Volume 4, Number 1, Feb. 1982, p.2

A Preliminary Conservation Treatment Report on Ten World War I Flags from the California State Capitol

by Pat Reeves and Sharon Shore

Ten World War I flags belonging to the State Capitol in Sacramento were awarded to Pat Reeves and Sharon Shore for conservation treatment.

The first three flags of the group selected for treatment were chosen because they are small, of approximately the same size, and have similar problems. All three are "guidons" (shaped like pennants), made of a fine silk faille, and embroidered with the insignae of the companies to which they belonged. The numbers of the companies and regiments are appliqued white taffeta.

Two of the flags were glued to cardboard at some time in the past so the first step was to remove them and clean off the adhesive. This was difficult to accomplish, since tests showed that the dyes were not colorfast in water and drycleaning solvents left rings. It was decided to remove the flags from the cardboard by treating adhered areas locally and to cover the entire flag with perchlorethylene as quickly as possible, to avoid rings. With this technique, it was possible to remove the flags from the cardboard, but heavy deposits of glue remained. Each flag was then encased in nylon tulle, sewing the tulle on the outside edges of the flags, to avoid needle holes.

The intention had been to dry clean the flags only, as their colors were not fast in water and also because they were too fragile to immerse in a water bath. In order to provide adequate support for the flags during the cleaning process, monofilament screening was attached to a wooden frame which was placed on the table, raised about one foot by supports. After the screen was covered with blotting paper, the flag was placed on it. It was saturated with perchlorethylene and then gently patted with blotting paper from the top. Both layers of blotting paper absorbed dirt from the flag. This process was repeated twice.

As the adhesive was not soluble in perchlorethylene, a decision was made to use water and a neutral detergent for its removal. Experience has taught us that the color coming out of a fabric during washing is often unabsorbed surface dye which will not redeposit if it is given a place to go. Here, the danger was the migration of the red dye into the white embroidery and applique. By placing the flags on the screen previously described, without blotting paper under them, it was possible to pass the aqueous solution directly through the flags without spreading the red dye to adjacent areas. This proved to be successful and the white areas were not affected. It was still necessary to work locally on the adhesive, but the entire surface of the flag had to be covered with water first to avoid rings. Most of the adhesive was removed from one flag. However, on another flag, the adhesive had been so thickly applied that it was not possible to get it all off without risking tears.

Silk crepeline was sprayed lightly with a solution of BEVA 371 in toluene. The flags were then placed on the crepeline, face up, and the adhesive activated with a warm iron. Silicon release paper was used under the crepeline and a small piece of mylar on the surface of the flag. Using mylar on top made it possible to see the flag for proper alignment of the split and shattered areas. A small piece of mylar worked better than one large piece, as the large piece had a tendency to buckle.

Excess crepeline around the sides of the flags, and in the holes, was trimmed. Where holes existed, patches of an appropriately colored washed China silk were placed under and sewn down with a thread of China silk.

The flags, thus lined with the crepeline and Beva, were ready for mounting. A wooden strainer was covered with washed cotton mounting fabric. The fabric was stretched tight and stapled in place. Each flag was then sewn down carefully and invisibly to its mount.

A washed cotton flannel dust barrier was sewn to the back of each strainer. Twill tape with the printed catalogue number was sewn to the lower right hand corner of the flannel.

Treatment of the next two flags is underway. One is the national colors and the other is a Field Artillery company flag. Both have fringe around three sides. In both cases, the flags buckled because the fringe was attached too tightly. The fringe was removed. It will be treated separately and re-attached. Pole sleeves were opened and the lining and leather tabs were removed for separate treatment and reattachment to the flags. This treatment of the pole sleeves was also used on the first three flags. Tight machine stitching on one side of the national colors was also removed. The flags have been tested for cleaning, encased in nylon tulle, and are now ready to be cleaned.

Pat Reeves, Textile Conservator, LACMA
Sharon Shore, Textile Conservator, Caring for Textiles

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