The Butler Flag (Textile Conservation Center/American Textile History Museum)

The “Butler” flag is the first U.S. flag made from bunting material manufactured in the United States. Wool bunting is traditionally used for flags because it is lightweight yet strong, holds up well in inclement weather, and unfurls in a breeze. Bunting had been imported before 1865, but in that year, Congress passed a law requiring that flags be made of American materials.

United States Bunting Company in Lowell, Massachusetts, produced this flag, and its founder, Civil War general Benjamin Butler, presented it to Abraham Lincoln on April 11, 1865, three days before the president’s assassination. The flag was acquired by the American Textile History Museum in 2001.

In 2004 conservators at the Textile Conservation Center examined the flag and identified areas of damage and weakness. As part of the conservation treatment, the conservators prepared extensive written and photographic documentation of the flag’s construction and current condition, as well as details of the various stages of treatment. This intense research is a typical and important part of any conservation treatment project and requires considerable knowledge of history, chemistry, physics, and art.

A strategy for carefully cleaning the flag was tested and then conducted; previous repairs disfiguring the flag’s shape were removed; and custom-dyed fabric underlays, specialty threads, and various conservation stitches were used to make repairs that blended and became relatively invisible. The flag may now be safely exhibited to the public.