Flying the flag’. A quick n’ dirty guide to making your own flags using cotton. Part 1

Augsburg Regiment TYW
The most frequent request I have had whilst displaying games at wargames shows is “How do you make those cloth flags?” I thought it would be useful to pass on some of the ideas which I have now been using for over 25 years. I first used this technique for a regiment of English Civil War Parliamentarian Foot back in 1986 and I honestly cannot remember what gave me the idea in the first place.

Louis XIV's Maison Rouge cavalry
That particular flag still exists somewhere (I think it is attached to a unit of infantry I sold to some of the Ilkley Lads about 15 years ago as I saw it at a game in Sheffield in the not so recent past!).  I would be the first to admit that the technique is perhaps semi masochistic and does involve a degree of work however, if you have the time and the inclination, then the results are very rewarding.

Irish Jacobite Infantry
I think the periods in which I gamed between 1986 and 1998(TYW through to GNW) leant themselves particularly well to the focus on flags and this acted as a strong stimulant to keep going. Between 1600 and 1720 flags still had a hugely individual quality that was to disappear with the military reforms and professionalism of the mid eighteenth century. I have constructed over 500 flags using this method which are now in wargaming units from the early Dark Ages through to WW2 and so feel it to be pretty well road tested.  

Russian Naval Battalion 1854
Firstly I’d like to put the ideas behind the method in context and deal with some of the comments which occasionally arise when the subject is discussed. I chose to make all flags deliberately oversize. The reasons are  both pragmatic (in the construction) and aesthetic (in the viewing). If they were made exactly in scale with the figures then much of the detail would be lost and very difficult to paint without it looking like a sparrow’s footprints in the snow.

Swedish Grenadiers 1709
Larger flags seem to act as a strong focal point on the table and can very often draw attention away from an averagely painted unit making the overall effect much more pleasing. Someone once said that they didn’t like the relief or weave of the material showing as it was too unrealistic. This is a valid personal opinion, so if you don’t like it, don’t do it! Modelling is full of compromise and suspension of disbelief is necessary in many aspects of our hobby. 

I too am moderately unhappy about some of the compromises that have to be made when working with this material such as  the difficulty of painting over a material weave (extremely challenging with 0000 brushes),  doing straight lines (particularly when you are painting geometric shapes). Cotton distorts out of the normal dimensions when heat is applied (even moderately) and it causes significant shrinkage. Over zealous use of heat can actually set the linen on fire  which is ok if you’ve planned it for the ‘battle scarred’ look but not if it’s done by accident! Notwithstanding all of this I still think the pros outweigh the cons.

TYW Protestant cavalry
If you do wish to persevere and try the techniques I strongly recommend patience and do not be discouraged by your first efforts.  Persistence and a willing to restart a piece of work that you are frustrated with pays off in the end. I have found the results very rewarding over the years and still on occasion hand paint flags  in preference to purchasing paper versions despite Warfare Miniatures substantial flag catalogue. What follows in part 2 of this piece is a methodical guide to all stages of producing your own flags using this technique.

For now, I thought some pretty pictures from over the years would be a good entry point.