Our focus in this article is Gown Preservation and Insects as Pests. When properly stored, a wedding gown placed in an acid free Heirloom Preservation Chest will minimize the likelihood of insects having access to the gown inside. Normally, though not sealed, chest joints should be taped so as to disallow insects from crawling inside the chest. Placing the chest in an outer cover such as a muslin cover will reduce the likelihood of invasion. It is wise to insure that the environment in which your gown is stored is monitored for insects of any type. Some common enemies, among others, are silver fish, moth, and carpet beetles. While you as a new bride may have enough be concerned about, please tuck this little environmental monitoring suggestion away for safe keeping.
We at Iowa Bridal Preservation are licensed as a non commercial pest management professional in Iowa. We are able to identify potential risks to your gown regarding pests in its kept environment. We are able to suggest monitoring techniques to improve your vigilance in the environment of storage.
Consulting a Conservator
Textile conservators are skilled in cleaning, repairing and stabilizing costumes and uniforms as well as vintage gowns. Our approach is to “minimize intervention”, preserving and respecting as much of the original object as possible and retaining any related historical information when warranted.
You can expect a conservator to document their work carefully and give you full estimates and a list of options before carrying out treatment.
An not often mentioned aspect of gown storage is the issue of pests. Some pests may not harm your gown and other may. This topic is not often found in gown preservation work while emphasis is more over placed on cleaning and selecting the properly materials, correct placement, breathability of the chest, reduction of light and humidity, etc. But pests, particularly the ones we focus on here, and including mildew, are worthy of vigilance.
Direct Insect Damage
Direct damage is caused by insects that feed directly on the fabric of your garment. They are especially attracted by leftover smells of food stains and body oils. Common examples are webbing clothes moths, casemaking clothes moths, carpet beetles, and sometimes termites. Damage done by silverfish is actually in the “indirect damage” classification. Even if damage appears to be limited to a closet, don’t assume the culprit is clothes moths. If you don’t see moths flying, pupa casings, cocoons, or larvae, carpet beetles could easily be the problem. Once they feed they often migrate, leaving behind only the damage.While feeding on the fabric the insect cuts or weakens the surface fibers. Often the damage is not found until fibers are flushed away, leaving damage visible on the garment. In addition, discoloration to the fabric may be caused by the insect’s droppings.
A different type of damage, “indirect damaged,” occurs when insects feed on spilled food or perspiration on the fabric. The “trails” of indirect damage follow the direction of food or beverage spills. Common examples of insects that do indirect damage are: silverfish, crickets, beetles, and roaches. Most of them feed on natural starches and glues, leaving visible damage (but not holes) on finer fabrics such as silk, cotton, linen and rayon.
Clothes Moth and Larvae
The Clothes moth spins webbing and lays eggs which hatch into larvae (small worms). The larvae spin a cocoon in which it transforms into an adult moth. Moth infestation can multiply rapidly and cause severe damage. Approximate size: Adult 9mm., larva 9mm.
Silky webbing is always associated with a moth infestation. It is important to inspect a textile on all sides when looking for infestation. Moth larvae leave holes or thin areas in a textile. If infestation is advanced, granular excrement can also be found on or around the textile. Moths prefer darkness and will shun light.
If infestation is localized it is possible to carefully vacuum the object, providing it is strong enough to withstand the suction. Vacuuming should be thorough on both sides of the object with special attention to seams and creases. Dry cleaning is advisable for contemporary garments as it will kill all stages of infestation. This treatment however is not always safe for historic textiles. Freezing is an effective and safe method of eradicating an infestation.
Casemaking or case-bearing clothes moths are slightly smaller than the webbing clothes moths. The adult is light brown with 3 barely visible dark spots on each wing. The adults live for only 4 to 6 days. The females lay 37 to 48 creamy-white oval-shaped eggs(photo on left), which soon turn red, and hatch in 4 to 7 days into larvae which look like cream-colored caterpillars less than 1/2” long. During the larval stage, which lasts 68 to 87 days, they spin protective cases (using bits and pieces of items they’re consuming!) and drag the cases along as they move. Eventually the cases become the tough cocoons in which the pupae develop into adult moths in 9 to 19 days. Evidence of their presence is similar to the webbing clothes moths. Other less common moths include the Brown House Moth, and the Tapestry Moth, both of which require at least 80% humidity to thrive.
Carpet Beetle and Larvae
The hard shelled carpet beetle, black or mottled black and white, lays eggs which hatch into larvae. The larva is yellow to brown in color, and is very fast moving. A carpet beetle larva will molt several times during its life leaving a skin casting.
The larvae of the carpet beetle can do extensive damage as it feeds without preference on wool, fur, and silk. The larvae also feed on dead insects. If you have an infestation of carpet beetles you will be able to find bodies of adult beetles and larval skin castings in light fixtures, on window sills and in the cracks of floor boards. Carpet beetle larvae leave clean neat holes in textiles with a fine powder of the same color as the object left behind. By placing white paper in the bottom of boxes or on shelves, the powder left underneath the infested object will be clearly visible.
Carpet beetles, unlike moths, are attracted to light. Insect sticky traps set on window sills are effective in trapping carpet beetles. Carpet beetle eggs are very fragile and are easily destroyed when brushed off. An infested textile can be carefully vacuumed and/or dry-cleaned if appropriate. Freezing is also an effective treatment.
Silverfish are small, wingless insects that do not have larvae in their life cycle. They lay eggs that hatch into nymphs and resemble miniature adult silverfish. Nymphs molt several times before they mature into adults. Approximate size: 12.5 mm.
Both adult and nymph silverfish cause damage. They hide in cool, dark places and feed on sizing that consist of starch, sugar and/or protein. Silverfish have rasping mouth parts and cannot successfully chew textile fibers but can cause damage to fine fabrics such as silk, cotton, linen, and rayon.
Silverfish can leave irregular holes by eating the surface material of objects. Rarely do they cause a hole in the textile but rather a shaving off of the surface fibers. Generally, silverfish are more of a problem for books than for textiles.
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew are microorganisms that are ever present in the air and soil. Under certain conditions such as high humidity a fungal growth develops from spores. This can damage textiles. If fabrics are the least bit moist when stored, a mold and mildew problem may occur.
Mold and mildew appear as irregular shapes of gray, black, or green spots on fabrics. Growth can occur when textiles are framed and glass is placed directly against the piece. Mold and mildew will discolor fabrics and emit a musty odor.
Textiles that have evidence of mold and mildew should be aired out and then carefully vacuumed. It may be advisable to have the textile cleaned; check first with a conservator.
In general it is wise to store only clean garments. All food and beverage stains should be thoroughly removed. The invisible remnants of body oils, perspiration and food stains could be enough to attract insects. Dry Cleaning is normally an effective method to kill all stages of insects.
Store your clothes in cool dry places. Avoid air tight containers such as air tight plastic containers for long term storage. Breathability is a desirable feature to effective storage and preservation.
Those of us at Iowa Bridal Preservation can help you select the proper material for storage. Our Heirloom Gown Preservation work provides the necessary material for effective storage of your gown and special keepsake textiles. We also can advise you on managing pests which you find in your gown storage environment.