Preservation Penny Pinching with Pool Noodles

A recent C2C workshop inspired Martha Battle Jackson, Curator of North Carolina State Historic Sites, to experiment with a pool noodle (purchased for $1 at the Dollar Tree) for hat-mount making. At C2C’s “Textiles Intensive” workshop, Conservator Paige Myers of the NC Museum of History, suggested pool noodles and other locally available materials as a way to keep costs low, while providing the padding and support that textile artifacts require for long-term preservation.  Martha used Paige’s suggestions to gather these materials for her mount-making project:

  • Polyethylene foam is a terrific support for fragile objects but, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts, it is often pricey. In some cases, swimming pool noodles and pipe insulation can be safe alternatives to the ethafoam that archival suppliers sell.
  • Cheap serrated knives do an adequate job cutting foam. Our staff purchased these 2 for $1 at the local dollar store.
  • Local fabric stores carry polyester batting that works well as padding for textile artifacts. Try to find thermal-bonded, rather than resin-bonded batting. The trace resin is PVA, which is not preservation-appropriate.
  • Washed white cotton jersey fabric is a good mount cover.

Here are the steps Martha followed in building an experimental pool noodle mount:

1. Cut the noodles in equal sections, long enough to support the object and keep pressure off weaker areas like the brim.

2.Tie as many sections as will fit inside the hat with cotton string or twill tape. Make sure there’s extra space left for padding without putting stress on the artifact. Cut noodle sections lengthwise, if necessary, to add or subtract to the cylinder cluster for the necessary circumference.

3. Trim the outside edges of the noodle sections to round the mount shape.

4. Stuff void areas between noodles with scraps of batting.

5. Stretch one or more layers of batting over the foam base. Pin on the underside. Quilters pins do the job, but ones with tall flat heads (butterfly or flower shaped) are even easier to pull out of the foam when the time comes.

6. Stretch a piece of cotton jersey over the batting layer(s). Before attaching, feather/ taper the ends of the batting by pulling the end fibers apart. This step keeps the base of the mount as flat as possible.

7. Choose a method to attach the jersey fabric  to the foam–either with low-melt acid-free glue, by stitching, or by cutting slits into the foam and pressing the fabric into the slits with a bone folder. Pull pins out before attaching.

At the end of this mount-making experiment, Martha concluded that the pool noodle method probably saved $1-$1.50 in foam costs for a single hat mount. It was somewhat more troublesome to size and arrange and resulted in a lumpier finished product. The finished mount was serviceable, and pool noodles would be worthwhile for mount projects, if an institution only had a few to build and did not maintain a supply of ethafoam. Another inexpensive hat mount is the kind that Gaylord now sells made out of blueboard. Paige Myers demonstrated how this can be combined with a half-section of pool noodle, sliced on four sides to cushion and build up the top of the blueboard mount.

Pool noodles have been used more successfully as bases for rolled storage. They work well for moderately sized, light-weight fabrics such as crib sheets or some table coverings. A supporting rod slips easily through the hollow center. Some institutions also use them to make padded hangers. Illinois’ C2C program recently posted a webinar where two professionals discussed a variety of money-saving preservation strategies, including the use of pool noodles.

Have you tried pool noodles for collections storage? If not, dive in and see what you can come up with. Can you suggest any other low-cost materials for preservation? If so, please share your tips!

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on May 15, 2012, in collections care, Connecting to Collections, guest bloggers, historic sites, storage, workshops and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nicole Roush

    I really like this idea, however, have pool noodles gone under material testing to ensure that they are archivally safe? Does anyone happen to know if they decompose and off-gas?

    • That’s a great question, Nicole. They are polyethylene foam, which conservators use all the time and believe to be safe. According to the foam manufacturer we’ve visited, the foam is extruded with the pigment, so there wouldn’t be any dye transfer. Of course, pool noodles do come from China and manufacturers anywhere can put in additives that we’re not sure about…but, if you trust volara, ethafoam, etc., then noodles are fairly trustworthy too.

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