Heirlooms are precious, especially the ones that play an active role in your family traditions. Christening gowns are often passed down from generation to generation, weaving a thread that connects all the young family members while giving them something to talk about at family gatherings. Looking through a photo album at pictures of all the babies wearing the same gown is a very special experience.
Sustaining this tradition does require a lot of effort, though. Fabrics are very difficult to preserve. This quick guide will help you preserve your christening gown the right way, so it will last for generations under your care.
1. Use Archival-Quality Materials
Always use certified archival-quality storage materials – everything that touches your gown directly needs to be archival-quality. We suggest using a muslin bag with muslin drawstring to hold the gown, placed inside of a paper box to maintain airflow while protecting the gown from environmental exposure.
What makes archival-quality paper and fabric so special? These materials are acid-free to prevent damage to your heirloom gown. Certified archival-quality materials do not contain any chemical treatments that would leach out over time. Museums use archival-quality/preservation-quality materials for their artifacts. You can find archival-quality storage materials at every major bridal shop.
2. Stuff the Gown to Prevent Creases
Folding fabric reduces the strength of the fibers. Those weakened creases will begin to fray and fall apart if left in storage too long, or after too many uses. Instead of folding, pack the gown in archival-quality tissue paper to help it keep its natural shape. Once you pack the gown, use your extra tissue paper to fill the rest of the box to prevent the gown from shifting around. This extra paper will also help to prevent items set atop the box from crushing the gown inside.
We already mentioned using an archival-quality storage box above, but you might want to stuff your gown before choosing one. This way, you can measure the stuffed gown ensure it fits in your box without the threat of wrinkles.
3. Store the Right Environment
Environment is everything! Fabric is at the mercy of its surroundings. The most obvious things to avoid are harsh light (it can bleach or fade the fabric), heat and cold (this weakens the fibers), and moisture. Good airflow will prevent mold and mildew from growing due to the moisture issue, so avoid airtight plastic coverings at all cost.
Pests and chemicals are two more threats that go hand in hand. Pest-control chemicals and mothballs are not good for heirloom fabrics. Instead of using chemical repellants, simply pull the gown out of storage every few months to check for problems. For all the reasons listed in this section, you can see why basement and attic are poor choices for storage. Avoid using these spaces if you can.
4. Clean After Every Use
Cleaning a baptism outfit is not as easy as it sounds. To do this at home, you would have to research the materials used to create the gown – all the way down to the seams and decorative details. This information is often long gone a few years after purchase. Do not attempt to clean with liquids unless you know exactly what you are doing, but feel free to give the gown a quick vacuum to remove dust and debris.
Dry cleaning is an okay solution, but going to a preservation specialist is even better. The most common dry cleaning techniques are unable to remove sugar and other stains, and their insurance policies rarely cover antiques and cannot compensate for sentimental value. Preservation specialists, on the other hand, have the experience to keep your gown nice for future generations.
5. Start with the Right Gown
Perhaps your heirloom gown has finally outlived its usefulness and you are looking to find a new one for upcoming young ones to use, or perhaps you want to buy a new one to start your own baptism tradition within your family – either way, the longevity of your new gown depends on its quality and materials. We suggest stopping by TheChristianBaby to shop for baptism outfits created by skilled designers.
If your family has assigned you the job of caring for the heirloom gown, the best thing you can do is start researching or talking with preservation specialists. The more you know, the longer your gown will last.