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The conservation and restoration of flags and banners is the process by which conservators work to preserve and restore flags and banners from future deterioration and damage. As a part of Conservation of Textiles, flag and banner conservation require the care of a skilled and well trained textile conservator, specifically trained in historical materials.
Historical Flags are often made of silk, cotton, linen, or thin wool bunting. These materials were used in the making of flags, primarily in the U.S. until the mid 20th century. Forensic examination of flags, to the level of examining the fibers of the fabrics themselves, and the threads used to sew the flags, helps identify the period of the materials used and usually is a good indicator of the period of a flag (though not necessarily, in the case of a forgery). These materials can be very fragile and require advanced conservation techniques. Conservators are experts in stabilization and preservation of historic fabrics, flags may be in a variety of conditions from good condition to tattered fragments. Silk and wool are protein fibers whereas cotton and linen are vegetable fibers. The process by which they deteriorate will vary greatly and needs to be carefully addressed during conservation and preservation. Nowadays many flags are made of a synthetic blend or nylon materials, which have their own unique requirements for preservation and care.
Flag condition often relates to their usage during the war, so some of the most historically significant examples show the greatest damage. However, flags were not limited to damage from war, such as bullet holes or blood stains - which have specific treatments themselves - but also damage from natural elements such as wind, light exposure, temperature, humidity and pest infestation.
If pest infestation occurs it is important to act fast by following the IPM plan and consulting a trusted pest control professional. If individual pieces are attacked it is important to isolate them immediately in a plastic bag or sealed between to sheets of plastic and tape and then proceed with the IPM.
It is important to consider proper textile storage in the design plan of your storage facility. This room should have limited access, in the interior of the building, with no exposure to outside light, temperature controlled, and properly installed monitoring equipment. Like other organic materials, textiles can deteriorate very quickly under fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels. Flags and banner are no exception to this so proper storage is critical in preservation.
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