What's the best way to store an antique Easter basket cover?
Q. Dear Donia,
I have an Easter basket cover which was used to cover up the bits of Easter dinner that were prepared ahead and brought to church on Holy Saturday for a blessing. My great-grandmother, who was American-born to parents from Bohemia, would have worked it from commercial transfer pattern (probably a kit) some time in the 1920s or 1930s. It's cotton and cotton embroidery threads, with (as you can see) a great deal of wear and some soiling. I have laundered it carefully by hand once–for decades it was just thrown in the washing machine about once a year. What is the best way to store it? Is a piece like this okay to use once a year on the basket as intended, or would it be best to keep it stored and brought out for occasional display? Thank you, Franklin
A. Dear Franklin,
What a great piece to illustrate some of the traditions we have lost. It is nice to see a piece like this with the colors still vibrant—helped by not having been washed too often and not subjected to too much light over they years.
The best way to store this cotton item will be in an alkaline (non-acidic) box such as one of these from our sponsor Hollinger Metal Edge. The embroidered piece should be placed in the box that has been lined with acid-free, lignin-free, buffered tissue that can then be folded over it. Sausages of wadded tissue should be made to place in the folds. These sausages will help prevent the folds becoming weak or breaking points for the cotton threads. For a piece like this, the fewer folds you can place in it, the better so for this 30" x 19" piece, I would look for a box that would fit this piece when folded twice the long way (tri-fold like a letter at 10") and in half the short way for a piece that was 10" x 9.5" in total.
I think using this piece once a year as intended is a wonderful idea and will ensure that the piece is seen and enjoyed as it was intended to be. From your images, I would carefully iron the basket cover through a cotton dish towel to make sure that you don't scorch it by accident or transfer some soil from the iron onto it. I would then place it on the basket as intended with some sort of barrier (Saran Wrap would be good) between the food and the towel so that you don't have to launder it every year. Be careful to not catch any of the threads on the basket—you don't want to damage the embroidery. After putting it back in the box with the sausages, your should not need to iron it every year either because you won't have those hard creases.
Growing up in a very Czech community (the wording on here is Czech), I have not encountered this practice so it is nice to learn a new tradition from this culture. Thank you for sharing!