Flag conservation

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The 18th Star

About a year ago a flag rolled onto a large diameter tube came to my studio, brought by the Preventive Conservator, Tara Kennedy from the archival collection at the Divinity Library at Yale University. They had recently learned of a large, wool bunting, 18-star, thirteen stripe National flag in their collection. This was part of an investigative project for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) by Library Alliance intern Taylor Williams, who is a forensic science undergraduate from Southern University of New Orleans. The flag arrived at Yale in 2017 as part of a transfer of several hundred boxes of archival materials from Andover Newton Theological School, formerly located in Newton, Massachusetts. Every eighteen-star flag is very unusual and rare. What was the date of the flag? Could it be a real 18-star flag from 1812? These and other questions could only begin to be answered with a fuller understanding of the flag. This began with a full analysis and description of the flag. 

Overall of the 18-Star flag.

Schematic of the flag illustrating the locations of seams and selvages.

What is a flag analysis? This is a technical study that includes every aspect of the flag’s construction, including measurements and type of materials used. The study documents gross overall construction and progresses down to the spin and thread count of each fabric present (see the table below). The physical examination is done under both simple, 8x magnification and microscopy at 100x and 250x magnification. The known physical properties are compared to other known flag examples of similar type and ages. Some technical studies include analysis of the dyes as well, which was not performed in this case. 

Magnification of the three wool fabrics. The salvage edge is located on the left side of both the blue and red fabrics. Each are a plain-weave structure with threads spun in the Z-direction.

The Canton
The first indication of the unusual nature of this flag was in the construction of the canton. It was made with three horizontal seams, evenly spaced about 8 apart. Found at each seam were selvage edges, meaning that each strip of fabric was a full width, not pieced with fragments. This narrow-woven bunting is called quarter cloth. Its presence in this flag was unusual. 

Uniqueness of an 18-star flag The second official national flag was in 1795 with 15-stars to include the states of Vermont and Kentucky. The third official flag was in 1818 with 20-stars (Mastai and Mastai 1973; Madaus and Smith 2006). The third Flag Act stated that the number of stripes would remain at 13. Many flags used during the War of 1812 featured fifteen stripes as well as stars. The eighteenth star of the US national flag represents Louisiana, which achieved statehood on April 30th 1812, following Ohio (1803) and before Indiana (1816). There was no official 18-star flag. This is why so many 15-star flags, such as the Star Spangled Banner and the Fort Niagara flag, were used long after they no longer correctly represented the number of states in the Union. Grace Cooper in her book Thirteen-Star Flags: Keys to Identification notes, ‘It is doubtful that there were any eighteen-star or nineteen-star flags. . . With the War of 1812 raging, one would not expect the national flag to be changed while it was under fire” (Cooper 1973). However, in So Proudly We Hail, (Furlong and McCandless 1981) a silk, eighteen-star and eighteen stripe flag is shown. This is called the Baton Rouge Flag and is in an unknown collection (see below). It clearly does not fully follow the Flag Act specifications about the number of stars and stripes. The stars in this this Baton Rouge Flag are in a 5-4-5-4 pattern. Its existence indicates that the Yale's 18-Star flag is possibly historically real.

The silk Baton Rouge Flag with 18-stars and 18 stripes.

Are there other 18-star flags? In 1860 when southern states were beginning to secede, areas of the north were beginning to make flags with stars representing those states who were known to remain in the Union. Such flags have been called Exclusionary Flags. A surviving example is the 18-Star flag from Isaac Hayes Arctic Expedition of 1860 that left from Boston (Zaricor; ZFC0630; Mastai and Mastai 1973). This cotton flag was professionally made, with two-concentric rings around a center star. In contrast are Louisiana Secession flags. A surviving flag has eighteen stars, being the eighteen state, however with fewer stripes (Bridgeman). Both of these surviving flags are made of cotton.

