Saturday, August 11, 2012

No Wire Hangers EVER!!!!!

In my March 17 post, I described the agents of deterioration that were out to destroy our things. Well, when it comes to costume collections, I left out an important one: gravity.

Storage of costumes can be a tricky business. If you fold them, the creases may cause permanent weak points in the fibers that make up the garment. Hanging costumes therefore seems like a good move because it minimizes creasing. But then there’s the gravity problem.

This gorgeous bias-cut lace dress dates to the late 1920s or early 1930s. It probably belonged to my great-grandmother who put it away on a wire hanger in the 1940s. After supporting  the weight of the dress for decades, the fragile fabric straps pulled themselves apart. 

It may not seem like a chiffon dress or a silk slip is particularly heavy, but over time the weight of the fabric puts a lot of stress on the shoulder area where slips and dresses make contact with the hanger. Wire hangers are particularly bad because the pressure on the shoulder is all focused in one small line. Padded hangers distribute the stress a bit more, but fragile fabrics are at risk of tearing even when padded, so they just shouldn’t be hung for storage, period. If, however, you do have some costumes with strong fabrics and shoulder seams, then a padded hanger might be a good option.

I recently took in a variety of dresses ca. 1920s-1940s from my grandmother’s house, and I’ve been working to store them in my little house as safely as possible. Hanging is an efficient option for me, and a number of the outfits are strong enough to hold up to hanging storage, at least for now. So I divided up my new acquisitions into two groups; dresses for hanging, and dresses for boxed storage.  Most of the dresses strong enough for hanging date to the 1940s because shoulder pads and heavier fabrics were popular. I came up with about 20 garments that were candidates for hanging.

I'm not going to use any old store-bought hangers though. Who knows what kinds of dyes and additives are in those? They could be acidic- gasp! For my family heirlooms, only archival-quality padded hangers will do. So here’s my do-it-yourself guide to making archival-quality padded hangers. This is a sewing project, but if you have a sewing machine, it’s an easy one.

What you need:

  • Unbleached 100% cotton muslin
  • Unbleached cotton batting. I got a bagged natural cotton batting for a queen-size quilt, because I was looking for padding I could roll, not loose fibrous batting used for stuffing things.
  • Hangers. Wire is actually okay, because you’re going to cover them. I got wire hangers with a white coating. Plastic hangers would also be okay, I just don’t trust most plastics not to get brittle and off-gas unknown chemicals. Wood hangers are acidic and off-gas acids,so avoid those.
  • Velcro 
  • Thread


Step 1: Cut cotton batting into squares or rectangles according to the size of one arm of your hangers. I used squares, but if you want more padding, just cut longer strips of batting.

Step 2: Roll the batting around each arm of the hanger and secure it. Just tying some thread around each roll will work. If you want to be sure the thread is secure, submit it to inspection by an expert on the topic of loose strings (as shown).

Step 3: Make a template for the hanger cover. The size will vary depending on how much padding you use, so take your padded hanger and lay it on a large piece of paper, fabric, or some interfacing. Trace around the hanger, except for the hook part. Leave about an inch between the line you draw and the arms and sides of the hanger, and at least an inch or two below the bottom of the hanger to make your pattern.

Step 4: Place the template on a folded piece of the muslin and cut out two pieces to match the template. If you plan to make several hangers, I recommend starting with just one to make sure it all fits and no adjustments are needed before you cut out any more.

Step 5: Press down about ¼ inch at the top of the cover where the hook will pass through. Fold again if you want to enclose the raw edge. Sew the seam on each piece.

Step 6: With right sides together, sew the sides and shoulders of the cover.

Step 7: Press up the bottom of the cover and sew that seam also. One fold is fine, but use two if you want to enclose the raw edge.

Step 8: Cut squares of Velcro to sew to the bottom inside of the hanger cover. The closure isn’t strictly necessary, but it will make it easier to use the hanger without the cover shifting. I used two squares of Velcro on each cover.

Step 9: Turn the cover inside out, put it on the padded hanger and close the Velcro. Voila! You have an archival-quality hanger.

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