How to Care for Your Fabrics
Caring for fabrics properly, both before and after they're sewn into a project, can increase how long they last. Whether your finished projects are stored for long periods of time or are periodically on display, follow these guidelines to protect them from damage and keep them at their best.
Sources of Fabric Damage
Fluorescent lights and ultraviolet radiation from sunlight cause fabric dyes to fade and fibers to become brittle. Rotate projects frequently to prevent damage from exposure to light. Cover windows with shades when sunlight is direct. Make sure that projects are not stored in an area exposed to direct sunlight to prevent the exposed portions from fading.
2. FOLDS AND CREASES
When folded fabrics or projects are stored for long periods of time, the fibers along the folds begin to weaken, and permanent creases can develop. Some sewers refold their fabrics periodically to keep this from occurring. It's best to roll, rather than fold, projects for storage.
Paper, cardboard, plastics, and unfinished wood in shelves, drawers, and trunks release acid, which is damaging to fabrics. Prevent your fabrics and projects from coming in contact with these surfaces by rolling them in acid-free tissue paper or storing them in acid-free boxes or white, cotton pillowcases.
Mold and mildew flourish in warm, moist environments, so projects and fabrics shut in closed containers or wrapped in plastic and stored in areas of temperature extremes and excess moisture (attics, basements, and garages) are susceptible to the growth of these fungi. To avoid the irreversible damage caused by mold and mildew, and to protect your fabrics from dust and other elements, store them in a cool, dry location (less than 50% humidity). You can also wrap them in white, cotton pillowcases to allow air to pass through and let the projects breathe.
Antique and vintage fabrics need to be handled with care, as they are prone to damage by laundering. Unstable dyes and pigments, weave, and age make these fabrics especially sensitive to today's cleaning methods. For example, some older fabrics were made with unstable dyes, and any contact with moisture may cause them to bleed. This is especially noticeable with brown and black dyes in antique fabrics. Other fabrics become brittle with time and may turn to powder. Contact an expert, such as a quilt preservationist or appraiser at a museum or university, for recommendations on handling, cleaning, and preserving older fabrics and projects.
TIP: Clean Hands Preserve Fabrics
From the first cut of fabric to the last stitch of the project, having clean hands and a clean work area will help preserve your project. Wash your hands often when working on a project and avoid contact with food and drink. Residues from the acids and salts on your hands and in food products may attract insects, which will cause damage.