Summary of Findings 
The fabric analysis of the 18-star flag bunting used fits within the range of threads per inch of the early nineteenth century. According to Cooper, use of single Z-spun threads persisted into the Civil War. The flag is made of high-quality wool, hand-woven fabric and is skillfully constructed with an unusual star count. All of the findings indicate that the flag is genuine to the time period of when Louisiana became a state in 1812.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Whose Side Was He On?

If you grew up in the Northeastern United States, you probably learned early on that the Redcoats were the enemy in conflicts fought in the early days of the fledgling country. “The Redcoats” were the British, of course. Schoolbook illustrations of the War of 1812 featured red-coated Canadian troops as well in descriptions of the battles. Today, re-enactors in the Niagara region of Ontario proudly wear their red coats when educating tourists about the heroes of the Canadian side.

But those schoolbook illustrations are misleading, as we recently learned from a beautiful uniform that came into our care from the Delaware County Historical Society. This scarlet coatee with black collar and cuffs was likely to have been worn by a New York or New England patriot. The fine, dense wool was almost certainly spun and woven in England, based on its quality, but the coatee was probably tailored for a soldier on the southern side of the 45th parallel.

The Red Coatee from 1812

In 1812, the U.S. regular army was growing but fairly small and the country still was dependent on state militias for much defense. Soldiers in some Connecticut militias, for instance, wore Red coats with black trim that would be indistinguishable from the coat in our care. Musicians, indispensable for armies at the time, often wore “reversed colors” and so even in regiments such as the New York City Artillery, who wore blue with red trim, a drummer or trumpeter might be clothed in red. U. S. Cavalry troops throughout the North East also frequently wore red.

We may not know who wore this uniform, but he certainly had a fine tailor! The quality of the fulled red twill fabric is impressive and the stitching meticulous. Unfortunately, the past 200 years have not been kind. The plain-weave front lining (woven from unbleached white wool singles) was riddled with holes from insect damage. The black collar and cuffs, made of fustian (similar to corduroy) were faded to brown and quite ragged from wear.

The damaged natural wool lining

In preparing the coatee for display, the goals were to protect all the fabrics while leaving them visible for examination and simultaneously presenting the garment’s handsome appearance in the best possible way. To accomplish this, the fine lining was fitted with a sheer overlay. The overlay will allow the coatee to be slipped on and off a mannequin without damage.

The lining, protected by a sheer overlay. Note the pillows to cushion the coat against creases

The thickset cuffs and collar were also protected with an overlay stitched in place. For this, a nearly invisible, soft netting was applied in areas of wear. Once those areas were protected, the yellow trims were reattached where they had come loose.

The "thickset" collar. The blue arrow shows one of the areas protected by netting

Finally, custom pillows were fitted in place so that creases that would weaken the fabric could not develop in storage. 

The provenance of this bit of history are still being researched by the historical societies that have cared for it. Someday we may know the name and regiment of this soldier. In the meantime, we can celebrate his memory by admiring his uniform.

Thanks to Shaun Pekar (on Facebook and shaunpekar@gmail.com) and Matthew Keagle of Fort Ticonderoga (https://www.fortticonderoga.org) for their patience, expertise and valuable insights in helping with this posting.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Remembering a Giant of Diplomacy

William Henry Seward (1801-1872), Governor of New York State, Senator and Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, was a giant of a man in every sense. Although today he is best known for the purchase of Alaska (Seward’s Folly or Seward’s Icebox), in his time he was respected for his intellect, his moral courage and tenacity and his widespread and effective diplomatic prowess.

The large embroidered hanging.

That prowess was recognized in his own time far beyond the borders of the United States. The Qing Dynasty of China held Seward in great regard and gifted him with a fine silk embroidery during his visit there in 1870. Spicer Art Conservation, LLC has recently had the opportunity to repair this large (6 foot by 10 ½ foot) work, renewing its handsome surface, repairing its support and preparing it for display.


William Seward's portrait created with silk satin stitches
and a coat of couched metallic threads.

