Christening gowns often become treasured family heirlooms, inherited by the wearer or passed around to each new generation. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to start a tradition than to keep one going – heirloom preservation is no easy task. Textile preservation is even more difficult.
Of all the possible christening gown materials, silk is one of the most beautiful, and one of the most difficult to care for. Before you take over the care of an heirloom or purchase a christening dress or suit, it’s important to plan for storage and maintenance. Dirt and damage can be difficult (if not impossible) to remove once it takes hold. Prevention is the best approach to preservation.
This quick guide will help you get started. Caring for a family heirloom is a big responsibility, but the results are well worth the effort. Share this guide with your family before bringing the gown home for the first time to make sure it has the best possible chance of surviving for generations to come.
Preparing and Packing for Storage
Before storing the gown, remove any painted or metallic embellishments. Do not store non-fabric items with the gown. Consider removing the buttons or fasteners if they run the risk of deteriorating and staining the silk fabric. If your gown has any special beadwork or other permanent embellishment, consider taking it to a preservation specialist for further storage recommendations.
Do not store your christening gown in a dust sleeve – this might work for a few months, but it’s not a suitable long-term storage solution for silk gowns. Instead, invest in archival quality packing materials such as those sold at bridal outlets. Archival quality packing materials are generally made of acid-free, dye-free papers and fabrics.
Proper storage requires three items: stuffing paper, a fabric bag, and a large paper box. Use the stuffing paper to eliminate creases and folds (any folds will break the delicate silk fibers and will reduce the lifespan of the garment significantly). Place the gown in a breathable linen bag or wrap with linen fabric. Place the wrapped gown into a box large enough to prevent folds but small enough to hold the gown securely in place.
The box needs to have good airflow to prevent mildew – this is why you should not use plastic in any part of the packing process. Airtight storage might work for food, but it definitely doesn’t work well for the long-term storage of fine silk.
Finding a Safe Storage Spot
The ideal storage spot is dark, away from sunlight and even household lights. It needs to have a stable temperature (temperature fluctuations damage the fabric) and it needs to have proper airflow (just like the storage box). Do not store in a location that requires chemical pest treatments or mothballs: these damage or discolor the silk over time.
Maintenance and upkeep is extremely important. Make sure your storage spot is easily accessible. At least once a year, check for pest infestations and discoloration – early detection is the best way to manage potential deterioration. Some substances, like sugar and oils, take time to show up on fabric. Take some time to pack and repack the gown to straighten any accidental creases or folds.
If you don’t have a suitable location for the christening gown, consider contacting local preservation agencies for advice. Many indoor storage facilities offer appropriate climate control and some businesses actually specialize in heirloom preservation and storage.
A preservation specialist can help you prepare the gown for storage if you are unsure about tackling the job on your own. Nobody wants to take chances with a precious heirloom, after all! Caring for silk is never a chore if you undertake proper preparation, storage, and maintenance before any problems have a chance to surface. Families often use their silk christening gowns for decades, over dozens of generations. Preservation is definitely possible.
Enjoy Your Heirloom!