The Archive Lady shares her tips on cleaning heirloom doll clothing and the best way to preserve dolls for future generations
Paula in Missouri asks” “My grandmother made dolls, sewing the clothes, and purchasing the ceramic head & arms to attach. The one that I have is stained on the gown. Should I clean it and how? Also, what’s the best way to preserve it?”
Paula has asked a great preservation question that is a very personal question for her. Many of us have handmade family heirlooms that we want to preserve. Handmade dolls are a special craft that many of our ancestors practiced and now Paula has one her grandmother made.
Vintage Doll Gown, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
The doll that Paula owns has a stain on the clothing that her grandmother made. This is not unusual as dolls are played with and used roughly by children. As a result, doll clothing can get stained, and Paula wants to know how to clean them. Any kind of vintage clothing can be delicate because of its age. Most vintage clothing is made of cotton or linen, which are quite durable. One of the first things to do is determine if the fabric is strong enough to wash. If the clothing smells like must or mildew or it feels dry and brittle, it may not stand up to being submerged in water and should be taken to a professional cleaner. But if you think the clothing is durable enough, then it can be washed.
First, fill the kitchen or bathroom sink with cool water. Do not use hot or even warm water as it might cause shrinkage. Using a mild detergent that contains no bleach, gentle rub the clothing in the cool water and detergent with your hands for about 5-10 minutes. The bleach can be quite harmful to fabrics, and it is not recommended to be used. Next, rinse the clothing in more cool water to remove the detergent. Do not wring the clothing too tightly but try to get as much of the water out as possible. Lay the clothing on a dry towel to air dry, flipping it every so often. It is also okay to let the clothing dry on an outside clothing line if it is not in direct sunlight. The sunlight can fade any color on the clothing. This process should have removed any stains or dirt. If not, it is best to consult with a clothing conservator.
China Dolls 1850-1870, Courtesy Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium
To preserve and store Paula’s doll I suggest purchasing archival tissue paper and an archival box. There are even special archival doll boxes that many of the online archival stores offer. Gently wrap the doll, with the clothing on, in the archival tissue paper and place in the archival box. If the doll is moving around in the box, crumple up some archival tissue paper and place around the doll so it doesn’t move. This is especially important for those dolls with ceramic heads, hands, and feet. Be sure to tuck in a note explaining who made the doll and any other history about the doll and your relationship to that person or to the doll itself. Place a label on the outside of the box indicating what is being stored in that box. Store in a cool, dark, and dry place where the temperature and humidity levels are consistent.
Archival Tissue Paper and Box, Gaylord Archival
Taking care of our precious family heirlooms like Paula’s handmade doll and vintage doll clothing will mean that our descendants will be able to enjoy them just as much as we did.
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If you have a question for The Archive Lady, please send them via email and I could use your archival question in an upcoming edition of The Archive Lady column. Melissa Barker, a.k.a. The Archive Lady E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Archival Materials Websites
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
- Print File Archival Storage
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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