This beautiful and
folky homemade flag of the Civil War period descended in
the Kilbourne family. By the time of the Civil
War, commercial manufacturers and cottage industry flag
makers were producing large numbers of American flags
for sale to the government and to private citizens.
Americans also produced their own homemade flags from
materials at hand, and these rare homemade examples
often possess wonderful folk art qualities, as is the
case with this example.
This flag is entirely
hand sewn and made of thin cotton. Families took great
pride in ownership of their family flags, carefully
repairing damage to them by patching, re-stitching and
darning them. The Kilbourne family repaired their flag
using patches made from scrap cuttings of fabrics
resulting in a wonderful make-do appearance. The
hoist of the flag consists small brass ringlets and a
rope sleeve with the thin hemp rope still present.
The rope is sewn into the hoist and was not for hanging
the flag, but simply to strengthen the flag along the
hoist to prevent the ringlets from tearing the thin
star pattern of the flag appears at first to be random,
but there are some hints of underlying structure to the
pattern, and as seen in the image to the right. In fact,
the pattern is very close to a spiral configuration.
With the exception of just two stars in the upper right
quadrant of the canton, which are slightly out of
position, the remaining 32 stars fall neatly into the
spiral, and it's probable that the seamstress, when
positioning the stars, worked her way out from the
center, placing the stars to fill in the spaces as she
spiraled around the canton. Although the spiral
pattern was probably unintentional, it is present
nonetheless as a result of her technique. The
stars are double-applique and appear in the same pattern
on both sides of the flag. Yet another
rare attribute for the flag is the fact that the
canton rests on a red stripe, known in flag lore
as the "blood stripe". This feature is
often attributed to a flag being made in
wartime, and may certainly be the case for this
flag, being made in the opening years of the
Civil War and possessing provenance to a family
with two sons who fought for the Union cause.
Evidence of a spiral pattern in the design of
the Kilbourne family flag, circa 1861-1863.