Under the Microscope in the Conservation Lab:
Consideration of previous treatments
Previous restoration efforts have included sandwiching the flags between netting and lamination between layers of plastic film.
A. In the early 20th century, a few flags were sandwiched between two layers of cotton netting and hand-sewn together with silk threads in a diagonal pattern. Like the flags themselves, the silk threads have weakened, so this treatment is no longer holding the flag together. Typically, this treatment will be removed.Close-up of netting (1997.0068) After removal of netting (1997.0068)
B. One flag in the collection was treated in 1937 by Mrs. Katherine Fowler Richey, the daughter of Mrs. Amelia Fowler who treated the Star-Spangled Banner. The flag was placed on a linen backing and then stitched down in a pattern that created a net-like appearance on the front. Unlike Mrs. Fowler’s work, the back of the linen was painted to indicate the stripes of the flag and the canton area was dyed blue. Since removing this treatment will not improve the poor condition of this silk flag, it will be left in place.Front of flag (1995.3751) Back of flag (1995.3751) Close-up of flag with damaged and missing areas (1995.3751)
C. During the 1960s-70s, Mrs. Josephine Roser restored approximately 700 of the flags in the collection, most dating from the Civil War. Her treatment consisted of sandwiching the flag between two layers of nylon netting, color matched to the flag and then machine zig-zag stitching them along the diagonal with 1” between the rows.Note the losses due to the close and numerous stitch holes
Silk and wool flags, both large and small, were treated in this manner. To determine whether we could remove the treatments without doing further damage to the flags, we removed the netting from a small silk flag and a small wool flag. We found that the silk flag was in a more fragile state after the netting was removed and after humidification retained both the stitch holes and impression from the net.Silk flag with netting before removal (2000.0160) Silk flag after removal of net (2000.0160)
The wool flags reacted differently. After humidification the stitch holes receded and the net had not left an impression.Wool flag with netting removed (2000.0162) Wool flag after humidification (2000.0162)
We believe this is due to both the different fiber contents as well as the looser weave of the wool bunting. On the basis of this trial, we will remove the "Roser netting" from most of the wool flags, but we will leave it on most of the silk flags.
Five flags were sent to Switzerland in the 1960s to receive a “state of the art” lamination treatment, in which the flags were adhered between sheets of plastic. Over the last 40 years, the plastic has discolored to yellow, further obscuring the flags.Before treatment of laminated flag (1995.2110) Laminate partially removed from flag – note yellow color of laminate (1995.2110)
For the third in our series of exhibits at the Capitol, the laminate was removed from the Unknown Cavalry Standard flag, the smallest of the five treated in Switzerland. For this process, the conservator removed the laminate using an acetone vapor chamber. Some areas of the flag that were not as strong, such as the fringe, required the direct application of acetone using a brush.The chamber consisted of a layer of Gore-Tex, a blotter soaked with the solvent and plastic sheeting over the top, weighted down to create the chamber (1995.2110) After the chamber was removed, the softened laminate and adhesive could be carefully separated (1995.2110) After removal of laminate section (1995.2110)