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How we conserve and frame our antique flags
HERE ARE SOME IMPORTANT FACTS.
by Jeff Bridgman, 2007
I employ a team of conservation and framing staff so that I can coordinate the mounting and display of all our flags on site. I personally select the very best new and antique moldings and the highest quality, natural fabrics for backgrounds, support, and masking. What follows below is a description of how we mount various types of flags, the frames that we use, and alternatives to traditional framing.
Remember while you are reading that any frame currently on a flag I am selling, as well as its background, can be changed to meet your wishes.
MOUNTING & CONSERVATION:
For flags with sewn construction (pieced stripes, canton, sleeve, and/or stars), the flag begins its journey by getting hand-stitched on every seam to 100% silk organza for support. Organza is a virtually weightless fabric that is very tough. Among other uses, organza is used for support inside wedding dresses. We sew the flag to organza (or sometimes to an alternate fabric) so that it simply doesn't hang on its own weight along the top row of stitches in the final mount. Supportive stitches are also placed throughout the star field.
If the flag has losses, fabric of similar coloration is often cut to fit behind these areas. Sometimes such fabric is used behind the entire flag. This is necessary when the background fabric will show through because it is so thin, or because the fabric used in its construction is loosely woven. This is especially true when we are using a black background. Masking fabric, when needed, will be applied before the supportive silk.
The supportive silk is then turned under (doubled up) as the flag is hand-stitched to its background, which is typically black cotton that has been washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent is added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric is heat-treated for the same purpose. While museums would seldom use such a color for textile conservation, I have found that unbleached muslin and other various white or cream backgrounds seldom look as good, except in the case of smaller, printed parade flags when using a wood grain molding. Black is typically much preferred when using a gold or black and gold frame. There are exceptions to this rule, but once I switched from ivory to black, several years ago, the mounts looked immensely superior. Black creates just the right kind of vibrant contrast with the red and white of a Stars & Stripes, making it visually jump off the background. Shades of white can drain color from the presentation while at the same time magnifying every stain or flaw. Many flags that are a solid “10” on a scale of 1-10 against a black background, drop to a 7 or 8 on an ivory background. Other colors, such as blue, grey, or tan, are usually out of the question. Although there are rare exceptions, they typically drop the flag down another notch on the visual scale no matter what color of frame is used.
After washing and treatment of the background fabric, the fabric is mounted with archival adhesive to coroplast (corrugated plastic). The flag is then hand-stitched to this prepared mount. The stitches go right through the coroplast and are held fast on the reverse with archival framers tape (usually P90). This keeps the stitches from slipping. If the flag is large, a custom-sized strainer frame is built to support the flag. The fabric is gently stretched over the strainer and held in place by rust-resistant staples, applied with an air-stapler. The fabric is then trimmed and taped off on the reverse side, usually with heavy framers tape. Finally, the mount is placed in the frame behind either u.v. protective plexiglas or glass. If glass is used, spacers are used to keep the textile away from the glass.
Printed cotton or silk flags (parade flags / hand-wavers) also get hand-sewn to their backgrounds. They are either sewn to 100% cotton, laid over an archival backing of acid-free foam core or coroplast, or sewn to a combined layer of 100% cotton rag mat board and acid-free foam core. Again if black fabric is used, the fabric is treated for colorfastness. Again the stitches go right through the two layers and are taped on the reverse with framers tape. This is also helpful because if one stitch breaks or slips from some reason, the others hold fast. The final mount is then placed in the chosen frame with u.v. protective plexiglas or glass. If glass is used, spacers are used to keep the textile away from the glass.
Printed wool (press-dyed) flags are a hybrid between sewn and printed flags. They are generally heavier and for good measure we mount these in a fashion similar to sewn flags. Silk organza or taffeta is hand-sewn on the reverse along every stripe and possibly within the star field (depending on its size). The flag is then finished in the same manner as a sewn flag (see above).
Very fragile silk flags require sandwich-mounting or a combination stitch-mount and sandwich-mount. The sandwich mount basically involves laying the flag over 100% cotton velvet, which is laid over 100% cotton batting. These three layers (flag, velvet, batting) are then sandwiched between two pieces of plexiglas, the front being OP2 or OP3, u.v. protective. After the mount is placed in the frame, it has to be forced forward so that the flag will stay in place and remain flat, without ripples. This all sounds simple enough, but it is a very tricky process. Static electricity and the appropriate level of pressure are just two of the many challenges. Flags that have fallen to pieces, or have braided fringe, or have metallic stars, require even greater care, skill, and patience. It's not a task for the meek of heart, but over time and through much practice, we have become very good at it.
