One of the objects I have worked on during my time as a HLF ‘Skills for the future’ conservation intern at the National Maritime Museum has been a silk Royal Standard (post 1837). This object had sadly deteriorated to the point where it was difficult to see many of the typical features present in this type of flag. The Royal Standard is flown when and where a monarch is in residence. It has a distinctive layout which has changed over the centuries to include emblems that relate to the formation of the United Kingdom, in this case England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Prior to commencing any work on the object, I carried out a full assessment of its condition. This identified two major concerns regarding the long-term preservation of the flag. Most prominently that the warp threads had disintegrated, and left large sections where weft threads were ‘floating’, or only partially still in a woven structure. This gave the flag a straggly appearance with bundles of fibres twisted and knotted together. The flag is also significantly faded. This is particularly evident in areas which have more saturated colour, such as in the folds of the hems, which can sometimes show the original colour scheme of textiles. The main cause of this type of damage is exposure to light.
The flag had been printed or resist dyed to give it red, blue and gold colouring. The red has faded completely, and the yellow has discoloured giving the flag a uniformly brown colour. The printed areas appear to have deteriorated much more than the unprinted areas. Some historic dyes and pigments contain compounds such as Iron Oxide, that are known to deteriorate over time and damage the materials to which they were applied, and this may be why the printed areas are far more damaged than the unprinted areas.
Royal Standard flag (AAA0809) from the National Maritime Museum collection, showing the intended colour scheme.
The flag was very crumpled and my first priority was to ease out the creases before any stitching could take place to secure it down to a lining fabric. To achieve this without using excessive heat, pressure or water, the best available option available to me was the use of cool moisture through a humidifier, and letting the flag rest under light, flat glass weights until the creases were slowly eased out. Once in this condition, I could place the flag onto a support fabric that I had coloured to match using stable, lightfast dyes. The flag was then secured to the support fabric with rows of couching stitches, and placed onto a padded board. The board provides a rigid but soft support that is suitable for long term storage. A layer of dyed net was used to overlay the surface of the flag, creating a ‘sandwich’ that will keep the fragile fibres aligned and secure for the future.
The flag has been a great project with plenty of challenges. It has enabled me to work through a range of different techniques, that will benefit me greatly in future textile conservation projects.