The rose red cloth is closely embroidered with symbols of regard, respect and good wishes. The large portrait of Seward dominates the center while eight Taoist immortals stand on clouds in witness on both sides. A dragon and phoenixes, representing the emperor and empress, glare with authority from the top. 

The upper two rows with the large four-toed coiled dragon (mang) amongst clouds. In one claw is a 'pear' or sometimes called a 'ball.' Below are a pair of long-tailed phoenixes on either side of a sun disc. This sun represents intellectual enlightenment, while the phoenix signifies goodness and benevolence.


The eight embroidered Taoist immortals with their symbols.

Three gods called the Fu-Lu-Shou, representing happiness, longevity, and prosperity gaze benevolently down on Seward from the upper border. Scattered throughout the piece are peonies representing Spring, bats for happiness, and cranes for long life.

The Three Stars Gods are together in a row above Seward's portrait: Fuxing (Fu), God of happiness and good fortune holds a scroll; Shouxing (Shou), God of Longevity holding a peach that symbols long life; Luxing (Lu), God of Prosperity, holding a child.

Tigers, the king of animals, fiercely patrol the bottom of the work, protecting the Chinese citizens arrayed immediately below Seward’s portrait; they relax, playing qin and enjoying tea and entertainments.

Several other symbols are present amongst the above mentioned elements. They all add to the meaning of the large embordery. They include: Peonies representing wealth; White cranes for longevity; Mythical beast symbolize courage; bats symbolize 'good luck.' Interestingly based on the Chinese character for happiness (fu) and the final character for bat (pine-fu) that both have the same sound.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Out-of-this-World Tale of a Bust Called "Junior"

"Junior" isn't a run-of-the-mill piece of sculpture or one you would expect to find in the special collections of a university library, yet it's part of a large collection of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, and DVDs at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The collection was amassed by university alumna Betty Hill and her husband Barney, a couple who claimed they were abducted by aliens. Even the dress Betty was wearing that fateful night is part of this extensive other-worldly collection.
Betty and Barney Hill lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Betty (1919-2004) was a social worker with a degree from the University of New Hampshire, and Barney (1923-1969) was a postal worker. The couple were catapulted into the international spotlight when, in September 1961, they claimed to have been abducted by aliens in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The two were returning home to Portsmouth from a trip to Montreal, Canada, when, as they were driving in the middle of the night, they saw lights approaching from the sky. What followed is said to be the first well-documented, feasibly legitimate UFO abduction in history. The couple claimed that they saw bipedal humanoid creatures in the window of a large spacecraft that landed in a field, after which they had no recollection of the next two hours. They returned home to Portsmouth unable to explain the two missing hours. Both Betty and Barney had physical evidence from the night before, including Betty’s torn and stained dress, Barney’s scraped shoe, and a broken binocular strap, but neither of them had any memory of these things having happened. [1]
Photograph of Betty and Barney Hill, Betty and Barney Hill Papers, 1961-2006, MC 197, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Betty and Barney engaged Ohio artist Majorie Fish to create the bust of an alien based on a description Betty provided. In fact, thirty-four letters between the Hills and Fish exist in the university's collection. Called "Junior," the bust is a popular artifact at the university, as you might imagine. It measures just 13-inches tall and is made out of an unknown synthetic material -- possibly a type of fiberglass -- that is soft enough to yield when gently pressed. Unfortunately, Betty accidentally dropped the bust at some point, resulting in several cracks in the neck and the back of the head, all radiating from a sizable loss. Scotch tape was also present in an earlier attempt to support the cracks.

"Junior," the alien, before conservation.

It was time for the university to send it to the Conservator's Studio for repair and conservation. The goal of the treatment was to repair the head and make it stable again for display.

To improve the appearance, and to remove particulate materials damaging to the fabric, the entire surface of the artifact was vacuumed with low suction and a small brush attachment.  The tape on the surface of the bust was mechanically removed.

