The Australian White Ensign and its connection with HMAS Vampire

HMAS <em>Vampire</em> flying the Australian White Ensign in 1967. Image: Navy Historic Archive. HMAS Vampire II.

HMAS Vampire (II) flying the Australian White Ensign in 1967. Image: Navy Historic Archive.

Flags are everywhere. We see them flying from government and corporate buildings, from ships and cars, at sporting events, and during festivals. They all mean something whether it be identifying a country or business, or marking the end of a marathon. This month marked the anniversary of one of Australia’s most significant flags – the Australian White Ensign (AWE), first flown on 1 March 1967.

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Patch-eyed pirate prints

Ahoy there landlubbers, scurvydogs and sprogs!

We be gettin excited for Pirates Ahoy family fun day this Sunday. So much so that our craft spot this ere month be dedicated to puttin a swashbucklin pirate print on everythin!

A tote, bandanna or flag as well, this ere creative caper be an excellent activity for celebratin pirates any time.

If ye be without the doubloons to get ye a scurvy silkscreen, ye can use a simple sponge roller for your pirate print instead.

final designs

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Prevention is better than cure.

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Textile conservator showing a flag with a damaged corner.

“Preventing textiles from damage by storing them appropriately is better than spending time repairing them”.

This is the guiding philosophy behind the textile storage project at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Three main storage formats have been implemented to minimise handling. Textiles are mainly hung, rolled or placed in boxes with internal supports to protect the collection.

However, when damage has already occurred, it is necessary to repair textiles to prevent further damage prior to rolling or storing them.

The conservator stabilises areas of fabric loss.

It is important to stabilise areas of fabric loss to prevent damage.

Large flat textiles like banners and flags are interleaved using acid free tissue then rolled carefully onto archival cardboard rolls, covered using Dacron or polyester felt followed by cotton/polyester Interlock or Stockingette. The outside of the roll is covered with a final layer of acid-free tissue.

The conservator shows rolled storage method.

Roll storage method for large, flat textiles (Eg. banners and flags)

Clothing and uniforms are hung on Dacron padded coat hangers covered using cotton Interlock while swimwear and accessories are stored separately in boxes or grouped together, separated on cardboard shelving within boxes.

Swimwear is stored on archival cardboard shelving within archival boxes.

Swimwear is stored on archival cardboard shelving within archival boxes.

Collars are stored in boxes using internal supports to soften folds.

Collars stored in boxes using internal supports to soften folds.

Hats are stored separately on powder coated metal hatstands using internal supports constructed using Dacron padded Ethylene foam supports covered using cotton Interlock.

Hats are stored separately using internal supports on hatstands.

Hats are stored separately using internal supports on hatstands.

Behind the scenes with our textile conservators

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Julie prepares flag from 1900s for storage

This week we are going to take you behind the scenes of the museum to meet some of our staff and see the interesting things they get up to!

Today we’ve checked in with our conservators… Julie is preparing a flag from the early 1900s for storage and Sue is painstakingly conserving a sailors woolie from the late 1800s!

To make sure the flag can be safely stored, Julie will need to stabilise the damaged corner of the flag by attaching a temporary patch. She has chosen to use a piece of silk, which is a protein based fabric with a similar weave to the original flag. To avoid further damage she’ll attach the patch with thread, using existing holes created by insect damage to thread her needle through.

The stabilised flag will be stored in the museum’s new textile storage system, along with over 3,000 other textile items including flags, uniforms, shoes, head wear, bedding, towels, and clothing.

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Julie adds a patch to stabilise the flag for storage

Our conservator Sue shows us a beautiful embroidery she has been conserving for a while now – it’s one of her favourite objects to work on. Originally in a wooden frame, she has carefully removed the artwork to conserve it as best she can.

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Sue uses a low suction vacuum to remove insect debris and dust from the sailor’s woolie.

As part of the conservation process Sue uses a low suction vacuum to remove insect debris and dust from the artwork. The wool and silk thread are extremley fragile and in some parts the thread has already snapped or been nibbled by insects.

On the underside of the embroidery you can see how vibrant the original thread was, before being damaged by the sun. It would have been a glorious piece of needlework!

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Julie shows the underside of the sailor’s woolie showing the original colour of the thread

Wool pictures (or ‘woolies’) like these were mostly produced between 1840 and 1900 by British sailors. This one was thought to be made in the late 1800s. They cover many subjects, but commonly show broadside views of ships, ‘patriotic’ flags, and samples of embroidered patterns such as flowers, demonstrating the skill of the embroiderer. They were almost never signed, and are usually naive in character, but the detail of the ships in woolworks indicates that they were the work of seamen. Sewing and sailmaking were important skills of seamen, and woolwork pictures show the expertise they brought to this engaging handcraft.

We’ve uploaded a few more photos of Julie and Sue in action on our Flickr and Facebook pages for you to check out. Otherwise, stay tuned for more behind the scenes posts this week!