Let the water cool and add the garment. Let the garment sit in the mixture for up to a week, checking periodically for stain removal.
To finish:
Rinse the garment in cool water, several times, being sure there is no soap residue left in the garment.
Squeeze excess water from the garment. Do not wring or twist. When taking the garment out of the rinse water, support it both hands. The weight of the water can add stress to the seams and laces.
Roll the garment in a thick, clean white towel to remove excess moisture.
Lay the garment flat on a clean, dry towel to dry. Make sure it is completely dry before storing.
To store:
Store flat, wrapped in acid free tissue. It is not necessary to iron before storage. Stuff sleeves with tissue. A seldom-used dresser drawer is a good place for storage.
Hang to store--hanging can put stress on seams and laces
Store in a plastic bag
Starch the garment before storing--moths and silverfish love starch
Store in a hot, dry attic or damp basement

A great resource that covers a variety of stains, cleaning solutions, fabric types and 'how-to's" is this book by Sandy Hunter:

I love this book and refer to it frequently. It addresses much more than I am able to include in this post!
Sandy also has a wealth of supplies on her site, Material Luxury, that includes acid free paper and boxes, cleaning solutions and her book (mentioned above).
Most of all, enjoy your heirloom garments and dress those babies up in them everyday!!!


Kellie said...

Great info... would this work for italian silk? I have been hesitant to clean it but the more I put it off the worse the condition of the dress.

Martha said...

I love BIZ. It is great isn't it?


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