A mount was then designed to 1) prevent the top-heavy bust from tipping over and 2) provide internal structure to lessen the possibility of the cracks becoming larger. The mount consisted of a solid redwood base to act as a counterweight. A vertical post was attached to the new base, padded with Ethafoam the diameter of the head's interior and secured to the base. The bust was placed over the padded post. When tightened, the bust was both invisibly and reversibly attached to the base. With this method, the cracks were given slight pressure to ensure they would not increase. All wooden components in the mount’s design were sealed with several coats of “Spar” Varnish, which is conservation approved.

The Rest of Betty and Barney's Amazing Story....
About a year after their abduction, Betty and Barney sought hypnosis therapy to help reveal to them the events of the two missing hours. Through many hypnosis sessions, both were able to recall what had happened and both had similar stories. Betty Hill, following her experience, became one of the most well-known voices in UFO research. The publicity she received from her abduction made her internationally famous. "Junior", the careful reconstruction of her abductor, became the most familiar face of alien visitors, inspiring internet memes and the beloved movie character, ET.  She continued her research into UFOs for the remainder of her life, even after Barney’s sudden death in 1969. The Hills, though best known for their association with UFOs and their abduction, were also active civil servants in their seacoast New Hampshire community. Both were members of the NAACP and belonged to a local Unitarian church. Barney sat on a local board of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. [2]

[1] Betty and Barney Hill Papers, 1961-2006, MC 197, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

[2] Ibid.


Betty and Barney Hill Papers, 1961-2006, MC 197, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Kilbride Handwoven Vestments in the United States

We have just taken into care four beautiful silk chasubles from the Parish of the Holy Trinity in Hudson, NY. Three of the chasubles were woven and constructed in Ditchling, Sussex, UK, in the studio of Valentine Kilbride and Jenny Kilbride, his daughter. They were woven sometime between 1970 and the late 1980s. 

The three chasubles woven by Jenny Kilbride.

The fourth was woven and constructed in Troy, NY by the Sisters of the Cross, using the techniques of the Kilbride studio. The Kilbride vestments have orphrey bands (trim) of linen, or linen with silk embellishment. The chasuble from Troy has no orphrey bands but has a contrasting yoke. 

The chasuble woven in Troy, NY by the Sisters of the Cross.

ValentineKilbride trained at the family dyeworks as a young man before the First World War. Later, he was heavily influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement. The Kilbrides were part of the Guild of Saint Joseph and Saint Dominic, a collection of artists and artisans that was founded in 1929 and closed in 1989. The Guild itself was founded with a profound attachment to an enlightened form of Roman Catholicism; the tenets of that faith underlaid all of the work of the Guild.


Guild of Saint Joseph and Saint Dominic buildings

Valentine Kilbrid
Jenny Kilbride

All the chasubles are in the Gothic or bell style and are constructed with a single seam from one piece of cloth, woven out of 60-inch fabric. The weave structure produces a gorgeous play of light on the fabric as well as a beautiful drape and luscious hand. The Kilbrides’ vestments reflect the principles and aesthetics that flowed within the Roman Catholic church following Vatican Two. Those principles held that the beauty and solemnity of the Eucharist should be expressed through both simplicity and accessibility. The simple design of these chasuble is complemented by the subtle, elegant silk fabric and embodies those Vatican Two aesthetics.

The beautifully woven tape located and the neck and the center front band with areas of wear (left); Sketch of the chasulbe design (right)

Because of the nature of the silk fabric and the regular use of most Kilbride vestments, very few of these beautiful chasubles remain intact today. It is the hope of the Holy Trinity parish that the chasubles may someday return to their point of origin and be shown in the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft.

To read more about Jenny and her father and life in the guild read this article


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Embroidered Danish Heritage

Our intern, Olivia Frechette, shares her insights on a recent project.

