How to take care of your family heirloom

Handmade carpet

Preserving family heirloom

My introduction to the Taj Mahal and the legendary Konark sun temple was through a couple of family albums filled with black and white photographs. My father, a photography enthusiast, had a German Agfa camera and a small darkroom to develop the negatives. The albums were filled with photographs shot and developed by him; photos with his college friends in Konark, my parents’ romantic pictures at the Taj Mahal right after their marriage and so on. One particular picture of a cheerful teenage boy always intrigued me. It was the picture of my father’s elder brother who had died due to typhoid at a young age. No one in our big joint family ever mentioned him. My father had carefully preserved his memory in the album.

I remember spending hours going through the albums looking at people I had never met and places I had never visited, and yet developing a sense of familiarity and kinship and forming memories of my own.

Memories, roots, and heritage

All of us have some such valuable and memorable possessions. e.g., Black and white family photos, intricately carved heavy wooden furniture, rare books, silk sarees handed down, and so on. They have memories attached to them. They always have a story to tell, about that period; about the people who owned them. These truly are family heirlooms. Some are precious as art, some as family memorabilia and yet some others for their own emotional value. Some of them could be exquisite craft which are lost in modern times. Preserving these heirlooms therefore becomes akin to not just preserving our memories and emotional connections, but also a small part of our heritage.

Some of the artefacts last naturally for centuries. e.g., a great grandmother’s gold jewellery; or the family deity in the form of a stone murti. However, some others need care. e.g., mother’s exquisitely woven zari silk saree.

We at Arteastic strive to keep our traditions artforms alive and vibrant and preserved. That is why we wanted to share some simple steps on how to preserve such heirlooms.


Picture albums

Every family has them. The black & white pictures nicely pasted on black sheets of a thick family album. Over time, the pictures become pale yellow. The best way to preserve them in this digital era is to scan them and make digital copies of the same. The faded colors can also be fixed to some extent using various photo editing software.

Stone Statues

When I was in school, I visited Konark with my father and my sister. After visiting the Sun temple, my father took us to a sculpting school where young local boys were learning how to sculpt. They gifted us two beautiful nartakis or danseuses. My father, being a govt employee, used to travel extensively to all parts of Odisha. Once he came back with a beautiful black granite Radha Krishna murti.

These artefacts form part of my childhood memories. When I visited home a couple of decades later, I saw those statues lying there, covered with dust. With my mother getting old and frail, there was no one to take care of them. I got them home. Just a thorough wash under the tap water and they were as good as new. Stone statues are the easiest to preserve with minimum effort. Normally the stone statues do not have any colour on them. Like wood, they have their natural shades of pink or green or grey. After washing and cleaning them, you can polish them optionally for the statues to regain their natural shine.


Some of the books belonging to your parents could be rare or out of print. The fairytale books or the Tintin series will have fond memories from your childhood days. So, it is a good idea to preserve some of them. Old books have a typical smell. Over the years the pages become yellowish. Insects and termites are a big problem as well. Try and ensure the following:

  • The bookshelves should ideally be in a cool and dry place of your house.
  • Dust the book shelves regularly. Also dust individual books at least twice a year. Use a soft and dry cloth. Do not use wet cloth.
  • Keeping books in a closed cupboard having glass doors will protect them from dust and moisture.
  • Right way to preserve them is to air them at least twice a year, put them out in the open to remove moisture. Don’t put them under direct sun for very long since this might lead to discoloring of pages. Put them out on a clean and dry table in a room that gets enough sunlight.
  • Always remember to put air freshener inside the cupboard. Put moisture absorbers inside the cupboard during monsoon seasons.


Wooden period furniture

Many of us have seen four poster beds, armchairs and easy chairs, and big wooden cupboards and armoires in our childhood. My grandmother had an Organ (looks similar to a Piano) in her living room.

Normally they are heavy wooden pieces. Intricately carved, mostly made of teak or mahogany. Such intricate carving skills are not found often. Such heavy furniture is not made anymore both due to the preference for lightweight furniture as well as lack of space in modern homes and apartments.

Right way to care:

  • Dust them regularly using a soft cotton cloth.
  • Avoid wet cloth. Moisture may harm the wood as well as the polish. During monsoons, a room dehumidifier may help.
  • Do not expose them to direct sunlight or heat. The shine may fade.
  • To retain the shine, you may use some homemade waxing solution. Coconut oil is one of the best home-made polishing solutions that can be used to restore the shine and luster of the wooden piece.
  • If possible, get them polished every five to seven years.


Hand woven Carpets

The best way to preserve a carpet is to spread it and use it. Carpets are supposed to be very strong and normally cannot be damaged by pests and insects. It is also a good idea to shampoo them by a carpet cleaner occasionally, say every alternate year. Carpets, when used, remain in best form. Yes, during monsoon season they might get damped and smell a bit. A room dehumidifier might be helpful in that case.

Lastly, if you have an ever-excited puppy at home, then do roll it up and wait till the puppy grows up. Carpets are not strong enough to survive the sharp teeth and chewing instincts of a puppy.

Grandma’s wedding saree

Most of us have worn our mother’s or grandmother’s sarees. We have seen many celebrities getting married wearing their mother’s wedding saree. While good quality handloom silk sarees last for several decades, all handloom silk sarees need proper care and maintenance for preserving the quality, colour and shine. Here are some tips from Arteastic for our patrons.


  • Keep the silk sarees securely in a plastic packet/ saree container. Saree containers are available in many shops. It saves the sarees from moisture and dust.
  • Air the sarees frequently so they breathe. We would suggest airing your silk sarees in a cool and dry place every 3 months. It can be in a closed balcony or inside your bedroom.
  • It is better to keep the silk sarees inside a closed cupboard. During monsoon, put moisture absorbent in the cupboard to avoid fungus or stains.
  • Air freshener pouches and naphthalene balls are helpful to protect the silk from insects. Some prefer to use neem leaves as well, as natural disinfectant. However, do not put anything directly on the body of the saree. Put all these agents in a pouch and put the pouch on the shelf next to the sarees.
  • Fall Pico are essential features to keep the saree in good condition.
  • Some people suggest dry washing silk sarees regularly. However, dry cleaning process uses chemical cleaning agents. So, we will not suggest it. Dry clean the saree only when it has been worn and needs to be cleaned.
  • If instead of dry cleaning, you want to wash the saree at home, then follow easy wash method i.e., wash in cold water using a gentle detergent. Do not soak the saree in detergent for long or use any brush. Once washed/rinsed in cold water, just hang the saree on a clean clothesline and allow it to drip-dry.
  • Never put a silk saree directly under sun. It might lose the color and luster
  • Most of the time the saree comes back from the laundry nicely pressed and folded. We love the folds because they help us greatly in making pleats. It makes our saree wearing exercise easy. However, it is necessary to change the folds occasionally. Else gradually the saree might start getting thinner along the fold.

During the colonial rule of India, we lost a substantive part of our handloom sector to facilitate the market for machine woven fabric. After independence, many such sectors were revived with help from the Govt as well as private enterprises. Many well-preserved antique handloom sarees have helped the modern weavers recreate the lost designs and craft of the last century and bring back some of the glory.

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