How to Sew Flags

May 19, 2010 in Articles

Sewing a set of flags isn’t that difficult, but knowing where to put the cords and how to sew them in place without breaking a lot of needles can be challenging.

Click any picture to enlarge it.



First lets look at the flag itself. This is a standard sized flag, 36″x45″, made of 8mm silk Habotai.

We’ve started with a piece of silk that’s 72″ long, and folded it in half to get two 36″ flags. The fold is down the long side, so this picture actually shows two flags, one on top of the other. We want both flags to be the same, so we’ll mark the cord positions on both flags at the same time.

 

We have names for the parts of the flag:

  • Handle – This is where the flag is held. This is where the hand is in the picture.
  • Tip – The part that leads the way when you’re flagging. This is where the pen is in the picture.
  • Lead edge – The edge between the Handle and the Tip
  • Tail – The edge from the Tip down the short side.

Time to Cut the Cord



We’re going to sew in three lines of weighted cord.

First is the Long cord.

It starts at the Handle, goes around the Tip, and then halfway down the short side.

In our example, it runs two-thirds of the long side and halfway down the short side, so it’s (2/3 * 45″) + (1/2 * 36″), or about 48″ long.



Next is the Medium cord.

It usually runs 1/3 of the long side, and 1/4 of the short side.

So for our example, it’s (1/3 * 45″) + (1/4 * 36″) = 24 inches.

Notice that it’s half the distance of the Long cord on each side.



And finally we have the Short cord. It’s half the distance of the Medium cord.

So, it’s 1/6 of the long side, and 1/8 of the short side, or (1/6 * 45) + (1/8 * 36), or 12 inches.

Note: when we sew the weights in place, the Short cord will actually be squeezed between the other two, unlike here in the picture.



Here’s the short side of the flag – the Tail edge. Mark the ends of each cord on the silk. This will tell us where to start sewing in the cords.

If you look closely you can see two marks for the short cord – one for each flag.



Be warned that any cats in the area are drawn to silk like magnets. This little one worked her way into over a dozen shots while we were making this tutorial.



After cutting the weighted cord, you’ll notice that the ends quickly start fraying. We want to stop that so the weights don’t start falling out.



A moment in a flame is all it takes to singe the ends of the cords.

Notice that some weights are now completely exposed; just cut those off. I cut the cord just a bit longer to take that into account.

 

Sewing the weights into the fabric

    • Use a zigzag stitch for all the steps, including backstitching.
    • Use a medium length stitch (it’s 2.5 on my Janome), and a stitch wide enough to reach across the lead weight inside the cord. (3 on my machine).
    • Be careful that your zigzag reaches across the cord and not through it. If the needle hits the lead weight running down the center it can easily snap off and go flying off in any direction – ouch.
    • Most people break a lot of needles when they first start sewing flags.
    • Some machines have a zigzag stitch that wide enough to reach across two or three cords at the same time. You can sew them all in place at once and save steps and time. I find it easier to sew the cords one at a time, so we’ll do that now.



Since we marked the cords on the short side (the Tail edge), that’s where we’ll start sewing.

Line up the Long cord with the first mark, which is at the halfway point on the short side.

(Sorry, the mark is hidden by the cord in the picture, but it’s there.)



Roll the weight into the edge of the fabric



Hold the rolled fabric with the cord inside and slide it under the presser foot.

Start a little in from the end of the cord, so that the pressor foot is holding the cord in place and the zigzag stitch will reach across the cord.



Zigzag stitch across the cord to lock it in place, and then backstitch to move off the end of the cord.

This seals up the end of the rolled fabric, to make sure those little weights inside the cord stay put.



Now we’re ready to start sewing the cord into the fabric edge.

Twist the cord a couple of turns clockwise – notice the twist in the white cord.



Then hold the cord against the fabric and untwist. The cord gets rolled into the fabric edge and everything lays flat.

Doesn’t it look nice?

This method of twisting the cord and then untwisting it to roll it into the fabric is a great way to get everything to lay flat.
We’ll be using it a lot.

Zigzag stitch the cord into the fabric until you get near the next mark, which is the 1/4 mark for the medium cord.



Notice that the sewing is still a few inches away from the mark. We’ll use this space to get the next cord rolled into the fabric.

Now we’ll add the Medium cord.

First twist the long cord a couple of turns clockwist – notice how the long cord is twisted in the picture.

Position the Medium cord so it will start at the mark and hold it next to the Long cord against the edge of the fabric.



Untwist the cords so they get rolled into the fabric and everything lays flat. The long cord will be on the outside edge of the fabric, and the medium cord is on the inside – on the left side in the picture.



Now we’ll lock the medium cord in place by zigzag stitching across it.

If you look closely, you can see where the medium cord starts, near my index finger.

Continue zigzag stitching down the long cord to where my finger is, a little past the start of the medium cord..



