Creating Dust Covers For Large Objects
It is easy to protect smaller objects from dust, water and general environmental conditions. They can be put in an archival box or in a cabinet. Large awkward objects are often stuck in corners or on top of cabinets and draped with plastic sheeting. The plastic is usually in direct contact with the object, which can damage the surface. Unfortunately as the sheeting ages, it deteriorates and becomes more of a hazard than more of a help. It becomes brittle and opaque.
At the Science Museum of Minnesota Conservators Gretchen Anderson and Rebecca Newberry developed an inexpensive and easy method to construct supports for the dust covers using PVC pipe as a frame that was draped in muslin. These could be easily customized for specific objects and fit into awkward spaces. Anderson has continued to adapt the system for Carnegie Museum of Natural History collections, where the Anthropology Department uses it for large, free standing objects and those on open shelves.
Gretchen E. Anderson
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
5800 Baum Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
Deborah G. Harding
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
5800 Baum Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
Lesley C. Haines
The Mariners’ Museum, the USS Monitor Center
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23601
Photograph credits: Gretchen Anderson, Lesley Haines and Deborah Harding
Illustrations: Technical Drawings by Georgia Feild
There are two parts to this dust cover: the frame and dust cover
The frame supports the actual dust cover and keeps the fabric from touching the object. This reduces the potential for surface damage caused by the dust cover being in direct contact with the object.
The dust cover is made of a fabric. It is cut and sewn to fit over the frame so that it is secure. We are currently using Tyvek™. This protects the object from excessive light, water and dust, while allowing air flow. Cotton or polyester fabrics can be also used (see comments). In the past, the author(s) have used muslin, muslin lined with black fabric for better light reduction, or muslin lined with polyethylene sheeting to protect from potential water disasters. Fabric versions work very well, but take more preparation. One of the advantages with Tyvek™ is that the material water resistant and can be used without fraying (eliminating the need to hem).
Finishing touches: The dust cover can be kept closed by using cotton ties or adhesive backed Velcro™. A photograph of what is beneath the dust cover is attached on the outside front surface of the dust cover.
Materials, Tools & Supplies
- PVC Pipe (diameter depends on size of frame ¾” – 2”)
- PVC pipe fittings
- Wire (Optional – useful for very large frames)
- 3M™ adhesive transfer tape of choice (415, 969 etc) – must be acrylic
- Coroplast™ or Core-X™ (depends on span of top – corrugated plastic (PE, PP, PC)
- Cotton twill tape (optional, as needed)
- Zip ties (optional, as needed)
- Magnets (optional, as needed)
- Velcro™ (optional, as needed)
- Drapery weights (optional, as needed)
- PVC adhesive (optional, as needed)
- Pipe cutter or saw
- Straight edge
- Measuring tape
- Rubber mallet
- Electric drill
- Olfa™ Knife/ Scissors
- Sewing Machine
- Measure the object and the space where the object is going into.
- Diagram framework, including measurements. Break down diagram into individual sections.
- Include framework on the bottom to stabilize the structure.
- Measure and cut pipe. Take into account the size of the connectors. Subtract ¼ to ½ inch on the length of each pipe for each connector.
- Insert pipes into connectors. Use the mallet to make sure pipe is well seated in connectors. Do this as a “dry fit” before even thinking about adhering any of the pipes into the connectors. A rubber mallet is very useful here.
- There are four type of connectors that are useful. Look for the correct size and shape. Be creative.
- Check to make sure that the frame fits into the space and the object fits within the frame.
- Determine which connectors should be permanently attached and which should not. Adhere those connectors. Adhering will increase stability.
- Bracing is required for larger frames to keep the framework in place and stable. Rigid braces can be made from Core-X™ and/or wire. Determine where the braces need to be placed for greatest support and drill holes in the pipe. Use cotton twill tape ties to secure braces in place. You could also use bolts.
Construct Dust Cover:
- Plan out how the dust cover should work. Use the drawing to plan the cover. Include the measurements. There will be less wasted material.
