Caring for wedding dresses & veils
These were intended for single use, and were thus rarely made to be cleaned and reworn. Wedding dresses are fitted to the original wearer and often embellished with beading, embroidery, lace and trimmings. If the wedding dress is in good condition, with minor stains that you can tolerate, then a good dressmaker should be able to make alterations for fit.
Wedding dresses from the 1920s and 30s were usually made from satin backed crepe or other crepe weaves, whilst parachute silk was also used, if it was available, during the second world war. These are difficult materials to clean and may already be in a fragile state.
Common stains include grass, old champagne or white wine stains, food stains, sweat stains and possibly foxing (small brown stains) if the garment has been stored in poor conditions.
Old stains and soiling can be difficult or impossible to remove. It may be worth consulting a textile conservator in case localised treatment is possible. As a last resort, have the original copied to fit you by a skilled dressmaker.
Many lace veils are made from cotton, but some are made from silk. In comparison to cotton, silk lace veils are frequently more fragile and may be more discoloured. Torn or fragile veils cannot be darned, but must be supported from behind with net fabric. Silk veils should not be bleached under any circumstances. Silk veils of any value should always be treated by a textile conservator, who may be able to improve their colour.
Historic cotton lace veils are often discoloured. In the past, sugar or starch solutions were often used to stiffen the lace. These tend to yellow and discolour as they age. A textile conservator may be able to reduce or remove staining. Washing cotton lace is fairly straightforward. If there are problems, they are most likely to occur as the lace dries.
The process of making the lace sets up tension within it. This tension can cause the lace to contract and distort as it dries. In theory this could be removed by ironing, but this is likely to damage antique lace. Whilst high humidity, such as a steamy bathroom, can be used to ‘relax’ creases in a veil, this will not be enough for a shrunken and distorted veil.
A textile conservator will be able to prevent this problem by pinning the lace to shape as it dries.