by Mekhi Granby
A clothes hanger, garment hanger, or coat hanger is a hanging device in the shape/contour of human shoulders designed to facilitate the hanging of a garment worn on the upper portion of one’s body. A coat, jacket, sweater, shirt, blouse, or dress are all ideal examples of garments meant for hangers as the intention is to prevent wrinkles. Some hangers also feature a lower bar for the hanging of trousers or skirts.
As you can imagine, the Textile & Costume Collection requires a large quantity of hangers to store the garments we have. Hangers come in a variety of sizes and materials, with various pros and cons. For example, wooden hangers tend to be more durable, better at holding their shape (meaning they won’t bend/sag with the weight of your clothing), and will last a long time. On the other hand, they can be expensive in comparison to alternatives, are prone to splintering, and can degrade over time. Art conservator Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation speaks to the damaging nature of wooden hangers and acid mitigation. “Wooden hangers, while very sturdy, are made of wood which is quite an unfriendly companion to textiles. Not everyone knows the dangers of acid migration and that the natural organic wooden hanger supporting the prized garment is the thing that is doing the most harm.”
Time and gravity are also important factors to consider. If a garment is being hung for extended periods of time, gravity can cause deformation depending on the weight of the garment. The goal is to keep the belongings of the Textile & Costume Collection in as pristine of a condition as possible. You may be asking yourself, “how is this possible if all hangers have their respective positive and negative attributes?” This blog post is dedicated to detailing the process of creating archival hangers to ensure the longevity of the garment.
Each archival hanger starts off as a plain polystyrene hanger. It is recommended that the hangers are covered before use as polystyrene degrades over time.
Image from Gaylord Archival
These plain plastic hangers are a great base because they’re made of a stiff plastic and have a wide construction with broad shoulders that helps distribute the weight equally and also reduces the amount of padding needed. Our process of making hangers is adapted from a technique developed by The Philadelphia Museum of Art. The first stage is preparation, which consists of cutting felt and stockinette. Next, the hangers are strategically wrapped in a white polyester felt liner, a material that is ideal for wherever fragile materials must be cushioned or protected. This felt is particularly special because it’s chemically inert and made by vertically needling fibers together to achieve a desired thickness and density.
The felt is cut into a rectangular shape to fit the size of the hanger prior to wrapping. In addition to being cut to size, the felt is also cut along the vertical axis but remains one piece. The felt is stretched and twisted along the hanger to reduce bulk and conform to the shape of the hanger.
The polyester felt is fibrous, meaning that it could become caught on the garment which could potentially be more harmful in the long run. To resolve this issue, we cover the felt in an archival stockinette tubing that is first boil washed. The stockinette is 100% knit cotton and stretches to approximately twice its size, it’s ideal for storage because it doesn’t use elastic which can deteriorate over time. We boil wash something to remove any chemicals that may have been added in the finishing process. This means that the stockinette is first washed on hot with detergent and then washed again without detergent. To cover the hanger, the stockinette is cut to a length relative to the length of the hanger. A tiny hole is cut in the middle of the stockinette and after it’s fed onto the hanger, overtop the felt, the chrome-plated wire hook of the hanger is slipped through the hole. To finish the hanger, the ends of the stockinette tube are then tucked back into themselves.
These photos illustrate the process from start to finish:
The most challenging part of making these archival hangers is the technique and finesse required to apply the felt onto the hangers. The goal is to make the felt as smooth and as tight as possible. To assist in this, we often use rubber bands to temporarily hold the felt in place before and while the stockinette is pulled over to prevent it from shifting. The more the technique is perfected, the less difficult the entire process is.
With proper preparation and determination, we could all improve the storage of our garments. Whether it be switching from wooden hangers to velvet non-slip, or from plastic hangers to padded. Things that we don’t put much thought into in everyday life hold much more value in the realm of conservation and textiles. Hopefully, this post provides you a place to start as you consider an aspect of your current wardrobe that could be enhanced.
AZoM. “Polystyrene – PS.” AZo Materials, AZoNetwork, 4 Sept. 2001, www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=798#:~:text=Advantages%20of%20Polystyrene%20include%3A,Excellent%20resistance%20to%20gamma%20radiation.
Spicer, Gwen. “Not on THAT Hanger! Proper Storage of Hanging Collections.” Inside the Conservator’s Studio, Spicer Art Conservation, 12 Nov. 2014, insidetheconservatorsstudio.blogspot.com/2014/11/not-on-that-hanger.html.