We'd 'let our freak flag fly', but it needs some TLC first.
September 26, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Flag-Craft 101: fabric and stitching advice needed . . .

Im looking to replace an aging flag which can't be bought or custom-made without great expense. I'm fairly crafty and have all of the flags parts vectorized and ready to cut and stitch, but I'm having trouble finding appropriate fabric and nailing down a stitching method.

Fabric: The goog says I should use heavy-duty woven polyesther to ensure it lasts outdoors. The local craft shops only carry really lightweight fabrics (Michaels, Rag Shop in central NJ) and internet ordering for such materials looks to be bulk-only. Any ideas for local alternatives?

Stitching: Does it have to be machine sewn or can it be done by hand? Any recommendations on a good outdoor string?

Thanks Hive Mind!
posted by datacenter refugee to Grab Bag (2 answers total)
The fabric will determine the appropriate thread. Generally you keep them similar, so a heavy-duty polyester thread will probably be fine.

As long as you can work the needle and thread through all the layers, you can hand sew it. Depending on how much you have to sew, however, this can be pretty painful after a while.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2006

Best answer: The type and weight of material that will be appropriate for your flag depend to some extent on the size of the finished flag, and where it will be flown. Also, whether you intend to make it as a pieced flag, an applique flag, or decorated one piece banner. Heavy duty material like polyester sailcloth is sometimes used for the giant American flags flown as semi-permanent displays from 200 foot flagpoles in front of car dealerships. But because of wind whipping, such flags still have lifetimes measured in months, not years. Wind and weather are more immediately damaging to flags than sun, because any material left to flapping and snapping in wind experiences the extreme mechanical stress concentrations, and end point accelerations, that eventually fray even leather bullwhip ends. The only reason sails last for years, is that they are typically never allowed to get into whipping, and are taken down in the worst winds.

If you can be sure your flag is sheltered from winds over a few miles per hour in velocity, it might make sense to choose materials and threads that will stand up to rot and sun damage. But you still have to make some choices appropriate to the size of the flag, and how you want it to furl. Heavy sailcloth used for a small flag will make a stiff, board like flag, more like a signal flag than a banner. Lighter polyester materials are easier to hoist, and furl decoratively in light breezes.

Sewing threads should generally be matched to the characteristics of the materials used in the flag. If using polyester material, use polyester threads. If using cotton material, use mercerized cotton, or cotton/poly blend thread. If using sailcloth (you dye your colors yourself), use non-stretching Kevlar (aramid) thread.

As for machine sewing versus hand sewing, there is nothing a machine can do, that a skilled hand sewer can't, but the machine can do it 100 to 1000 times faster, and without the years of practice needed to become a skilled hand stitcher. There are several thousand recognized Federal Stitch Types, and hundreds of machine solutions to produce them. The common home bobbin type machine produces a FST class 301 2 thread lockstitch that might be appropriate for small flags, but large pieced flags in polyester often use the FST class 402 2 thread chainstitch for its greater longitudinal stretch. (Pictures and diagrams here.) But the chainstitch will ravel back if broken, whereas the lockstitch will not.

If you can do with the kinds of flags available from custom flag makers, the costs are fairly low, and you can have enough made, as you go through them, to always have a fresh one ready to run up your flag pole.
posted by paulsc at 1:32 PM on September 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

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