Posts Tagged ‘family mementos’

This two-part post from guest blogger Linda Bussey, Director of the Hower House Museum in Akron, discusses how to care for vintage textiles like linens and table cloths.

Now that your textiles are cleaned, you can safely display or store them. Please be mindful that these vintage items should not be displayed in direct sunlight or in an overly hot or damp area. Otherwise their unhappiness will become evident with fading or mildew.

Also remember that if these pieces are used, they must periodically be gently rewashed. Hand towels will become especially high maintenance. It might be best to have a “do not use” policy for vintage towels.

For safely storing your vintage treasures, you will need a few things:

  • Archival tissue paper or 100% cotton muslin fabric
  • Acid -free/archival storage boxes or
  • Polypropylene plastic storage bin with a lid. Be sure to look for this symbol on the bottom of the bin, indicating it is safe for storing textiles:

The acid-free/archival tissue and storage boxes may be obtained from a museum supply or from a craft supply store. Acid-free photo storage boxes may be used for small items but loosely wrap the contents in acid-free tissue or cotton fabric. Do not store with photos. Cotton fabric may be purchased from a fabric store or online and be pre-washed in unscented laundry soap without fabric softener and dried without use of dryer sheets. The fabric will be a bit wrinkled as a result, but do not despair! You can try out your new pressing skills as outlined here in the quick reference guide!

Regarding storage in a plastic bin, yes, it sounds a bit strange, I know. However, a bin of the polypropylene (PP) variety is fine for fabric storage, and may be obtained at discount stores. There is a long list of other, non-safe plastics that should not be used, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Now that you have your supplies gathered, let’s discuss how best to package the items to keep them safe and happy. Prepare a large flat surface to fold or roll the item(s). If you plan to fold them, they should be cushioned to avoid creasing, which can stress the fibers. Use acid -free tissue paper or cotton fabric scrunched up to form a small roll where the item is folded. Once folded or rolled, loosely wrap the item(s) in acid -free paper or cotton fabric, particularly if multiple items will be stored together.

Place items in an acid-free archival box or in a safe storage bin (as noted above). If rolled items are too large for a storage container, fold diagonally with the more delicate side of the item to the inside of the packet; this will help alleviate wear and tear on the more fragile stitching and surface embellishments. Make sure the container is slightly larger than needed to avoid overcrowding. Larger items, such as bedspreads, coverlets, or quilts may need to be stored separately. As always, store in a moderately temperate, dry area, away from direct sunlight, extreme cold or heat.

On a final note, be kind to your textile treasures. Remember to “visit” them occasionally to see how they are holding up. Unfurl them and let them air out for an hour or so. Whi le that is happening, be sure to examine the storage container to look for evidence of insect activity. Not my idea of a good time, either, but check anyway. Your textiles might need an intervention and to be freshened up with new wrappings. Wipe out the storage containers with a damp cloth and let air dry before carefully refolding them in a different direction, rewrapping and returning them to the container.

Having vintage textiles is a serious commitment—sometimes tedious—but well worth it . Cared for correctly, they will provide years of enjoyment and given a new lease on life because you put in the effort.

Textile Sachet Recipe

Follow this recipe and instructions for making a sachet that not only smells good, but protects your textiles from cloth-destroying pests.

Sachet ingredients: lavender, spearmint, bay leaves
Filling the sachet bag

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This two-part post from guest blogger Linda Bussey, Director of the Hower House Museum in Akron, discusses how to care for vintage textiles like linens and table cloths.

Imagine inheriting a collection of vintage linens from a favorite auntie. Perhaps she was the most influential person in your life—a bit eccentric, ahead of her time—a colorful character who influenced the YOU of today. Of course, honoring and keeping her memory alive is now emotionally invested in those textiles. No pressure here!

This blog will give you a starting place when dealing with vintage textiles, much of it learned from one of those eccentric, special people in my own life. I try to honor her memory by teaching others what I learned then and since. (Thank you, Sue!)

Start by separating the textile pieces according to their use—pillowcases, dresser scarves, hand towels, doilies, tablecloths and napkins— and then assess the condition of each individual piece. Take your time and be gentle. Remember that someone made each of these items. They have a history and had a life before they came into yours.

A sampler of linens from Hower House Museum

Some pieces may be in great shape, others not so much. In the era these vintage goodies were made, it was a common practice to store old linens ironed and starched within an inch of their life, using a homemade solution made from potatoes, rice or sugar water. Along the way, the items may have been stored in less than optimal conditions—damp basements, attics, cardboard boxes, in old suitcases or trunks. None of these situations bodes well for old textiles; the starch attracts insects and mice, resulting in damage.

