Published: Friday, October 12, 2001
Move over, Betsy Ross
How to stitch an American flag
by Jill Slater
The emblem of the land I love
The home of the free and the brave
("Grand Old Flag" - George M. Cohan)
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted our first national
flag. A flag was needed to show and promote national pride and unity
during the War of Independence between the British and the American
The American flag remains a symbol of freedom. You can knock us
down, but you cannot knock us out. The horrific events on Sept.
11, 2001, have again prompted many Americans to fly the flag as
an expression of renewed patriotism and solidarity.
Natalia Spilmon, a recent Russian immigrant,
said sewing this American flag made her feel more connected
to her new country.
Photo by Cindy Chew
As a result, American flags have been flying off store shelves,
and many retailers and e-tailers are sold out. You may even be on
a wait list for one. Instead of waiting, sew your own and give "Old
Glory" an even greater meaning. With the holidays approaching, a
homemade flag can even be an important, unique gift.
Surprisingly, no one knows with absolute certainty who designed
and made the first American flag. Common legend credits the construction
of the first flag to the talents of Betsy Ross. Ross was a widow
running her own struggling upholstery business when General George
Washington showed her a rough drawing of the flag that included
six-pointed stars. Instead, Ross demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed
star in just a single cut.
Impressed by her handy work, George Washington, Robert Morris
and George Ross, members of the Continental Congress, enlisted Betsy
to make our first flag. It included 13 five-pointed stars. The meeting
took place in Ross' home in late May 1776. It was declared "that
the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red
and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field,
representing a new constellation."
Our Stars and Stripes have evolved over the last 250 years. On
August 21, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower gave an executive order
for the arrangement of 50 stars in nine rows staggered horizontally
and 11 rows of stars staggered vertically. Our current, 27th version
of the flag became official on July 4, 1960, after Hawaii was admitted
to the union.
Jill Slater is the "Good Gardener" for ABC 7 News, San Francisco,
and spokesperson for The California Cut Flower Commission.
Sew your own Stars and Stripes:
You don't need to be an expert seamstress to sew your own flag,
but Natalia Spilmon who is a professional seamstress generously
donated her time to stitch our American flag. Spilmon is a Russian
immigrant who has lived in this country for just three years. She
said sewing the flag made her feel more connected to her newly acquired
Time: 12 hours
Materials: Makes 3' x 5' flag approximately
- 1 3/4 yards 44"-wide red 100% red cotton
- 2 3/4 yards 44"-wide white 100% cotton
- 1 yard 44"-wide blue 100% cotton
- Red, white, blue, invisible thread
- Two half-inch grommets
- Fabric chalk and pencil
- 2" by 2" piece of cardboard
- Sharp scissors
- Sewing machine (optional: sewing machine with computerized embroidery
Note: Polyester or flag-weight nylon could also
be used to construct flag.
Cut the following stripes:
- 3 white stripes - 63.5" by 4.25"
- 3 red stripes - 63.5" by 4.25"
- 4 red stripes - 43" by 4.25"
- 3 white stripes - 43" by 4.25"
- 1 white strip - 40" by 8"
- 1 blue piece 22.5" by 21" (flag's union)
- 2 white pieces 22.5" by 21" (for stars)
Assembly of stripes:
1. Set up sewing machine with white thread on top and red in bobbin.
2. Starting with a red stripe, join 43" long stripes with 3/4"
seam. Make sure a red stripe is the first and seventh stripe, with
alternating red and white stripes in between.
After joining the alernating red and white stripes,
follow the directions for finishing the flat-felled seams.
Photo by Cindy Chew
3. Set 43" stripes aside. Join 63" long stripes as you did the
43" stripes, but start with a white stripe and end with a red stripe.
4. On top seam of all stripes, trim away white seam allowance,
on next seam trim away red and continue alternating until all seams
5. Turn under and iron down wider seam allowances. Sew all red
flat-felled seams first (red thread on top, white in bobbin). Then
sew all white flat-felled seams; change thread (white on top, red
6. Finish top raw edge of 43"red stripe, and bottom raw edge of
63" stripe, by folding edges under 1/4" then 1/4" again. Sew flat
with two rows of stitching to create flat seams.
Sewing five-Point Stars:
1. Sandwich and pin blue 22.5" by 21" piece (this is the union
of the flag), between two white 22.5" by 21" pieces.
2. Make a grid for star placement (these are measurements for the
center of each star), by first measuring and marking with pencil
or fabric chalk, 2" down from top right corner and 2.5" left of
where blue union will meet stripes.
3. Now measure and mark centers for six stars in horizontal row,
3.25" apart. (All to the left of the first star.)
4. The next row of stars starts 4" to the left of where blue union
will meet stripes and 2" below the first row of stars. Repeat step
3, this time marking centers of just five stars.
Trace the star template (left) onto cardboard,
then stitch around the cardboard template to make perfect stars.
Photo by Cindy Chew
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 alternately for nine rows of stars.
6. Trace star template on cardboard and cut out.
7. Place center of star template on center of first star. With
white thread in top and bobbin, stitch around template. Do this
for all 50 stars.
8. Cut away white fabric around stars, being careful not to cut
blue union fabric.
9. Zigzag stitch around edges of each star.
10. Finish top edge of union by turning and pressing seam under
1/4" and 1/4" again. Sew two rows of stitching to create flat seam.
*If a computerized embroidery sewing machine is available,
embroider stars onto union in pattern stated above.
Attaching union, stripes and grommets:
1. Attach blue union to 43" stripes. Use blue thread for top and
2. Trim stripe section of seam allowance. Fold under blue seam
allowance and stitch down. Use blue thread on top and invisible
thread in bobbin.
3. Join 63.5" long striped section to the blue union and shorter
striped section. Create flat-felled seam by trimming white seam
allowance. Change machine thread to correspond with colors you are
sewing (white bobbin and blue or red top).
4. Hem outer edge of flag by folding and pressing under 1/2" and
then 1". Use invisible thread for top and bobbin. Finish with two
rows of stitching like all other finished edges.
5. At both 8"-ends of the 40" by 8" white strip, fold and press
under 2". Fold the strip in half lengthwise and fold each edge into
the middle. Sandwich the raw edge of flag inside folded strip and
stitch into place. Place another row of stitching 1/4" inside from
the original stitching for extra strength.
6. Attach grommets on the white band at top and bottom. Follow
directions on grommet package.
7. Attach flag to flag pole and display your flag proudly.
How to fly your flag correctly
It is the universal custom to display the national flag only from
sunrise to sunset. The U.S. flag may be displayed at night, if lit
with lights, when a patriotic effect is desired.
Display the U.S. flag on all days that weather permits, but especially
on national and state holidays.
Always hoist the U.S. flag briskly, and lower it ceremoniously.
Natalia's Elegant Tailoring
Mountain View (650) 254-1961
Eddie's Quilting Bee
264 Castro St., Mountain View (650) 969-1714
435 San Antonio Road, Mountain View (650) 948-5300
308 Walnut St., Redwood City (650) 369-9488
"Make Your Own American Flag!"
By Debbie Colgrove