Storing your vintage sewing pattern collection

What is the greatest risk facing your collection? It is handling damage and water (including humidity problems). Handling damage can be minimized with just about any kind of plastic bag, and humidity is manageable with air conditioners.

Handling Damage

Bag your collection.Every time you riffle through your collection, every time you remove the pattern pieces to see if they are all there, every time you show a particularly precious piece to a friend you run the risk of widening existing tears or creating new ones in the brittle, high-acid paper that pattern envelopes are made of. Here are four plastic sleeve options to minimize handling damages. Mylar is the plastic of choice for archivists, but it can be expensive, hard to find, and so rigid that it won’t provide a good flap to keep out moisture or insects.

Polypropylene is the plastic of choice for your most valuable patterns. Buy it at your local comic book specialty store. Everything except the large Vogue Patterns will fit in these sleeves. Ask for low-acid cardboard backers to reduce wear on the pattern itself. Polyethylene bags can be bought inexpensively by the boxful from local plastic bag suppliers. Polyethylene is not recommended for long-term store of valuable materials.

Water Damage

File your bagged collection upright.Next on the high risk list is water damage. Basements and attics destroy patterns: if that’s where yours are stored, you won’t win any brownie points with buyers. Once you have placed your patterns in the best plastic sleeve you can afford, store them upright.

Sun Damage

Protect from the sun. Ever left a newspaper sitting on the back seat of your car in the summer? Some envelopes age attractively, but in doing so they turn as brittle as a bag of potato chips! And brittle patterns simply aren’t worth as much as a comparable pattern in un-yellowed condition.

Insects and Rodents

Search and destroy! Left unchecked, mice will turn your collection into colorful bedding. Insects will gnaw characteristic little holes around the edges of the pattern. Use your nose and your eyes when you bring new patterns into your collection. If you buy a cardboard box filled with patterns, throw that old cardboard box out immediately. Always! Unfold suspicious-looking patterns and “quarantine” them if necessary.

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