Family Archivist: Bridal and Baptismal Gowns

Family Archivist: Bridal and Baptismal Gowns

May and June are typically filled with springtime weddings, and bridal and baby showers. But when the church bells stop ringing, do you know how to safely preserve the keepsake gowns?   Ask the Archivist Q. How do I care for an heirloom satin baptismal gown? It’s embroidered and...

May and June are typically filled with springtime weddings, and bridal and baby showers. But when the church bells stop ringing, do you know how to safely preserve the keepsake gowns?
 

Ask the Archivist

Q. How do I care for an heirloom satin baptismal gown? It’s embroidered and trimmed in lace. I’d love for my grandson to wear it for his baptism.

A. Lucky baby to wear such a precious christening gown! First, examine it. Wash your hands and remove rings, or wear white cotton gloves. Spread the gown over a cotton sheet and look for stains, tears and loose beads. If it appears in good condition, it may be ready for your grandson after a thorough airing. Hang the gown on a padded hanger for a few days, away from light, and heating or air conditioning vents.

If the gown needs cleaning and the fabric is strong enough, take it to a dry cleaner experienced in working with antique clothing. Seek help from a textile conservator for any tears or old stains, especially if they’ve gone through to the back of the fabric.

Although the gown may be too big or too small for your grandson, it’s best to avoid altering it. Fortunately, most gowns are made with an opening in the back. You can slip the gown over the baby just before the ceremony and leave it on long enough for photos. No one will notice the gap or extra fabric in the back.

Afterward, look for new stains or spots of dried moisture to show the dry cleaner. Oils from hands and ceremonial substances can permanently soil fabric, so have the gown cleaned before storing. Consult your dry cleaner if in doubt.

 

Save Childhood Memories

The Children’s Preservation Kit from Family Tree Shop includes the supplies you need to safely store heirloom children’s clothing, handmade blankets and other mementos. The acid-free box is large enough to comfortably hold a gown without crushing or excessive folding, and the acid-free tissue cushions delicate items. It also includes labels (to eliminate unnecessary opening to view contents), white gloves and complete instructions.

For a larger-sized box and tissue paper, try the Quilt Preservation Kit or peruse the offerings of archival suppliers such as Hollinger Metal Edge and Gaylord Brothers.
 

Project Idea: Stitches in Time

Do you have a dress, a “something blue” hankie, or another special item that generations have worn or carried? Record each wearer’s name, the event and the date by embroidering along the hem of a dress or border of a hankie. If you’re all thumbs with needle and thread, many dry cleaners will stitch this for you. Just be sure to use a fine silk needle and cotton or linen thread in keeping with the quality of the garment.

Create a family keepsake record on acid-free paper and store it with the item. Note the original owner and seamstress, if known, with a list of wearers, occasions and dates. Include copies of any photos showing the gown.

 

How to Store Heirloom Gowns

Are you saving a wedding or baptismal gown for a future family member to wear? Here’s how to keep it in tiptop shape:

  • Always clean garments before storing and, with clean or cotton-gloved hands, examine regularly for traces of pests, mold and mildew.
  • Store the gown in a large acid-free box lined with archival tissue paper or clean white cotton sheeting. To help prevent creases and folds, generously pad the garment with acid-free tissue. Lightly stuff sleeves and any areas where folds might occur.
  • Place individual pieces in separate boxes. Store boxes in a cool, dry room with good air circulation. The ideal climate for storing textiles is 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with 50 to 55 percent humidity (which also is about the level recommended for homes). An interior closet in your home’s living area is a good location.
  • You can hang a long gown on a well-padded hanger. You can DIY one, suggests Smithsonian museum curator Don Johnson, by wrapping polyester batting around a wooden hanger. When you have about 2 inches of padding, cover the entire hanger with a muslin sleeve. 
  • Cover the hanging garment with a zipped cotton or linen garment bag. Don’t use plastic—off-gassing from the plastic can cause yellowing. 
  • Resist the temptation to put garments on long-term display. Light and heat will cause fabric to deteriorate more quickly.

Family Tree Pinspiration

Find and share ideas for saving and sharing your family’s history on our Family History Crafts & Gifts board on Pinterest. It’s full of keepsake projects such as family photo magnets, shadowbox displays, old recipe crafts and more. Got a keepsake project to share? Pin it (you must be a member of Pinterest) and tag @Family Tree Magazine in the description. From time to time, we’ll feature readers’ projects in Family Tree Magazine.

From the May/June 2014 Family Tree Magazine

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