Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to store your flag, part 2: The sink-mat

by Gwen Spicer

Welcome to part 2 of flag storage!  I find that often flag storage focuses around larger flags. We lament how much storage space they require, the sometimes inevitable need to fold them because of their size, and how to access or display them - again because of their size. But what about the small things like flag fragments or small parade flags or even artifacts like political ribbons and the like? It is these smaller things, and especially textured or unevenly surfaced artifacts, that will benefit from flat storage in sink-mats.

Storing a flag or other artifact is determined by many things as discussed in part 1 of flag storage. But determining storage needs can also be done in a very simple way, and that is by basing it on size. For smaller flags and related textiles, sink-mats are a perfect solution. Actually any small to mid-size textile can be stored, and then easily accessed from storage with this design. Such textiles might also include samplers, embroideries, printed textiles, etc. They allow for the smaller textile to remain flat, while being supported and protected. This is especially useful when one is trying to avoid the compressing of any delicate raised areas, fringe, embroidery, and similar. 

The design is very much a variation of "matting" used for prints and drawings. In fact, the first designs for textiles were window mats that were cut around the textiles. The design described here uses less materials and can be simply done and without special tools, such as a mat cutter. The design includes strips of acid-free board to accommodate the thickness of the textile with a board cover that is secured with twill tapes. The flag or textile can be tied to the board or sandwiched between muslin and tissue paper.

illustration of sink mat by Gwen Spicer, art conservator in private practice. Archival materials for safe storage
Illustration by Gwen Spicer of a sink-mat

The images below represent various sink-mat views. The first is overall, and then details of the design for a small silk ribbon. Protective covers can be easily incorporated into the design. 

archival storage for flat items in this sink mat designed by Spicer Art Conservation for the safe storage of museum collections, artifacts and heirlooms

sink mat storage for flat artifacts, protective lids keep them safe from damage, archival materials, museum collection storage, art conservator
Sink-mats can also be designed with protective lids.

The next two photographs are for a larger textile and its associated wooden rod. The same design is used, just with sturdier materials. Lincoln's banner is supported with double-walled corrogated blue-board. Larger sized sink-mats sometimes require thick flutted plastic, like Coroplast. This material can be sturdy and provide necessary support, while also remaining light-weight.

art conservator designed storage solutions for flat artifacts and their associated parts

The Lincoln campaign banner and the smaller parade flags retain their staffs. These too can be incorporated into the sink-mat design.

art conservator, sink mat storage of textiles, museum collection care
Drawer storage with several sink-mats.
sink mat for art conservation of textiles and other flat items, museum storage, collection care
Large sink-mat holding several associated artifacts in a single sink-mat.

Sink-mats are also often suggested as a best storage solution for photographic materials, like daguerrotypes as well as other photographic items. Sink-mats are desirable as a means of storage for a variety of objects simply because the result of their use is a collection that is accessible to researchers, and it can be viewed with very little handling. In addition, the items placed in sink-mats are free from the threat of compression.

Coming up next in Flag Storage we will discuss rolling. Look for the blog soon, or sign up in the right side margin and you will automatically receive the blog delivered to you via email.

Gwen Spicer is an art conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.


  1. Good morning,
    It is a very nice solution having the fold-able protective lids. I like to know how do you keep the textile in place and prevent moving? In your article you are saying:'The flag or textile can be tied to the board or sandwiched between muslin and tissue paper'. This means that the artefact is either tied using a cotton tape all around the board or only placed on the board?

  2. Hello Jeannette,
    The design of the sink-mat keeps the artifact in place. It is aided by adding a cotton muslin cover or tissue cover to the artifact and/or by tying the outside with cotton twill tape ties (see the images in the blog above). The images in the blog also show items that are tied directly to the sink mat (see the images for the small flags and how they are tied).
    The use of sink mats assumes safe handling practices, where the artifact would be carefully handled and moved and would not be at a great risk for movement.

  3. Hi I found your site by mistake when i was searching yahoo for this acne issue, I must say your site is really helpful I also love the design, its amazing!. I don’t have the time at the moment to fully read your site but I have bookmarked it and also add your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. thanks for a great site.
    ריצ'רד טוויל