Examples of rust stains on linens

At this point I should tell you that old textiles should be stored as you would your best clothing—in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and extreme heat or cold.

If your linens are in good shape, great! If not, some mending and/or stain removal may be in order. Minor repairs—small holes, tears, fraying or loose edging—will need your attention before cleaning. If you are unsure how to repair antique or vintage fabrics, best to ask around; find someone to teach you. Be aware that hand sewing takes a bit of patience, but is a useful skill.

After this initial review of the pieces and mending if necessary, proceed with a gentle washing of your textiles. How do you determine what may be safely washed? We know that cotton, linen, and poly blend cottons may be safely washed by hand; never machine wash fragile, vintage, or antique fabrics. If they are light in color, do not wash with dark fabrics. Some of the old dyes that were used were unstable and may “bleed out” in the wash process. For example, if you have a dark blue blanket, you would not wash that with a light-colored dresser scarf. You see where I’m going with this, right? You could end up with a blue blanket and a light blue dresser scarf.

If you are not sure if the pieces should be washed, ask a professional. What do I recommend to use for your own personal collection? A mild soap called Orvus WA paste. A white, creamy paste that comes in a large container, it can be purchased from a museum supply store, but the more economical source, believe it or not, is your local farm supply store! Orvus WA is used as a horse shampoo, concentrated yet gentle. It only requires a small amount for a batch of linens, so share with a friend because a container will last you years, unless you have several horses to shampoo on a regular basis!

Mild Orvus WA Paste used for cleaning fragile linens and textiles
Supplies for hand-washing your linens. Clockwise from left: clean, absorbent towel for drying; nylon screen for protection of linens during washing; kitchen timer; Orvus WA paste; disposable gloves

Check out this reference guide for a more detailed list of basic supplies and detailed instructions on all phases of textile care.

My next post will deal with the “aftermath” of the washing process, such as how to safely press and store your newly-cleaned treasures. Truly not as boring as it sounds!

Online resources http://anacostia.si.edu/exhibits/online_academy/academy/preserve/preservemain.htm



Hamby, D.S. The American Cotton Handbook. 3rd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 1965.

McGehee, L. Creating Texture with Textiles. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. 1998.

Morton, W.E. and J.W.S. Hearle. Physical Properties of Textile Fibres. 4th ed. Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing Ltd. 2008

Pizzuto, J.J. Fabric Science. 11th ed. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2015.

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Contributed by Emily Gainer.

My daughter just finished kindergarten.  I’m starting the journey of collecting school memorabilia, but I can tell it will be fun and full of important memories.

In this blog, I’ll outline different types of materials that are created at school, and I’ll provide preservation and storage tips for each.  For general preservation advice, including temperature and humidity recommendations, see the first blog in our preservation series.

Paper-based materials includes documents from diplomas to certificates to worksheets.  Paper is an organic material that is vulnerable to deterioration.  My first piece of advice for paper is do not laminate!  Lamination permanently alters the document using plastic and heat.  Lamination, like other plastics, breaks down over time.  Second, remove metals, rubber bands, or plastics before storing.  These materials rust or breakdown over time causing damage to the paper. For long-term storage, I recommend folders and boxes. Label each folder with the child’s name and year/grade, and you can easily add the next year to the box.  Finally, label the outside of the box before storing.

Paper based documents can be stored in folders.

Artwork includes items that were created using mixed media, such as crayons, markers, watercolors, and paints.  Artwork also includes three-dimensional pieces made from clay or other formats.  All of these formats have unique preservation issues.  For art created with crayons, markers, or other media, it’s important to interleave plain white paper between the pieces so that color doesn’t transfer. This also applies to colored paper, such as construction paper.  For identification, write lightly on the back with a pencil the child’s name and year the art was created.  Artwork on standard-sized paper can be stored in the same folders and boxes linked above.  Three-dimensional items like sculptures may require separate storage boxes and white tissue paper wrapping. 

Artwork that includes construction paper and paint. Before storing, interleave with white paper to avoid color transfer.

Oversize includes items that are larger than a standard 8.5×11” piece of paper, such as larger artwork, charts, newspapers, or posters.  The most important piece of advice for oversize items is to lay the item flat without folds or rolls.  Folds will cause permanent creases, which will weaken over time.  Rolled items can conform to the rolled shape and be permanently altered.  If the oversize item is a piece of art with chalk, paint, charcoal, etc., you will want to interleave with plain white paper, so the colors don’t bleed onto other mementos.  The same applies for newspapers or news clippings.  Newspapers naturally discolor over time and can stain other documents or fabrics.  Archival suppliers have boxes in a variety of sizes for long-term storage of oversize items.