- Corrugated plastic can be used for the top/roof or even on a side. There are a number of advantages in doing this. The corrugated plastic will protect from any water disasters as well as adding stability to the frame. This will also add rigidity to the structure.
- Attach the corrugated plastic to the top by drilling holes into the pipe and tying it on with zip ties or with cotton twill. In this way the top can be removed if necessary.
- Attach panels of Tyvek™ to the top. To make this removable use Velcro™. Another option is to sew the Tyvek™ panels. Add 1” to 2” in addition to the frame dimensions when cutting the Tyvek™ This extra fabric will overhang the edge of the frame and minimize gaping at the corners.
- The closures are made by sewing cotton tape ties at the corners. Overlapping the Tyvek™ at the corners helps keep light and dust out. Pin the ties onto the finished dust cover before sewing them in place. This allows you to check that the ties are long enough to knot and are lined up evenly. Hand stitch or use zig-zag stitch on sewing machine.
- Print out a picture and object list of the object(s) to be stored under the dust cover, and attach it to the cover in a plastic sleeve, along with an inventory.
Frame: Always verify measurements. Remember that the connectors take up space. Take this into account when measuring and cutting pipe.
Different diameter PVC pipes can be used (smaller or larger), depending on the final dimensions of the frame. Alternative construction materials include ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene – black) pipe or wood. When using wood, seal it using low volatile organic compound (VOC) coatings or Marvelseal™.
Dust Cover: Alternative materials can be used. The author(s) prefer Tyvek™ because it functions as a dust barrier, a light barrier and moisture barrier. It is easy to cut and does not fray and can be sewn if needed. Muslin can also be used, but it should be washed to remove sizing and hemmed to prevent fraying. To make a muslin dust cover that completely eliminates light, line it with black cotton or polyester fabric. Muslin covers can be washed. Plastic films (such as polyethylene sheeting) can also be used, but beware as these degrade over time.
Optional uses for dust covers with minor variations:
- Open shelving. Tyvek™ dust covers work very well for open shelving as well. Tyvek™ can be seamed together to create a top panel, a back panel, and side panels.
- A drapery rod can be used to hang the cover from the front of a shelf unit. A rod pocket is sewn for the rod. If a second rod pocket is sewn at the bottom the cover and a rod inserted, the cover can be rolled up and secured at the top of the shelving unit. The roll can be held up with a Velcro™ strip or a cotton tie. A Roman shade can also be sewn to fit as a vertical drape.
- Use drapery and shade manufacturing techniques to construct the fabric covers.
Options for closures and other refinements
- Velcro™ can be used to attach the dust cover to the roof of the frame or can be fastened to create closures. Use adhesive backed Velcro™ for ease of application.
- Cotton ties can be used as closures.
- Magnets can be used as closures when metal shelves are being covered. Sew the magnets into a pocket.
- Seamed edges will keep muslin from fraying and will add slight rigidity to the cover.
- Drapery weights can be added at the bottom of the cover to add weight and keep panels closed. Drapery weights come in different forms, including weighted strings, ropes or small rectangular weights.
The National Endowment for the Humanities, Sustaining Cultural Heritage Program
Rebecca Newberry, Science Museum of Minnesota
Volunteers: Georgia Feild, Ruth Fauman-Fischman, Adrianne Berndt
Gardner, Joan, 1992. Mobile Platforms for Large Objects, STASH (Storage Techniques for Art, Science & History Collections). Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation
Fikioris, M. 1992. Vapor permeable covers for storage units. In: C. Rose and A. de Torres, eds. 1992. Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions. Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. pp. 131.
Fuller, T. Hoop and bag cover. In: C. Rose and A. de Torres, eds. 1992. Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions. Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. pp. 121-122.
Gardner, J. Mobile platforms for large objects. In: C. Rose and A. de Torres, eds. 1992. Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions. Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. pp. 87-89.
Guynes, D. Plastic dust covers for steel shelving. In: C. Rose and A. de Torres, eds. 1992. Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions. Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. pp. 129-130.