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Archive for June, 2010

When I went loopy and redid our two front rooms, I foolishly did all the chair rail part by myself.  The real problem was trying to miter the joints with a cheap plastic miter box and a hand saw — I thought going slowly would allow me more precision, but it didn’t work like that. Precisely joining 45-degree angles ain’t easy; I made gaps so big I literally had to spackle them. Most aren’t too noticeable, and the overall effect of the new paint colors and the molding makes the rooms look nice, but a few of those joints are right out in the open, and I cringe.

Corner joint shows the gap before I spackled and painted it. Small planks temporarily taped to the wall -- my "extra hands" -- hold the trim piece level while I nail it in place.

So my first bit of advice is to pay someone to do this for you. If you’re still reading, my second piece of advice is to rent a power miter saw for this project, which I assume would give you more precise joints. No pre-cutting at the store is going to work, because you have to fit these lengths as you go along — walls aren’t perfect, and all sorts of variables will throw you off. (Usual advice is to start in a corner and work outward from there.)

My third piece of advice is to not mess with laser levels or chalk lines or however you were going to mark the straight line on the wall. Just take a yardstick and mark the same height all around the wall. Fast; and no futzing with tape measure error. And if you somehow marked a line that was perfectly sea-level true, but wasn’t parallel to the floor, it would look wrong anyway. Right?

Standard advice on placing chair rail is about 32 inches from the floor, or alternately 1/3 the height of the wall. You could also go old-school and put it where your chairs’ backs actually strike the wall.

My fourth big tip: Tape a line on the wall first and eyeball it. If the height you’ve chosen looks strange, it’s easier to move tape than to repaint.

Sneakiest of all, though, was how I got around only having two hands. I bought little poplar planks and sawed them off at uniform height. Then I taped them to the wall I was working on (see above). Apply a little glue to the rail and hoist it up onto the slats; the slats prop it up level long enough for you to smack in the first few nails. Voila, spare hands!

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(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the De Zavala Flag; the Burnet Flag; the Gonzales Flag (Old Come and Take It); and the San Jacinto Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

Ever since Alamo commander Buck Travis wrote, “I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls,” people have wondered exactly which flag he meant.

On October 13, 1835, in the coffee room at the Banks Arcade on Magazine Street in New Orleans, two companies of volunteers were formed to help Texas fight Mexico for its independence; they were later fitted out with weapons and grey uniforms. The first company entered Texas at the Gaines Ferry over the Sabine River, and on their way to St. Augustine, the troops were met by a group of local women who gave them a pale blue silk flag, bordered in gold (or maybe white) fringe. The Handbook of Texas also notes they were given a public dinner at St. Augustine, and in Nacogdoches, they were honored with roasted bear and champagne. (The second company came by ship, and they met up in San Antonio.)

Members of the Greys fought in battles from Bexar to San Jacinto, and this flag was captured at the Alamo. It is, says the Handbook, “the only flag still in existence that allegedly flew at the Alamo.” Some illustrations of the fort show this flag flying as well as a Texas-and-Coahuila flag. The Alamo web site describes the issue fully in its answer to the question “What flag flew over the Alamo during the siege and battle?”

There seems to be a remarkable amount of mystery about the flag’s present-day whereabouts, given that we’ve known who had it since 1836 (Santa Anna wrote a letter about it, and we have occasionally asked for it back, most recently in 1995).

And by the power of the Internet, I actually saw it earlier this year, on an interactive part of a Mexico museum’s website which allowed you to scoot around a panoramic view of the rooms. It wasn’t labeled or named on the website, but it was pretty clear what it was, there in the corner:

As of right now, the flag is no longer viewable on the website, so I presume that unseemly interest from an IP address in Texas prompted the museum to yank it down. No se preocupen, nuestros vecinos. Solamente quisé mirarla. Luckily, some other people have posted pictures, and more appear in books.

But let’s have no more of this “whereabouts unknown,” “said to be a mystery” stuff. We know where it is. And we’re pretty surely not getting it back!

About my design:

I’ve worked hard, using four photographs taken in different decades, to make my design as faithful as possible to the real flag that was captured on March 6, 1836. Several Web stores sell T-shirts carrying pictures of this flag (one actually uses a copyrighted drawing from a book), but I feel confident mine’s not only among the most accurate but also scaled properly to make a high-quality image at full size. That is, not a blown-up JPEG.

A stage midway through my reconstruction - you can see the deteriorated state of the lettering and particularly the eagle.

Doesn’t that uppermost typeface look modern? And there’s enough detail left, you can maybe see, to show the original outlined letters and drop shadows. I’ve studied typefaces for years — it was my hobby in junior high each month to choose a typeface and draw a wall-sized calendar page for myself — and have designed lettering for banners and posters, plus learned a lot about the use of typefaces in my design work at newspapers. So this was very familiar work to me.

A closeup of how I worked: starting with what was left, then reconstructing.

Each letter is drawn by hand. That alone makes it different from most versions for sale, which typically just use an existing typeface that’s in a similar style. I also use the original letter placement, except in about six cases where damage to the fabric had dragged a letter far out of place — those I restored to a more normal alignment and kerning, because once the rest of the design had been cleaned up, they were distracting.

For everybody who tries to reconstruct this flag, the eagle is a particular problem because it’s so very nearly worn away on the real thing. However, a plate in Robert Maberry’s “Texas Flags” shows an 1888 color engraving done in Mexico of various captured flags. It shows the Greys’ flag as having the eagle’s head down on the left side, tail down right, something like feet in between, and rays coming up from the eagle’s back. Other photos of the flag also reveal more detail. What you see on my finished shirt is an educated guess, at best. As when I worked on my San Jacinto flag shirt, I tried to think of what the original designer might have done, and used a lot of of detail to give a rich and finished final appearance.

And, also as with the San Jacinto flag, I really had fun researching and recreating this! Once again I’d like to apologize for how expensive these print-on-demand shirts are. I actually only make a few dollars per shirt. But at least it’s high-quality printing — and I’ve worked hard to make sure the design is high-quality too.

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