Caring for textiles and kākahu 

How can I care for Māori textiles?

Kahu koati 1870, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Purchased 1905. Te Papa
Kahu koati 1870, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Purchased 1905. Te Papa

Most Māori textiles are made from plant material, most commonly harakeke (New Zealand flax) or animal material such as wool, feathers, and hair. Like other textiles, they need to be protected from changes in temperature and moisture. When temperatures are fluctuating regularly from hot to cold, the fibres in the textiles expand and contract and eventually become weakened. When storing these objects, humidity needs to be regulated because too much moisture in the air can lead to mould and mildew infestation.

Textiles also need to be protected from animals and insects like moths, mice, and beetles, which can cause all kinds of damage.

Exposure to light can cause the colours of garments to fade and can weaken the materials, so make sure to store them in a dark room. Many Māori textiles contain traditionally dyed black fibres that are particularly delicate and vulnerable to light, heat, and moisture. Special care needs to be given to these types of items.

Ensure that textiles are well supported when they are displayed and stored. It is better to store things flat rather than folded, as folding can damage the fabric. If possible, support textiles from the inside as well to keep their shape. During storage, don’t keep items in plastic bags or containers. Instead, wrap them in acid free tissue to enable them to ‘breathe’.

Read more about how to care for Māori textiles:

Caring for Māori Textiles - He Rauemi Resource Guide (PDF, 3.3MB)

How can I care for other textiles and clothing?

Textiles are particularly sensitive to light, so it is best to display them in a dimly lit space away from direct sunlight or spotlights. Too much moisture can also wreak havoc by encouraging the growth of moulds and mildews, while too little moisture in the air can cause fibres to dry out. The ideal temperature is 20º Celsius with 55 percent relative humidity. To monitor this, temperature and relative humidity meters can be purchased from most electrical stores.

Protect your textiles from dust by vacuuming and dusting the display and storage areas regularly. If possible, keep textile objects inside a glass case when on display. Always make sure to keep the area clean and tidy so as not to attract pests and insects, and don’t allow eating and drinking in your museum space!

Try to handle your textiles as little as possible, and wear cotton or nitrile gloves when you do.

Store your items in a clean, dark, and well ventilated space in a box or drawer. Don’t use plastic boxes if there is a lot of moisture in the air as plastic can trap moisture. It is best to use products specified as ‘archival’, such as archival corrugated board and boxes and acid-free tissue. It is better to store your textiles either flat or rolled up rather than folded. If you want to clean your textiles, consult with a professional conservator.

Read more about how to care for textiles and clothing:

Caring for Textiles and Clothing - He Rauemi Resource Guide (PDF, 1.13MB)

How-to video: applying accession numbers to textiles

Mounting textiles using magnets - Asian Art Museum

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