Oversize items are larger than a standard piece of paper. It’s best to store these flat to avoid long-term damage.

I’ll close with a final tip. Preservation and storage are easier to manage if you make selections on what to save.  It would be impossible to save everything that comes home in my daughter’s backpack.  As she brings things home, I select items to preserve for her (and me) to look at in the future.  

If you want to learn more about preservation and storage, I recommend this free booklet from Gaylord Archival “Guide to Collection Care”. 

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Contributed by Jon Endres.

Say you’re going through your parent’s attic or basement. You come across a box that says “Home Movies: 1960 to 1990.” Would you know what to do with the tape or film that is in the box and how to make sure this media lasts as long as possible?

VHS, Compact VHS, S-VHS
These formats are likely to be among the most prevalent of audio/visual materials because of its ease of use and display. VHS and its subtypes very quickly supplanted 8mm and 16mm film in the 1970s and 1980s. There was no film development needed, no repairing broken film so it’s easy to see the draw.

What might be surprising to many is that VHS is considered to be among the most at risk forms of audio/visual media. The Museum of Obsolete Media lists VHS as a level 4 out of 5 for the risk of becoming unstable to a point where the a/v information is then unrecoverable.

VHS tapes are surprisingly not resilient. They can succumb easily to heat and humidity. Tapes like to live between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 30% to 55%. This means no storing tapes in your attic or basement. Flooding can lead to mold. Mold is difficult to mitigate once it has taken hold.

The best practice here is to keep tapes right side up next to each other, not stacked on top of one another. Then keep them stored away in a room of your house that will best fit the temperature and humidity guidelines above. In addition, keep them away from any appliances that might create a large electromagnetic field such as large speakers.

The wrong way to store tapes
The correct way to store VHS tapes

In addition, because of the fragile nature of the medium it would be a good idea to seek out a business or someone that can convert them into digital files and several copies of DVDs. Once on these formats your memories should be safe for decades to come.

16mm and 8mm film

The two other most common mediums you might find home movies on are 8mm and 16mm film. With each there are numerous subtypes. Film with sound, different types of stock used through the years, starting with nitrate (which is highly flammable, but also very old and not very likely used for home movies), and going through acetate and polyester. I’m not entirely going to focus on all of that. Most film needs to be given the same environment so these rules will apply across the board.

*Writer’s note: if you do come across film labeled as “Nitrate” on the side use extreme caution. Nitrate is, again, very flammable.

Film is also a high risk medium. In fact according to The Museum of Obsolete Media film ranks in the 5 out of 5 for lack of reliability. This can vary wildly, however, based on the type of film, how old it is and how it has been stored. Film goes by some of the same types rules as VHS tapes, just with different temperature and humidity requirements.

The best practices for preserving film can often be difficult for your average person because the ideal condition is cold and dry. There is generally a range of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit to frozen. The relative humidity should be stable and not go above 50%. So, much like with the VHS tapes, keep them out of the attic or the basement.

Ideally refrigeration would be used to keep the film as stable as possible for as long as possible. This is often not an option. So what I tell people is when you get the film remove any plastic or rubber bands that might be in the canister and buy some archival plastic canisters to store the film. Gaylord Archival has very good options for these. This can be a little pricey but will help immensely in slowing degradation of the film that has already happened. Once rehoused find a nice cool place to store them. Maybe a closet with an air conditioning vent. With film, we are always fighting the aging of the chemicals in the stock, dyes and emulsion. So while we can slow this process it is again imperative to find a place that can scan your film at the best possible quality and have multiple digital versions of it.

We can’t save film forever, I find the idea bittersweet as it’s what I strive to do. But with any format, it will not last forever, and especially with audio/video materials it is the most important to make sure to follow temperature and humidity guidelines and… DIGITIZE, DIGITIZE, DIGITIZE.


The Museum of Obsolete Media

The National Film Preservation Foundation

Gaylord Archival

Center for Home Movies

Image Permanence Institute

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  • contributed by Emily Gainer.

Photographs are amazing!  They bring back memories; they document moments in our lives; they allow us to see people that we’ve never met.  As family treasures, they are invaluable pieces of history.  From an archives perspective, photographs are fragile and easily damaged.

Print photograph and negative.

In this blog, I’ll outline 5 tips for long-term preservation of photographic prints and negatives.