Spicer Art Conservation, LLC recently received an intriguing and pretty cool counted cross stitch embroidery for treatment. An embroidered map of Funen County in Denmark (made up of Funen, Langeland, Æro, Tåsinge, and accompanying smaller islands) was handmade by a client's grandmother in 1959. It is clear she was a skilled embroiderer. The map has spent most of its life inlaid into a table top. While the map is looking great for 62 years old, it has been taken out of its table-home for a bit of care before both map and table are passed on to the client's son. 

Surface of the embroidery map. There is some water staining with tide-lines along the edges of the map fabric.

The main city of Odense, famous as the birthplace of well-known fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen, is labelled and marked with a red square.

Close-up of the island of Funen, Denmark. All roads lead to Odense, Funen County's main city.

The level of detail on this map is exquisite. Individual manor houses and landmarks are faithfully represented with neat and tiny petti-point stitches in a rainbow of colors.  

A detail of the map showing buildings in south-west Funen

A detail of the map showing buildings and orchards in north-west Funen

A ship is even bobbing in the Belt Straits, flying the Danish flag of course, with seabirds flying overhead.

Close-up of the embroidered ship

Detail of embroidered birds above Funen

Funen's Danish name "FYN" and the map's date are surrounded by an elaborate wreath. Isn't it pretty?

The map is titled in Danish "FYN" and dated 1959

When the map was unglued from its backing board, a 'ghost map' was discovered on the wooden board! Over the years, the sun snuck through the open weave of the support fabric and oxidized the map design into the wood. The denser embroidered areas was more able to block the light. Read and earlier blog post on other effects of long-term light exposure.

The removed backing board of the map, where the sun bleached the embroidery image onto the wood.

Perhaps the map wanted to start celebrating Halloween early with its 'ghost' double. Spooky!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Trouble with Velcro TM - Is there an alternative?

Since the 1970s, large textiles have been hung using hook-and-loop fasteners, also known as Velcro TM,  which was an improvement for hanging textiles from rings, loops or tacks along the upper edge. Each of these methods created small areas of stress along the upper edge and often a 'scalloped' look. The technique has little changed from the first instructional handouts produced by the Textile Museum and the Smithsonian Institution. The looped side of the hook-and-loop fastener is machine stitched to a fabric, typically wide twill tape. The fabric is then hand-stitched to the reverse side of the upper edge of a textile; the hooked side is attached to the wall or cleat. Over the years disadvantages of Velcro have come to light. Concern with its use began in the 1990s when discoloration of the product was noticed. Several conservators became concerned and were suspicious of product alterations resulting in color change and hook breakage, especially after the patent expired in 1978, resulting in various other brands of hook-and-loop fasteners coming on the market. Even so, Velcro and other hook-and-loop fasteners are still used today. However, it needs to be evaluated and possibly replaced every twenty years or so.
Old hook-side stitched to the outer edges of a quilt.

Velcro was invented in 1941 by George de Mestal, a Swiss engineer whose patent expired in 1978. With the patent's expiration the precise formulation of the previously known 'Velcro' could no longer be confirmed. Velcro of varying qualities and durability started to proliferate. Research by Kim Leath and Mary Brooks found that in 1998, two companies held the Velcro trademark despite producing notably different products. 
The Mag-Slat; An aluminum 'L'-shaped strip with fixed counter-sunk disc neodymium magnets.

An alternative hanging system is the Mag-Slat from SmallCorp, Inc.  A sleeve made of twill tape or Tyvek is made by machine-stitch to receive the steel powder-coated strip. To read more read this link.
Of course, more about the use of magnets can be found in Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and  Cultural Institutions, 2019. Get your copy now!  
Joy Gardiner and Joseph Webber. " Failure to Bind: A Re-examination of the Aging of Hook and Loop Fasteners." Textile Specialty Group Postprints. Vol. 20, 2010. pp. 155-120.
Kim Leath and Mary Brooks. "Velcro TM and Other Hook and Loop Fasteners: A Preliminary Study of their Stability and Ageing [sic] Characteristics." Textile Conservation Newsletter. Spring 1998 . pp. 5-11.