Thanks to Jonathan Scheer, President of J. Scheer & Co for answering this week’s reader question:
I’m thinking about wearing my mother’s wedding dress for my upcoming nuptials. How do I go about restoring her gown?
Regard continues to grow for the preservation of family treasures, old and new, which comprise our cultural heritage. It is often true that a bride-to-be will consider wearing her mother or grandmother’s wedding gown to honor or take part in family tradition. Her decision to do so will be made based on a number of factors including style and the condition of the fabric. Read on for the advice.
Averting and overcoming the attacks of time and environment has become an exacting art and science of advanced precision that requires training and expertise. Cleaning and repairing vintage ceremonial costume should be carried out by professional conservators. Commercial dry cleaning is not recommended since harsh chemicals and inexperienced handling can damage aged and fragile textiles.
Most antique textiles are made of delicate organic fibers that may include silk, wool, linen, and cotton. It is likely that such delicate fabrics, stored in homes for generations, have undergone moderate to considerable degradation. There are a variety of factors that contribute to damage: inherent instability or careless handling, inappropriate storage or cleaning, exposure to light and/or fluctuations in temperature or humidity levels, and pest infestation.
The restoration and conservation of heirloom textiles made of delicate organic fibers is an exacting and time consuming process. Areas of weakness or loss must be stabilized, stains must be identified, the textile must be cleaned very gently by hand using only organic solvents and detergents, repairs must be made in such a way as to faithfully restore the textile to it’s original construction, and non-acidic storage materials must be utilized to maintain the physical and chemical stability of the textile in a home storage environment.
For the bride to be who is considering wearing her mother’s dress, re-styling the dress to fit her esthetic sensibility, or incorporating a portion of heirloom fabric into her own ensemble should ask the following questions: Does the dress fit or can it be altered or re-styled to accommodate my needs? Is the condition of the fabric acceptable “as is” or does it require the care of a professional conservator prior to use? If upon inspection the dress fabric appears to be too fragile to be worn or if there is visible and unsightly discoloration, the bride to be should consider seeking the advice of professional conservators such as those at J. Scheer & Co. who specialize in the cleaning and restoration of vintage wedding gowns and veils.