At a museum service, the careful preservation of our wedding dress collection is paramount, each gown being as individual and unique as the bride herself. Each one gives us insight into not only the fabrics and styling of the past, but also the artistry of the seamstress in the cut, construction, embellishment and tricks of the trade that are preserved in every stitch. In sharing the techniques we employ to care for our own collections, we hope to encourage and assist you in the preservation of your own wedding dress. The essential first tip before considering the type of packaging to use when storing your dress is to make sure that before it is packed away, it is clean. No bride goes through an entire day of ceremony and festivities with a pristine dress at the end of it and any stains, dirt or debris absorbed into the fibers of the fabric, if not attended to, could prove detrimental to the stability of the dress in long-term storage. Organic staining, such as sweat, food and beverages, are also an instant attractant to insect pests, which, if left unchecked, have the potential to wreak havoc on your prized possession. Certain types of dirt and staining – if the environmental conditions allow – can also attract moisture, which can lead to problems with mould growth. Many a dress in our collection has the tell-tale brown spots of ‘foxing’, indicating a damp storage environment. As well as being clean, the fabric of the dress should have as few creases as possible, especially with fine, natural fabrics, such as silk. Creases can break down to become irreparable splits, usually accelerated by exposure to ultra-violet and visible (daylight) light sources and throughout your wedding day, your dress will have had some exposure to these. It is also worth condition-checking your dress for any splits or tears that may have occurred, as these could be fixed by you or your dressmaker, prior to packing. Cleaning a wedding dress should only be carried out by a specialist professional, as different fabrics require differing cleaning techniques; the cleaning solution suitable for one fabric type may not be suitable for another. There are also the embellishments to consider, such as beading or embroidered details, which can be damaged in the cleaning process. It is worth taking the time to source a suitable cleaning company; going on recommendation is always a good idea. Once your dress is cleaned, leave it unwrapped in a cool room and away from direct sunlight for a couple of days to ensure that any residual vapors have left the garment.
Cleaning a wedding dress should only be carried out by a specialist professional, as different fabrics require differing cleaning techniques; the cleaning solution suitable for one fabric type may not be suitable for another. There are also the embellishments to consider, such as beading or embroidered details, which can be damaged in the cleaning process. It is worth taking the time to source a suitable cleaning company; going on recommendation is always a good idea. Once your dress is cleaned, leave it unwrapped in a cool room and away from direct sunlight for a couple of days to ensure that any residual vapours have left the garment.
To hang or not to hang is the next question to consider and this depends on the choice of fabric or the cut and construction of your dress, as to whether it can be stored on a dress hanger. Hanging a garment certainly takes up less storage space than a box, but is not suitable for all dresses. The type of fabric used and the construction of the dress need to be considered, as stretch fabrics or a dress cut on the bias will gradually stretch and distort over time if placed on a hanger. The weight of the dress should be considered too, as a full skirt with numerous petticoats and perhaps in a heavyweight fabric will place a considerable amount of strain on the shoulders of the dress if it is to be hung. Then again, a full dress with petticoats, if squashed into a box, could cause the dress to be crushed or creased. As long as these issues are considered and you do the best for your dress, it will stay in good condition for many years to come. It is also best practice to periodically inspect a stored garment for any changes in its condition and to check the state of the packing materials, or if any insect pests have found their way into the box or garment cover.
When the decision has been made of how your dress will be stored, the next stage of the packing process is to choose the materials. In the museum all our packaging and boxes are of archival quality, with acid-free tissue used to interleave and support. Although this type of specialist material can be costly to purchase, it is a worthwhile long-term investment in your heirloom. Some specialist dry cleaners do now sell acid-free tissue and suitable boxes for storing wedding gowns and so this is something to consider. The secret to good packaging is to create plenty of support for the costume, using rolled, puffed (the tissue is turned under and rolled into a rounded ball shape) and flat tissue to interleave and pad. Areas such as delicate pleating may require rolls of tissue to lift the pleating and open them very slightly, so they do not crush. A structured bodice may require some puffed pads to hold the shape of the bust or a pad can also be used to support a sleeve that is full at the shoulder. Flat sheets of tissue can be used to pre-line the storage box and to interleave when folding a dress, so none of the layers touch and the folds are softened.
Choose a box that gives ample room to store the dress with the least amount of folding possible and allow for the layers of tissue. Do not overfill the box, as this will defeat the object of padding and support. A full-length veil, for example, needs to be stored in a separate box or on a hanger with garment cover. If the decision has been made that the dress can safely be stored on a dress hanger, it is important that the right type of hanger and dress cover be chosen. A padded hanger is always recommended for storing historic garments and at the museum, we adapt hangers to suit the differing needs of the dresses. Wooden hangers are usually used but are carefully covered and padded to ensure that no substances, such as acids in the wood, permeate through to the costume. They are also often cut down at the ends to accommodate the narrow shoulders of a Victorian gown, for example. The materials we use are inert, such as polyester wadding and unbleached calico cotton. The key is to ensure that the hanger is soft and supportive of the shoulders and into the sleeve, without putting any strain on the garment.
The dress cover needs to be lightweight and yet robust enough to protect the garment inside, as well as being large enough to comfortably fit the dress. Fabrics such as unbleached cotton are ideal and the closure should be with tie fastenings or a zip, never a hook and loop fastening, as delicate areas of the dress could catch when being removed from the cover. If purchasing a garment cover, ensure the fabric is breathable, secures well and is not dyed. Never use a plastic dress cover, as plastic will degrade and potentially emit chemicals that could permeate the dress fabric. In the museum, we also ensure our dress covers have no obvious gaps through which insect pests could enter. Our covers are tied at the neck of the hanger for added protection. Once your dress is packed away safely, store it away from light and heat sources, in a clean environment and preferably in a room that has an even temperature and where you can check on it from time to time. Enjoy and cherish your wonderful wedding gown, as who knows – maybe one day it will find its way into a book on how to make vintage wedding dresses.
Excerpted with permission from <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1785003127/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1785003127&linkCode=as2&tag=craftfocom-20&linkId=5d79fbe666e5c21d4036018efbfd91cb" target="_blank">Making Vintage Wedding Dresses</a>.