Causes of degradation
Most textiles are designed and manufactured for a specific function. Textiles progressively deteriorate after long periods of use and storage. Being worn, hung, sat on, laundered and folded can cause fibres, folds and seams to tear and dyes to fade, while dust and processes of manufacture and finishing can accelerate the physical deterioration of textiles.
During storage, fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity can also accelerate the deterioration by encouraging biological activity including insect infestation and the growth of mould and mildew. Natural fibres are especially susceptible to insect damage, with moths favouring wool and silk, while silverfish and rodents prefer cotton and flax.
Dyed textiles are particularly sensitive to moisture and exposure to light. Natural and synthetic dyes are often fugitive, so care should be taken when laundering dyed fabric. Continuous exposure to ultraviolet radiation will also increase fading and accelerate degradation as the fibres become more brittle and fragile.