Cottage Q&A: Storing precious linens over winter

A close-up of an off-white lace tablecloth By Lana Veshta/Shutterstock

Do you have any tips for storing precious linens in the cottage over the winter?—Audrey Moritz, via email

When it comes to leaving soft items in any cottage, two of the biggest enemies are moisture and rodents. Good news: an unheated, cold-as-heck cottage is a gentler environment for delicate things, says Mary Ballard, a senior textile conservator with the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute in Maryland. “Freezer-like temperatures preserve better than fridge-like temperatures. The cold can really work to your advantage.” 

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Unfortunately, winter visits, or even passive solar heating, can crank up a building’s indoor humidity. Humidity means moisture, and moisture brings mould and mildew. Boo. “You want to store items in such a way that you exclude these changes in humidity,” says Ballard. She recommends galvanized metal over any other material. In theory, there are lots of containers that could work: a large, old cookie tin; a metal storage box—the kind that tradespeople sometimes have in the back of their trucks; even a tin-lined casket. Not that you have a spare casket at the cottage. Or anywhere. Easier to source? Galvanized garbage cans.

Separate each piece from the inside of the can by wrapping it in a “sacrificial cotton or polyester sheet,” says Ballard. You could even separate the “layers” of textiles with pillowcases. This makes delicate items easy to lower in, and later remove, without crumpling them. Put each textile away clean and dry. Even in a sealed environment, you can get mould if the item goes in damp or dirty. 

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Of course, this is a lot of work if the items aren’t vintage or expensive. If you’re simply trying to save ordinary bedding and towels from the mice or squirrels, store them in a sturdy plastic tote or an old-school trunk, not the dresser or cupboard where you keep them during the summer; it’s probably too easy for mice to get in from the back or from underneath.

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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