YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

HOME DECORATING : Handle With Care Exotic Textiles That Dress Up a Room


With ethnic arts increasingly popular, textiles from Guatemala to Indonesia are making their way into suburban homes.


Some view handwoven articles and batik as items that should be treated with care and handled as little as possible; others believe that most textiles are practical things meant to be used.

While the hand-loomed cloth from Peru or the Indian sari were created to be a part of daily life, when they are purchased as mementos of vacations or for their artistic merit, many people want to preserve them.

Ana Tejeda, owner of Ana's of Guatemala in San Juan Capistrano, takes a practical approach to caring for the textiles she imports for her shop.

Tejeda carries clothing, bedspreads, wall hangings and bolts of brightly colored cloth. All of the textiles in her shop are purchased directly from the manufacturers, mostly family-run operations in small villages.

Because it is manufactured for local use, the cloth is strong and easy to care for, according to Tejeda, who was born in Guatemala City.

She said almost all the garments and cloth she sells can be cleaned at home in a standard washing machine using regular detergent in gentle cold water cycle. Because most of the dye is not colorfast, Tejeda suggests adding one half cup of white vinegar to the water, or salt, to help set the dye.

"You can put them in the dryer for a few minutes, but then put them on a line to finish drying," she said.

Tejeda does not recommend dry cleaning for anything other than the wool blankets and jackets. After too many trips to the dry cleaners, textiles made of cotton will loose their vibrancy, she said.


Paul Apodaca, curator of Native American Arts at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, said the first thing people should do upon arriving home with their souvenir textiles is isolate the pieces to make sure no insects were brought back.

"Seal the pieces tightly in a plastic bag with moth balls for at least a week or two," Apodaca said.

Catherine C. McLean, textile conservator for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, also suggests vacuuming the textiles once they come out of the bag to remove dirt and any eggs or larvae. Vacuuming should be done gently with a round brush attachment.

"Don't just put the vacuum cleaner back in the closet because if there are any bugs still alive they'll crawl out," she said.

Instead, remove the bag, place in in a plastic bag and throw it in the trash.

Deciding how to display textiles is probably the most difficult, and potentially costly, decision facing an owner.

Framing is usually the most expensive way to display a textile, but also the most protective. If the piece is to be stored, acid-free boxes and tissue paper must be used to avoid damage, McLean said.

Peruvian rugs, Indian batik, Mayan patchwork quilts and Chinese silk paintings all require different approaches, mostly decided by the individual taste of the owner.

Because there are so many ways to display textiles, the experts agree that it is difficult to favor one way over another.

McLean suggests consulting a textile conservator before deciding how to clean or display an item. (Most museums have conservators that will give advice over the phone, and there are also private conservators.)

The basic idea though, is that anything that is done to the textile to display it should be able to be undone without causing any damage, McLean said. Nails, glue, nylon fishing line and other intrusive methods should not be used to mount a textile.


Stitching is the only recommended way to attach a piece to its mounting. Apodaca suggests using a very fine needle and taking care to stitch between the fibers, so as not to break them.

For framers, this is a time-consuming process that results in an expensive service.

"People often don't understand how carefully textiles must be handled," said Ron Breeden, owner of the Main Frame in Orange. "They're always surprised by the cost."

Breeden recently framed a Panamanian mola , an intricately embroidered panel that serves as the front piece of a woman's blouse. The piece was 16-by-20 inches and cost about $125 to frame under glass.

If the textile is a sturdy woven piece that is too thick for framing, Apodaca suggests using Velcro to hang it. Glue or staple one side of a Velcro strip to a strip of wood, for attachment to the wall, and carefully stitch the other Velcro strip to the textile.

The piece, whether framed or hanging exposed, should be inspected periodically for any signs of deterioration.

"Don't take for granted that it's safe," McLean says. "Get to know your piece so you'll be able to detect any changes."

Use care in where the textile is displayed. Never hang a piece where it is exposed to smoke, either from cigarettes or a fireplace, or to direct light or dampness.

McLean said all museum textiles are displayed for only six months at a time to avoid damage from exposure to the elements.

To find a conservator who can offer advice in caring for or displaying a textile, Catherine McLean suggests calling the American Institute for Conservation in Washington, D.C., which operates a referral service. (202) 232-6636.

Acid-free products for use in storing textiles can be obtained from mail order catalogues such as University Products Inc., (800) 628-1912, Light Impressions, (800) 828-6216, and for acid-free tissue paper, Clotilde Inc., (800) 772-2891.

Los Angeles Times Articles