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Method for Rolling Flat, Flexible Objects


This methodology has been designed to simplify and codify techniques for rolling flat, flexible objects, such as textiles and large paper objects.



Geoffrey I. Brown
Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan
434 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1390 USA
Tel (313) 747-0439
Fax (313) 764-2697

Illustration: Jane E. Becker 

Publication: 1992


The object is rolled on a tube. An inner wrapping covers the tube and secures the leading edge of the object. An outer wrapping secures the outside edge of the object and acts as a dust cover (Fig. 1). The roll closure is secured by tubular netting or twill tape ties. The orientation of the object and interleaving protect the object’s structure.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • Hacksaw or power saw (cut-off or radial arm )
  • Medium weight paper, alkaline reserve (3%) or folder stock, alkaline reserve (3%)
  • pH neutral lightweight tissue paper
  • pH neutral paper board tube, 1/8in wall thickness, 3-4in (or larger) diameter or high density polyethylene pipe (HDPE), nperforated,
    3in or 4in diameter or 6in or 8in for larger textiles
  • Polyester, non-woven fabric
  • Polyethylene lay flat tubing
  • Polyethylene tubular netting or 100% polyester twill tape or 100% cotton twill tape
  • Pressure sensitive tape, with acrylic adhesive
  • Uncoated polyester film


  1. Cut the tube with a hacksaw, or power saw to a length that is at least 4in longer than the widest part of the object. It is usually better to decide on a standard length tube than to cut a custom length for each object. The choice will depend on the design of the storage area.
  2. Cut two pieces of fabric or pH neutral medium weight paper to act as liner and dust cover. The two pieces should be the length of the tube, and at least 20in wide, if you are rolling on 3in or 4in tube. This will allow at least 1 to 11/2 wraps of the liner on the tube with an overlapping edge to hold the object, and the same for the dust cover. Material that is 45in wide can be split lengthwise to yield both pieces.
  3. Tape the leading edge of the liner to the tube with a non-bleeding and non-migrating archival pressure sensitive tape. The tape will be covered by at least one layer of lining to protect the object from contact with the adhesives. Roll the liner around the tube, leaving approximately 4in protruding.
  4. Place the edge of the object on the protruding edge of the liner, with a 3in overlap and start to roll it in. Carefully guide the object on the roll so it is smooth and even in tension. Straighten out buckles or folds as they occur. It may take several starts to get the object rolling straight. Few textiles are of even dimension and shape. The liner tail facilitates the rolling of fringed textiles because it grips them and prevents their buckling and folding over.
  5. Leave a few inches of the object unrolled at the end. Place the dust cover on top of the edge of the object and continue rolling. The dust cover will be smooth and even.
  6. Secure the roll with tubular polyethylene net if available, or use ties. Ties may be of 100% polyester or cotton twill tape, or strips of the same fabric that is used as liner and dust cover. Cut the latter about 2in wide and long enough to wrap twice around the roll, and tie. Tie the strips or twill tapes loosely so that they do not create cinch marks on the roll.
  7. A further protective cover of polyethylene lay flat tubing or sheeting may be used.

    Figure 1. Set-up for rolling textile or large paper object.


Considerations when obtaining tubes for rolling flat objects
The ideal tube is a pH neutral paper board tube. If this type of material is not available, regular, acid paper board tubes should not be used. Acid paper board tubes are generally used for rolling commercial carpeting or fabric yardage. In long-term storage, the acidity of the board will negatively affect the textiles or paper objects. The tubes may even disintegrate.

A good alternative is to use high density polyethylene tubes (HDPE). This material is stable.

Rolling Textiles

Rolling avoids the creasing and distortions that occur from folding, but it must be done carefully or other types of creases occur. Multiple layered textiles such as those with a lining and textiles that have strong textures or thick appliqué require special care and thought when rolling. Pile textiles require a modified technique. The following rules can be followed in most circumstances:

Avoid tubes that are very thick. This adds unnecessary weight which can be a hazard to a rolled object.

The diameter of the roller core should be large enough to minimize curvature of the object, but still be manageable. Large rugs and tapestries require larger and heavier cores than moderate-sized objects. Tubing in a 3in or 4in diameter is adequate for most objects. Only the lightest objects can be rolled safely on smaller diameters.

Non-woven polyester fabrics for use as liner and dust cover are both stable and inexpensive, and as such are superior to cotton muslin or other natural fibers.

In general, textiles should be rolled with the face out. The reasoning behind this is that the outside of the roll usually remains the smoothest and that side should be the face of the textile.

When multi-layered textiles, such as those that are lined, are rolled, one layer will be smooth on the outside of the roll, and the other layers will buckle due to differential diameters. Always choose to have the lining buckle, rather than the face of the textile.

Pile textiles are rolled face-in to keep the pile upright. The inside of the rolled curve tends to push the pile together. If rolled face-out, the pile tends to split or get flattened.

Textiles with heavy applique, beading, or other uneven surface textures may require rolling with an interleaving layer of bonded polyester batting. The protrusions sink into the batting and the textile can be rolled more evenly without buckling. If the surface is rough, the batting may have to be encased in a smooth but very flexible layer such as a light-weight polyester nonwoven fabric, or other smooth material. Tissue paper can be used, but it is not recommended because it is fragile and it is difficult to keep in place during rolling.

Rolling Large Paper Objects

When rolling large paper objects such as maps or posters, the preferred materials to use as liner are a medium weight lining paper or folder stock with an alkaline reserve of 3%. Paper liners and dust covers are recommended only for paper objects. Select a weight that is approximately equivalent to 80lb (basis 17in x 22in). This weight will provide adequate stiffness with flexibility. Lighter papers buckle too easily and heavier weights are too stiff to roll well. Rolled paper objects should be secured only with tubular polyethylene net, or with archival tape on the dust cover. Ties pose too great a risk of damage.

The paper should be larger than the object itself to act as interleaving as the object is rolled. As a dust cover, a layer of uncoated polyester film will also provide protection against accidental water damage (such as a malfunctioning fire sprinkler).

Adapted From

Brown, G.I. 1988-89. Rolling a textile for storage. Threads Magazine, 20:6.

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