Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, tackles the problem of preserving heirloom crocheted pieces and incorporating them in family archives
Linda in Maryland asks: “I have been given several crochet pieces I would love to archive in some way. Do you have any suggestions?”
Linda asks a question about a family heirloom that so many of us have in our own family records collections. Crocheted pieces can be some of the most beautiful handmade items our ancestors made. Many of these can even be considered pieces of art. My Mom, Marjorie Ann (Bartram) LeMaster, made many crocheted pieces during her lifetime. She made doilies, table clothes and sweaters. She even made a beautifully crocheted outfit for her granddaughter, my daughter, to wear when she left the hospital when she was born. So, crocheted pieces are incredibly special to me.
Crocheted Doilies courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Preserving and storing these items can be a challenge and if not done properly could result in the destruction of these precious heirlooms.
For most textile items, such as crocheted materials, you will need archival tissue paper and the correct size box for archival storage. First, put a layer of tissue paper in the bottom of the box. Then put your crocheted item on the tissue paper. If the item is large, such as a tablecloth or bed covering it is okay to fold it but put layers of tissue paper between the folds making sure that none of the folded material touches itself.
I also like to put extra tissue paper as a “filler” in the box so that the item does not move around in the box. Just ball the tissue paper up and put it around the item and that will keep it still in the box. Then place the box in a dark, cool, and dry storage place. With crocheted items I like to take the archival box and place it in another box such as a plastic tote which can be sealed, this is to deter moths and insects which can destroy crocheted materials.
Archival Box for Crocheted Items, Courtesy of Archival Products
Be sure to put documentation in the box to explain in detail all pertinent information about the item. If it was handmade, include the name of the person who made it. Also, if applicable, include the “chain of ownership” of the item and how it has been passed down in the family and which ancestors owned it before it was passed down to you. The more information you include in your description, the better!
Finding handmade crocheted items in an archive can be a challenge but they do exist. Most items of this kind will be found in family record collections which are normally part of the archives larger Manuscript Collection or Special Collections. When family records have been donated to an archive, the collection could include crocheted items and they would be processed right along with the documents and should be listed in the finding aid.
Crocheted Afghan, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Another way a crocheted item could be cataloged in an archive is in a group collection such as a “Textile Collection” which could include many examples of crocheted items by different makers and are housed in one collection. Many of our wonderful textile museums have wonderful examples of crocheted materials that have been donated.
As genealogists we are always searching for that next important document to help tell our ancestor’s story. Don’t forget our ancestors are also trying to tell us their story through things that they made, things that they wore and things that they used daily. The story behind a handmade crocheted item can be just as interesting as the story behind a document.
Preserving the crocheted items of our ancestors and the stories that go with them should be part of every genealogist’s journey to document our families.
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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist
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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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