Now we’re going to jump over to the medium cord and lock it into place.

Lift the presser foot and slide the fabric over so the needle is over the medium cord.

Lower the presser and backstitch to the start of the medium cord, and then start stitching it just like you did with the long cord.



Here you can see that I’m stitching the medium cord.

The long cord is at the fabric edge. It’s not getting stitched, but it can’t go anywhere and we’ll take care of it later.

Stitch down to near the third mark, which is where we’ll add the short cord.



Oops, there’s a weight dangling out of the cord from when I singed the ends. Let’s cut that off now.



This bit is a bit tricky, but it’s very similar to earlier when we added the medium cord.

Twist the medium and long cords a couple of turns clockwise.



Now put the short cord *between* them. The cord will start at the mark on the fabric.



Slide the three cords to the edge of the fabric.



And untwist them so they get rolled in the fabric.

Everything is nice and flat again!



Now we’ll lock in the short cord the same way we did with the medium one.

Stitch a little past the start of the short cord, and then lift the presser foot and slide the fabric over.

Backstitch to the start of the short cord and then start stitching it in.



Notice we’re stitching the middle cord in place.

The medium cord is on the left and the long cord is on the right, and they’re both locked in place. We’ll deal with them later.



The backstitch button is a wonderful thing.



Continue stitching the short cord in place.

To keep everything nice and flat, just keep repeating the method where you twist the cords and then untwist them into the fabric.



Stitch down to about three or four inches from the edge.

Things are about to get tricky, so let’s it easier by working with the cord inside the curve of the corner – it’s the medium cord, on the left.

Move the presser foot back to the medium cord, which is furthest to the left in the picture. We want to sew that one first, because it’s the “inside track” and will help hold everything in place.



We’re going to do that same twist/untwist thing around the corner.

Holding the three cords together, twist them a couple of times clockwise.

Lay them down on the fabric, slightly in from the edge.

Notice that the twists in the cords are all at the corner.



The space between the cord bundle and the fabric edge is just the width of the cord bundle. We’re going to fold that over to start the untwisting.

Press down on the cords, about about an inch from the corner, and a few inches from that. This create a clean space for the fabric loop, which will help when we do the untwist.



Fold the edge of the fabric over, and untwist the cord. Make sure to untwist the same number of times that you twisted earlier.

Keep pressing down at those two points. The fabric between those points is nice and flat, see?

The corner has the extra length of cord twisted into the fabric. Now we can take care of that.



Still holding down the two points, slowly tug the cords to pull out the extra from the corner. Pull on them one at a time – a little on one, then the next, and so on until you work out all the extra cord.

The corner will be pulled into a flat curve. The extra fabric can be tucked into the corner as you tug out the extra cord.

In the picture you can see a little extra fabric peek out of the corner. It’s getting worked into the curve.



Now the fabric and cords lay flat as they curve around the corner.

This can be a little tricky at first, but you can try again if you don’t get it. Since the presser foot is holding your place just before the corner, you can unroll the cords and do this part again. .

Hold everything in place and stitch around the corner.

 



You’ll definitely want to slow down as you stitch around the corner.



Whew. The hard part is done.

Now we’ll finish stitching the weights in.

Here, I’ve done the cord twist…



Put them in place just in from the fabric edge.



And untwist to roll them in the fabric.

Everything is nice and flat.



Very soon you’ll reach the end of the short cord in the middle.

We want to lock this end of the short cord in place. So move over to the short/middle cord and stitch/backstitch it into place, and then move back to the medium/left cord.

Keep working your way down the side. Just keep doing the twist/untwist with the two cords.

When you reach the end of the medium cord, backstitch and lock it in place, then move over to the long cord on the right.



Now just stitch this last cord to its end.



We want to secure the end well.

Stitch past the end of the cord, so you’re sewing just the rolled fabric.

Backstitch back up onto the long cord a little, and then stitch off the end again.

Now you can remove the fabric and cut the thread.

That completes the first line.

Woo hoo!

This is a good time to stand up and do a little dance because you’re so awesome. Go ahead, you deserve it.

Plenty of people actually stop at this point. Since every line of cord is stitched at the ends, they are locked in place. If you like, you can put this flag down and start working on your second one.

Going all the Way

I like to stitch each of the cords in place. It makes for a tight, clean edge, and I think it makes the flags a little more sturdy. I think they also fly a little “crisper” too. Yes, some of my friends say I’m a lttle OCD.

I’m OK with that.



Go back to the fabric’s short side and find the spot where you added the medium cord.

You can see where a second cord starts, and there’s a bit of backstitching to lock it in place.

We want to stitch that cord in place.



Here we go. After all that work rolling the edge and working around the corner, this is really easy.



The corner is much simpler now since all the hard part is finished.

Still, you’ll want to slow down as you work around the curve until you get the hang of it.

