Flag conservation

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to store your flag, Part 3: Rolling

As stated earlier in "How to Store Your Flag, Part 1" proper storage is critical to the long-term preservation of any collection. Proper storage includes safe materials that are acid-free, a stable environment, protection from light, minimal handling, etc.

Rolling of textiles is an excellent option for flat, single layer, artifacts that are too large to be stored “flat”. Any rolled storage consists of four main parts: the tube, an internal support for the tube, the leader, and the outer wrapping. Specifically, for flag storage, the length of the tube is determined by the height of the flag, plus additional space for the securing of the outer wrapper. Remember that the hoist edge will run the length of the tube and will be rolled last. The tube and its textile is then supported on cradles, or in storage furniture.  Grouping your collection into standard sizes maximizes space and budget.

Illustration of the layers of rolled storage of textiles, art conservation, image property of Gwen Spicer
Illustration by Gwen Spicer of the various layers of rolled storage.

A paper, or muslin, apron is used to assist in the initial rolling of the textile. The textile can be interleaved with acid-free tissue, muslin, or cotton sheets for larger textiles like rugs. The textile is then covered with muslin or Tyvek and secured with twill tape ties.

The diameter of the tube needs to be considered with several factors in mind. The larger the tube, the better it is for the flag. However, there is always a balance among space, budget constraints, and the size of a collection. Unfortunately archival tubes are very expensive specialty items because tubes used for rolling textiles need to be made of acid-free cardboard, which is made from virgin materials.

A small lightweight flag can be stored on 2" diameter tubes. Medium size textiles are best on 3" diameter tubes, and heavier flags require even larger tubes, which may also need to be supported by metal rods. Part of the tube’s diameter selection is the degree of bend, or angle, that the fibers are required to conform. Over time, the fabric can have a memory of the curvature.

art conservator custom made rolled flag storage, carpet, rug and large textile storage, archival materials
Cutting tubes for a collection of flags.

Cradles are an integral part of rolled storage. If the rolled textile were allowed to rest on a solid surface, the point of contact between the surface and the artifact would result in stress, not just to the outside layer which runs the length of the tube, but to each layer beneath the outside layer. The weight of the textile and the storage supplies can easily crush and cause damage to fragile textiles. By raising the ends of the tube above the surface just slightly, this can be prevented. Cradles can be easily carved from Ethafoam. Ethafoam is a Dow Chemical Co. trade name for polyethylene, a thermosetting plastic. Ethafoam is a closed-cell foam with a smooth surface. The cut edges are softer than other foams, like Styrofoam. It is easily cut with knives, and wood working tools. It is best to look for Ethafoam manufactured by Dow. Other foams have been found to include additives and stabilizers that can cause problems and yellowing, these obviously should be avoided.

They can even be stacked, or with notches, placed in a row side by side. The cradles need to be positioned at the end of the tubes, away from the flag itself. Stacked cradles are useful when a small group of unusually sized tubes are needed, and it is cost prohibitive to purchase furniture for such a small collection.

art conservator Gwen Spicer create these cradles from ethafoam, which is archival safe for museum storage and ideal for  supporting large rolled textiles
Detail image of carved Ethafoam cradles for two flags.
large textiles storage, rolled flags, archival materials, proper rolling techniques of artifacts
The cradles were designed for the flags to be stacked. The locations
where the tube rests on the cradle is outside or beyond where the
artifact is located. The pressure of the cradle is only on the tube
and outer wrappings itself.
Shorter length tubes can be placed in boxes, or drawers supported with Ethafoam cradles to suspend the tube above the bottom surface. Care will be needed to ensure that the tubes are cut to accommodate the inside dimension of the drawer or box. This is especially true with long and bulky textiles that can become large in diameter as their length is rolled. Tubes within boxes or drawers can run either direction to provide more options for tube length. These shorter tubes do not require an internal metal bar for support like the longer tubes. Please note any cut end of tubing often needs to be sanded lightly.

Art conservation, proper storage, rolled textiles, large textiles, flags, rugs, carpets
Rolled textiles suspended in the storage drawer with Ethafoam cradles.
art conservator, rolled storage for large textiles, archival materials, museum archives, collection care
Flags rolled and suspended on cradles that are positioned onto shelves.

On occasion, a longer tube is necessary. To make a longer tube, an insert is made from a scrap tube section approximately 8" or 10" long. A cut is made along the entire length. (For thick-walled tubes, the cut needs to be the thickness of both walls.) One half of the scrap tube is inserted into the tube and its extension. These longer tubes will also need more attention paid to placement within the storage room. Each tube will need to be maneuvered through the storage room's door, possibly around cabinets to its designated location. These heavy textiles will need to be supported by metal rods.

There are several collections that use Mylar with the prospect that the artifact can be seen through the storage covering. This is an advantage. However, there are two main disadvantages, one is the static-charge inherent in the Mylar and the other is the potential of fading in the exposed area. If plastic is deemed necessary due to pest concerns, then Polyethylene tubing as the covering is a better choice. There are many collections that use Mylar as their outer covering to aid in seeing the artifact, but this conservator discourages this choice.

It is important to note that Mylar would not be fitted into another tube as that it creates surface abrasion. In addition, if the receiving tube is too small, it can crush the flag inside. Other drawbacks are that there is limited access to the rolled flag, and, when it is slid in, one does not know if it remained smooth or if it is bunched.

Flag Storage has many facets, to this point we have covered several methods of storage. Many terms have come out of these reviews of storage, in the next posting we will include a full glossary of safe storage materials.
Gwen Spicer is a textile 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.

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