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Crowsnest Museum Blog

Collections of the Pass: Have Vacuum, Will Travel

In my previous post, I wrote about the mess made in our clothing collections by a herd of wee, destructive moth larvae. In this post, I'll share what I've been doing to clean up that mess and make sure the party is over. We'll start with making sure the moths are dead.

The biggest problem with moth larvae is that they can stay around for quite awhile. From what I've read, three years seems to be the magic number: if we stay moth free for three years, then chances are they're well and truly gone. In the meantime though, moth eggs are tiny, and larvae are equally minuscule. They're good at hiding, and may not hatch to adults for months.

One way to kill the larvae would be to suck them up through a vacuum, but it's impossible to know if you've got them all. Instead, my main weapon against moths is something that the Crowsnest Pass has had no shortage of this winter: cold.

Each item is taken right from its hanger and placed into a plastic bag, sealed, labelled, and put into the freezer for two weeks. We have the Curling Rink to thank for the use of their freezer.

After those two weeks, the bags are taken out and left for a day or so to get back to room temperature. The sealed bags makes sure no extra moisture accumulates on the items. After I'm satisfied that they're ready, and I have a firm talking to myself about the duties of a collections assistant, I open the bags for the clean up.

The Clean Up

For various reasons, museum collections can't simply be tossed in the washer to clean them. Instead, my main tool for cleanup has been a vacuum. When I open the bag from the freezer, I might see something like this:

I have a series of small brush attachments for the vacuum, and with these, I do my best to remove the mess. With fur, this is particularly difficult as no matter how hard I try, there is always more loose fur ready to come off. Wool is easier, however pants are a bit of an exception, simply because they're pants. Vacuuming a pair of pants might take an hour to clean each of the inside seams, as well as the insides of the pockets.

This vacuuming does have other benefits besides removing bug remnants. It cleans off dust and dirt as well, and has lead me to thoroughly explore the pockets of items. Commonly I'll find bits of tobacco, but I did find a sixty year old (used) handkerchief in one jacket pocket.

What comes next after freezing and cleaning? Stay tuned for a discussion on safely storing our textile collection.

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