by Sarah Berlinger
The conservation of a Bicentennial felt flag from the Hanover Historical Society of Hanover, Massachusetts, presented MTS with a unique quandary: what is the best way to patch the pest-damaged felt flag while maintaining a color and texture consistent with the original object? The answer: Needle felting!
After several tries of making the patch with various shades of blue cotton fabric, it was determined that not only were the colors not a match, but the tight weave of the cotton did not possess the same loft of the felt flag. Using wool roving in shades of blue, gray, white, and brown, small amounts of fibers from each color were blended together by hand until a color match was found, including allowances for color damage through soil deposits, light, and age. After the flag was humidified to reduce wrinkling and spot cleaned to reduce localized soil deposits, a map of the missing areas of the flag was traced onto a lightweight, non-woven polyester substrate (Reemay®).
Using a needle felting tool and mat, the blended wool roving was felted into the template traced on the substrate. The patch was placed under the object and the roving was lined up with the losses in the flag. A small amount of felting was done where the patch edge met the object edge, to achieve a seamless transition. After the patch was securely fastened to the flag, a cotton backing fabric was attached, adding a layer of stability to the entire object.
From the photograph at the beginning of this post, it's clear to see that needle felting was the best choice for making an effective repair to the Bicentennial flag. In addition to conserving the flag, we added a new skill to the MTS repertoire, and one that will serve us well in the years to come.