When you think about all the hidden treasures in the Coca-Cola Archives, you probably imagine historic bottles, old metal signs and brightly colored advertising posters.

But what about baseball uniforms, bowties and bell bottoms? 

That’s right, you can also find these items in the Atlanta-based Archives. Since we moved the Archives to our new home last year, I've been working on organizing and re-housing our historic textiles collection. The Archives has a variety of different articles of clothing, hats, aprons, bag, ties and scarves made of many types of materials – silk, cotton, wool, polyester, rayon and linen – in our collection. You probably don’t have a 1920s Coca-Cola Bottling Plant baseball uniform or 1970s “It’s the Real Thing” beach pants, but you might have your grandmother’s quilts or your mother’s wedding dress. 

Caring for your personal collection of textiles is easier than you may think. By following a few simple steps, you can ensure the preservation of your favorite family heirlooms. The supplies and materials needed to protect your textiles are inexpensive and available online for the at-home preservationist.

Keep the Pests Away

Environmental threats to your textiles include temperature, relative humidity, light and pollution. Pests such as clothes moths, carpet beetles, silverfish and rodents can do some serious damage, too, as well as mold and mildew. If you smell a musty odor or see black or grey staining, this may be an indication of mold or mildew. Improper or careless storage and handling also pose a considerable risk. Proper storage of your textiles can make all the difference in the lifetime of your garments.

Keep it Cool (and Dry) 

Prevention of these common threats is much simpler than dealing with their effects. Try to store textiles in a temperature range of around 65 to 75 degrees with relative humidity around 50 percent. If you can’t get a storage area with these exact specifications, it's most important to avoid fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. Aim for a stable, temperature-controlled storage area where the temperature doesn’t vary greatly based on the time of day or year. Light is a real enemy to fabrics, too, so reduce exposure to light as much as possible. Light causes textile dyes to fade and can darken or bleach undyed textiles. Ideally keep your textiles in archival quality storage boxes in a room without windows. 

Keep it Neat

Look around your storage area from time to time to make sure you don’t see or smell anything that could attracts pests. Remember that good housekeeping is the best way to deter pests from finding a home in your grandmother’s quilts. Store items in suitable containers and do your best to keep good air circulation and steady temperature in the space. Storage containers will help protect your textiles from common pollutants like dust, pollen, dirt and cigarette smoke. The best place to store items in your home is a cool, dry room. Good air circulation will help prevent any mold from growing. Avoid storing items in your attics and basements if you can because the climate is usually more difficult to control in those spaces.  

Hats

Before (left) – Hats were flat and stored stacked on top of one another. During processing (middle) – I gently packed each hat with acid-free tissue to restore their original shape. After (right) – Hats are stored in archival box layered with acid-free tissue for long-term preservation.

Keep it Clean

If your budget allows the best way to store your textiles is in archival storage boxes with acid-free tissue. Cloth items are best stored flat to reduce damage to fibers. Layer items in archival boxes with acid-free tissue between items. If garments are in good condition they can hung, but toss out those wire hangers, plastic dry cleaner’s bags or vinyl garment bags. These types of materials break down and deteriorate over time and can damage your garments. It’s best to cover hanging items with a muslin dust cover in the shape of a garment bag. Heavy garments like beaded dresses should always be stored flat. If items are large and must be folded within an archival storage box, place acid-free tissue between folds to prevent creases. Gently add archival tissue to the interiors of bags, hats and other 3-D items to maintain their shape. If you find that your textiles are dirty or damaged, it’s best to take them to a qualified professional conservator for cleaning and repair. Commercial dry cleaning is not recommended for delicate textiles because the chemicals can be damaging. Carpets and tapestries can be cleaned gently with a vacuum but be sure to use the lowest suction setting. 

Want to learn more? The National Parks Service has a great series of educational leaflets on preservation and conservation of all types of materials called Conserve O Grams. Looking to purchase acid-free tissue or archival storage boxes? There are many vendors who sell these items, so here are just a few to get you started: Gaylord Archival, Hollinger Metal Edge, Talas, and Conservation Resources