The antique frames we choose for smaller flags are generally period to the flag or earlier. These I select and buy personally, before cutting them down to accurately fit the flags. This takes special care as the frames are generally 100-200 years old.
For larger flags, we use only the very best moldings. In particular, I prefer a black and gold or black and silver, Italian-made variety that is about 3.25” in width and 2.5” in depth. While expensive, I have found nothing to match them in terms in the early appearance of their hand-gilded, hand-distressed surfaces and the degree to which they effect the overall presentation of most Stars & Stripes flags. Further, they tend to work in every sort of setting, from rural to formal to ultra-modern.
Many frame-makers attempt to make frames that look antique, but most fail in that attempt, especially under an eye that is used to seeing original surfaces on 18th and 19th century objects. While the style of the new moldings I use isn’t an exact copy of any American molding, the finish is unique in my experience with new frames, because it works very well with early surface American furniture, both painted and unpainted. This is almost never the case. In addition, they work just as well with polished, formal furnishings, European or American, new or old, as well as in a sleek, modern, contemporary home or office.
For those who don’t like black and gold and simply can’t incorporate it, an alternative molding I like a 3.25” wide, burled, wooden frame with a bowed profile, distressed along the edges. In a way it reminds me of age-worn leather. For a background with these frames, I prefer ivory colored, 100% cotton rag mat board, or a 100% natural hemp fabric that looks a great deal like early linen. The hemp is generally much more expensive than new linen, but it is a closer representation of early homespun fabric.
Both the burled wood and the black and gold frames I use have a Ralph Lauren-type simplicity and feel: classy, worn, traditional, that just works well in most environments. One is a bit bolder, one is a bit warmer; both give the right, age-appropriate look to 19th century flags.
CUSTOM-CAST ALUNINIUM FRAMES & CUSTOM BUILT, PLEXIGLAS BOX FAMES
In the case of some flags, especially very large ones, appropriate traditional moldings are sometimes unavailable. For example, the new moldings I use come in lengths of 9 or 10 feet, which can accommodate a flag that is 9 feet long or smaller. For a 10-foot flag, an alternative method is needed. In these instances we typically use a custom-made, cast aluminum frame with a 1” wide front and a satin black finish. The flag is conserved and mounted in the same general fashion, but always receive a supportive, wooden strainer frame for this method of display. The cast aluminum frame slips over the strainer and stainless steel screws hold it in place from the sides. We typically use black cotton twill backgrounds for these mounts, leaving about 1” – 3” of black fabric showing around the perimeter of the flag. Because the sides, front, and background fabric are all black, this gives the effect that the flag is simply floating on a black ground. It’s the logical alternative if a tradition molding can not be used.
Plexiglas museum boxes work in the same general fashion, except the sides and front are clear, u.v. protective Plexiglas. Because such frames are extremely fragile to transport, easily subjected to breakage and scratching, I avoid their use unless the customer demands it or the item simply calls for this modern type of display. Quilts are an example of an item that looks best in this type of mount. But flags almost always benefit from a frame.
SAVING SPACE BECAUSE THE FLAG YOU WANT IS ALMOST TOO LARGE FOR YOUR ALLOTTED SPACE:
In this case, a couple of options are available. Plexiglas box frames and cast aluminum frames can add as little as 4” to the overall size of a flag. The moldings I typically use on large flags add about 10” – 11” to the overall size. Sometimes this means the difference between a flag fitting and not fitting in a space.
SAVING SPACE AND MONEY:
Alternatively, a flag can be conserved by stitching it to silk for support, then rolling the silk over and creating a sleeve, through which a rod can be inserted. In this manner, the flag can be hung like a quilt, without a frame. I don’t recommend this for valuable flags, as it subjects them to light, dust and other degrading factors. But it is a viable option for a huge flag that is to be hung high up on a wall in an area with a vaulted ceiling, for example, especially if it receives little direct sunlight.
Another alternative is to use a less expensive and/or narrower molding. I have a limited selection of these. I can also mount the flag for you and ship it to you unframed, so that you can simply add Plexiglas or glass and spacers, and whatever frame you chose to purchase locally
Feel free to ask me about all of your mounting and framing concerns.
|Jeff Bridgman Antiques • Historic York County, Pennsylvania • Tel. 717-502-1281 or 717-676-0545 • email@example.com
All images and Text © Jeff Bridgman 2001 - 2013