Thursday Salute to Originals: Design Details in the American Flag

Happy Flag Day! Established in 1916, Flag Day commemorates the original adoption of the United States flag back in 1777. Nestled halfway between America’s two largest patriotic holidays, this June 14th celebration tends to get overshadowed by Memorial Day and the Fourth of July; we look at it as an opportunity to celebrate the history of America all month long! From the stars and stripes that symbolize hope and opportunity, to the red, white, and blue that exhibit strength, unity, and justice, our flag has become an iconic symbol of freedom around the world. While the meaning behind the flag remains the same, the construction processes used throughout the last 235 years have changed quite a bit.

Hand Sewing


Dating back to the original flag sewn by Betsy Ross, hand-sewing methods of craft seem to transcend the centuries of American flag production. The two most predominant methods of sewing are single-appliqué and double-appliqué. In single-appliqué the seamstress carefully cuts a star-shaped hole in the blue canvas, and applies a single piece of white fabric from behind to cover the hole. Double-appliqué designs involve no holes, but 2 white stars sewn back to back. As designers, we know that objects must look good from all angles, and modern flag-makers seem to agree! Most of the flags you’ll see displayed around town have 2 sides, which means it uses the double-appliqué process.


This method of star application has come a long way since debuting during the Civil War. Embroidered stars are created using individual stitches of thread to form the star itself. While this method involved hand stitching and an abundance of patience in the 19th century, developments in the manufacturing industry now make it easy to produce stars that are just as perfect as the principles that America was founded on!

Clamp Dyeing

Making a beautiful American flag does not always involve sewing! Dating back to the mid-19th century, clamp dyeing was an experimental method of construction that involved clamping the fabric of the flag so that the stars and white stripes would not take on dye applied to the blank canvas. While we admire the creativity behind this approach, clamp dyeing never caught on because the minor bleeding of the dye was perceived as manufacturing defects.


Another no-sew form of star application was painting, which allowed the maker to have more control over the aesthetic quality of the final product. Though painted flags are somewhat rare because seamstresses have a natural predilection to sew, they became popular during times of war. When resources were scarce, and cotton flags were not suited for harsh battlefield conditions, painting silk canvases was a quick, lightweight solution that allowed soldiers to create flags while traveling.

In any field of design, the methods of construction must follow the form and function of the product, and we certainly appreciate how the flag manufacturing process has evolved over the past 235 years!

In what way have you witnesses design and construction processes change through the course of your career and education? How do technology, place, and culture affect those changes?

Image Credits: Rare Flags