  1. Handling: Oils and dirt from your fingers can damage photographs, especially negatives.  It is recommended that you wear white cotton gloves while handling photographs, but if those aren’t available, handle the photographs along the edges with clean, dry hands.Holding photograph by the edges.
  2. Identifying: The number one rule of preservation is don’t do anything that can’t be undone!  In this vein, don’t write on the back of photographs with a marker or pen.  Write with a pencil on the enclosure (folder, envelope, photo album, box).  Post-it notes are not recommended, even if you put them on the back of your photographs, because they can leave behind a sticky residue. Labeling a folder
  3. Organizing: There are many ways to organize family photographs.  It’s a personal choice, and there is no wrong answer.  When deciding how you want to organize your photographs, consider how they will be stored, accessed, and used.  I would suggest organizing your photographs by year, and then by event within each.  For example, gather all of your 1986 photographs together, and then all of the photos taken at your 1986 birthday party together, and then all of the Christmas 1998 photographs together.  Start again for 1999 and 2000.
  4. Weeding: In the archives profession, we sometimes do weeding, which is the process of identifying and removing unwanted materials from a larger body of materials.  I would urge you to consider weeding your family photographs as well.  For example, you may have duplicate copies when you only need one.  Get rid of those blurry photos!  The photos with someone’s finger over half the frame!  The photos with everyone’s eyes closed!  It might be difficult, but it can make your family preservation efforts more manageable and highlight the “good stuff”. Negatives and photograph prints
  5. Storage: Storing photographs in envelopes, sleeves, albums, and boxes is essential for their long-term preservation.  These enclosures protect against light, dust, air pollutants, and help buffer against changes in temperature and humidity.  Here are storage options:
    1. Paper enclosures help protect from light, as well as support the photographs physically. Paper enclosures include unbuffered file folders, envelopes, and storage boxes. Acid free box
    2. Plastic enclosures might be more appropriate for photographs that will be handled and viewed often.  These three plastics are currently considered acceptable for long-term storage: polyester, polypropylene, and polyethylene.  (Vinyl, PVC, and magnetic photo albums are not recommended. These are recognizable by their oily feel and strong smell.)  Archival product suppliers have options for sleeves and envelopes in various sizes.
    3. Purchasing storage supplies from a trusted archival products supplier is your best bet.  We recommend Gaylord Archival, Hollinger Metal Edge, and University Products.  Materials that are safe for photo storage will be identified with P.A.T. (Photographic Activity Test). Acid free box, folder, and pencil

These tips will hopefully provide a starting point for you to preserve your family photos!  If you want to learn more about photograph preservation, I recommend this free booklet from Gaylord “Guide to Collection Care”.

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contributed by Rhonda Rinehart.

Welcome to the Cummings Center’s new blog series presenting basic preservation and conservation practices. We’re kicking it off with some Do’s and Don’ts for caring for your own personal keepsakes and family treasures. No technical stuff here — just pictures and a few tips to get you started on your way to becoming a preservation pro in your own home!


The preservation mantra: DO NO HARM
If it can’t be undone, don’t do it.

Don’t do anything to your keepsakes that can’t be reversed such as using pens (see above image), staples, metal clips, or tape which can leave behind permanent marks, holes and residue. And no eating or drinking around any items that you love! The goal is maintain your items as close to their original forms as possible.

Clockwise left to right: Don’t take a book off the shelf by pulling it from the top; when handling photographs, wear gloves — don’t handle with bare hands; storing large books with the spine facing down will cause them to become misshapen; don’t expose anything you want to keep in direct sunlight.


Lamination – NO! Encapsulation – YES!

Lamination was a popular way to keep paper items from being exposed to excessive handling and environmental changes in temperature and humidity. But lamination is permanent because the lamination process seals paper items between two sheets of transparent plastic material, melting to form a seal when subjected to heat and pressure. The laminate material also breaks down over time, damaging the document trapped inside the melted plastic.

The encapsulation process uses a non-reactive polyester film to hold paper items in place. It does not use heat to adhere to the paper or to seal the pieces closed, but rather simple double-sided tape to tape edges together and enclose the materials inside. The tape can be removed or replaced at any time to open up the two pieces of polyester and allow easy removal of the item inside.

Clockwise left to right: DON’T stack vinyl records flat on top of one another, but DO store flat anything that’s recorded on tape like old home movies or VCR tapes; don’t under-fill or overfill paper items stored in folders; store audiovisual recordings in appropriately sized individual non-metal containers.
Places to NOT store your family treasures!

Most people store their family mementos and heirlooms in the basement, attic, or garage, but it is best to keep these items away from areas that are not climate controlled like the living spaces of your house are. Avoid large fluctuations +/- 5 degrees in temperature and +/- 5% in humidity. The ideal temperature for items and people to cohabitate is between 68-70 degrees. Film based materials generally like cold storage (a freezer is best). Even if your materials aren’t organized, keep them away from areas that would attract pests and have high levels of heat, humidity, or sunlight.

Follow these basic guidelines and you’ll be able to keep your family treasures around for generations to come!

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