The Benton County Museum just closed its quilt exhibition for the year, so it seems timely to offer a look at how we preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations. Quilts are common heirloom that contain a lot of family history, and their long term preservation can be quite simple if the right materials and techniques are used.
This blog is going to start with a short explanation about the photo quality. We decided to shoot the quilts as an action process, thus there may be some blurs here and there as people move around. Mary Gallagher, the collections manager, is particularly talented at being a blur because she is constantly in motion getting something done. It's a trait we at the museum are quite fond of, thus excusing a bit of blur seems the least we could do.
Quilts and other large textiles such as flags and tapestries can be stored in one of three manners: rolling, boxing, or flat. Flat storage requires large amounts of space, reserved for textiles that are in poor condition or that are especially rare.
Rolling is a common method of long term storage for blankets, rugs, and quilts that don't have too much applique. The quilt is rolled around an archival tube and placed on racks.
Boxing is used for smaller items and quilts with heavy applique.
The first step in rolling a quilt is making sure your tube is of adequate diameter. When in doubt, bigger is better. You can buy archival tubes, or make your own by covering craft paper tubes with Marvel Seal (c). The tube Mary and Nancy are using is covered in Marvel Seal, and Mary is then covering it in stockinette, which helps hold the quilt in place.
Mary and Nancy now examine their work surface, making sure it is clean of debris and anything that might harm their quilt.
A sheet of Tyvek is cut to the length of the quilt. Tyvek provides a sturdy barrier for the quilt, it breathes, but is waterproof, and isn't susceptible to tearing like tissue is.The Tyvek is wrapped around the quilt, and again with cotton twill, but not too tightly.
Boxing quilts contains many of the same processes that rolling does, such as covering the quilt on both sides with acid free tissue. The quilt Mary and Nancy will be boxing is from 1845 and is an "album quilt" Many of the squares contain the names of those that worked on it. The fabric has deteriorated in a peculiar manner over the years, one of the dyes in a particular flower pattern has dissolved the fabric.
Nancy begins by unfolding the quilt, checking for any sort of insect damage or anything else not currently noted in the file.
The Minnesota Historical Society offers some great tips on how to roll and box quilts and other textiles.