Ooops, I broke a thread.



After the corner, finish sewing until you reach the point where the medium cord ends and you switched over to the long cord.

Remember to backstitch to lock the thread before you cut it.



And now we’re down to that last cord.

 

 



Each step gets a little easier and a little faster.



Trim any threads, and you’re ready to sew the second flag.

Wasn’t that fun? Now you have a new set of flags and you’re ready to dance!

Whoops, looks like I didn’t take a picture of the finished flag. Coming soon!

16 responses to How to Sew Flags

  1. This is excellent, thanks! I might make a set this weekend. Now if someone had something like this for making fans…. I would be *really* excited!

  2. OMG, I love my new second set of Flags You Folks Sent Me! It took me 3 or 4 years to wear my first set out! My new ones are even more amazing and over the past two months have played in at the Garden of the Gods, Paris, Dupont Circle, Mollusk VA. And I came here after Gay Pride DC tonight because i want to give my sweeties TLC; wasn’t sure, but here it saysthe flags should be the same size, and mine are different sizes, one sewn on the “none weight” side and the other not. Also, the silk is beginning pull from the weigh at the handle. I really love them, but wanted to know if I should cut them to equal size and then sew the one that is not sewn, and wanted to know if there is anything i might do to slow the separation of the silk
    Delirious in DC

  3. And i need advice, My new Flags are different sizes, one sewn on the “none weight” side and the other not. Also, the silk is beginning pull from the weigh at the handle and wanted to know if I should cut them to equal size and then sew the one that is not sewn, and wanted to know if there is anything i might do to slow the separation of the silk
    Delirious in DC

  4. Hi Bill,

    Glad to hear you like the flags!

    Regarding your questions…I don’t quite understand your description of how they are sewn. Can you send me a private message so we can discuss? There are a couple of techniques to slow down wear and tear:

    • a. Roll the weights a turn or two into the flag and do a straight stitch to lock it into place. This is pretty easy, but may not be an option if the flag is really frayed.
    • b. Remove the weights and sew them on the opposite side, so they are sewn to “fresh” silk.
    • c. Sew the weights into a strip of cloth before sewing to the flags. This changes the way they fly a bit, but they’re much more durable.
    • d. Sew a patch around the worn area. This is just a mediocre solution.

    When repairing a set of flags, I usually do (a) if the silk isn’t too worn out, or (b) if the flag design will still look ok “backwards”. (c) takes the longest but is also a good approach.

    -P

  5. If a standard size flag set is 36×45. What are the dimensions for a large set and lengths of the weights for handles?

    Thanks,

    Thomas

  6. What happened to your handy-dandy weight calculator that was on the old website? It would be very useful right now. My friend Amy gave me some silk she dyed measuring 42×54 in. per flag. I was hoping to use the calculator to determine the length of my weight cords.

  7. Great tutorial. Thank you!
    I’ve never seen flags up close before so please excuse me if my questions seem naive. How do you deal with the raw edges (on the non-weighted sides)? Do you hem them or serge them? Do you hem before you dye? Do you hem before or after you sew in the weights? Or are there any raw edges to begin with? I’m confused. Thanks for your help!

  8. Laura – You can find the weight calculator here: http://www.pyrotechniq.org/content/flagging-weight-calculator

  9. would sewing the weights into a thin casing of organza change the way they fly too much? i’m thinking it might be easier to stitch the weights into something very, very lightweight rather than directly into my messy, fraying silk. :/

  10. Is there anyone available to make a custom set of flags for me?

  11. Thanks so much for making this post! You have added many tips and techniques previously unknown to me. I now actually feel that its time to do some repair work.

    Thanks!

  12. The flags I have that need repair have runs emanating from the stitch holes along the inside edge of the folded cord, mostly along the long edge, generally about 1″ to 1-1/4″ in length, a few as much as 2″. The flags were made from 45″ x 43″ pieces so there is room in the short direction for shortening. They’ve always been a bit problematic for me, an intermediate level flagger, at that height. Shortening would be good although the dye pattern will suffer a bit, but still be acceptable.

    The flags are about eleven years old now but don’t show that many years of wear because I have not used them in an effort not to exacerbate the runs.

    My question now is A) In addition to re-sewing, should I reinforce the new stitching with fabric just because of the flags age? and B) If so, what do you recommend for a reinforcing fabric?

    Again,
    Much thanks!
    Thanks so much!

  13. Steven and anyone else interested……If you want info on fan making go to facebook group New York City Flaggers (NYC flaggers) there is a doc posted by mykel… how to make spine fans by Candida Scott Piel.

  14. I have some questions about these flags:
    1) Do you buy the weighted cord?
    2) do you have special kind of weights that you use for rope/cord?

  15. Thanks, Vanessa! I haven’t been on here for quite some time and I just saw your suggestion now. That’s awesome!

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