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How to handle textiles

Textiles can be more fragile than they appear. Textiles can become brittle and faded with age, particularly those that have been subject to prolonged exposure to light. Silk is particularly vulnerable, in part due to the common use of weighting agents in manufacture. Over time these various agents weaken the silk fibres making them susceptible to splitting along folds and during handling.   

Handling guidance

When handling textiles, always assess the object for fastenings, beadings and sequins which can catch on textiles creating pulls and damage. Avoid such damage with good, careful handling and by maintaining an awareness of where these points of risk are. Where required, you can wrap such fastenings and beadings in acid-free tissue to protect the fabric from anything which may catch.

If the textile is particularly large or long, you may need to carry it over both arms to provide adequate support. If you are doing this, make sure you don’t have any buttons or decorations on your own clothes that may catch or snag the textile. Alternatively, use two people to handle the textile. 

Handling stored textiles

Some textile garments are suitable to be stored on padded hangers, particularly those from the twentieth century. Where garments are stored like this is possible to handle them whilst on their hanger: lift from rail by the hanger hook (not the shoulder where the garment is sitting); and carry by the hook; if necessary, draping over an arm to ensure the garment does not drag on the floor.

Correct handling of a hung garment

Older, more fragile textiles are often stored boxed and are suitable to be moved in their box. See the Object Packing guidance for more information on how to pack textiles in boxes.

Flat textiles, such as tapestries, are often stored rolled on acid-free cardboard tubes, again they can be moved on their roll. The move will require a person at either end of the roll: either a pole can be pushed through the middle of the tube or it can be lifted from the end of the tube itself (be careful to ensure there is exposed tube at the end of the roll and you will not be touching the textile itself).

Handling a rolled textile without a pole

Handling a rolled textile with a pole

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