I have a silk bridal shawl from 1890s. How can I remove grease/finger marks? Is it important to clean it? How should I store it?
Whether it’s important to remove stains is a good question. Seen from the point of view of the fabric, the answer is a definite yes! Stains cause the fibres to change in ways that make them degrade even more quickly. So stains are usually where a textile first shows signs of damage.
But if you look at the issue from a historical perspective, the answer is not so clear. Sometimes we have objects where the history of the object is just as important as the materials it’s made of. In these cases, we have to preserve all the traces of its history.
But back to your original question. It’s difficult to say without having seen the actual shawl, but I’d recommend asking a trusted dry-cleaners to clean the shawl. It’s not easy to clean greasy marks off a silk shawl yourself.
As far as storage is concerned, the same rules apply to all textiles: no light, minimal fluctuations in temperature/humidity, and as few folds as possible. Buy some polyester wadding and use it to make a roll that’s a little longer than the width of the shawl. Cover the whole roll of wadding with a length of white, freshly laundered cotton and then roll the shawl around the outside of the roll as smoothly as possible. Finally, wrap the whole thing up in another length of cotton. The shawl will now be well protected for the future.
Kind regards from the textile conservators
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