“Ah,” says Grandpa Tad. “Fort Stanwix.”
“The soldiers cut up their white shirts to make the stripes, and the red petticoats of their wives. They got the blue from a captain’s coat.”
“Whoa, now. I thought the first flag was made by Miss Betsy Ross.”
“There’s no historical evidence for that,” I say. “That is a made-up story. Like George Washington and his cherry tree. Also not true.”
“You don’t say. How’d you get to know all this?”
“I read a lot. And Mrs. Dooley at the library, she helps me figure things out.”
from: The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins
by Gail Shepherd
Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin Random House, 2019
When I was little, my gram made a nightgown pattern from newspaper for me. I laid on the floor and she traced around me on the sheets she had taped together. My nightgown had little flowers all over it and a ruffle at the wrists and around the bottom. It was soft. I loved that nightgown.
In 9th grade all us girls studied Home Economics, cooking and sewing. I really enjoyed sewing, even though I wasn’t too good at it. My dad took me to buy fabric at JoAnn’s, but his favorite color was brown. We compromised. We bought brown fabric with little flowers all over it. I only got a B on my apron.
Not to be discouraged, I saved up my babysitting money and bought a sewing machine from Sears. I bought some McCall’s patterns, printed on newsprint, and sewed some of my own clothes. I made an orange caftan (combination of gingham and terrycloth, can you imagine?!) when those were popular in the 1970s. I sewed some clothes for my girls when they were young. They wouldn’t wear anything I made after about age 3 or 4, though.
My favorite projects were the quilts I sewed for my grandkids on that same sewing machine. All the quilts were ready (but the last one) for each child’s arrival. I adapted published patterns, and only needed math help on the one I sorta designed myself. I learned to hand appliqué, a technique I’m glad I did, but don’t have a strong desire to do lots more of. I appliquéd lots of little sheep on that last quilt. Each sheep had two tiny ears and four even tinier legs, and a wee, tiny tail.
If Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag, which she did or did not, depending who you read, she hand appliquéd all 13 stars on a field of blue. Some claim she told George Washington it would take less material if the stars were 5-pointed instead of 6. For proof, she folded up a piece of paper and one snip later, she unfolded a little star. You can try it here. I did and it works!
Reeves Weatherill, the descendant of one of Betsy Ross’s friends, Samuel Weatherill, presented the little paper star at a luncheon of the Philadelphia Flag Day Association in 1963. It was signed by Clarissa Claypoole Wilson, Betsy Ross’s daughter. Clarissa, so the story goes, had given the little paper pattern to Reeves’s own ancestor, Samuel Weatherill. Now after all those years, this important scrap is part of our history.
The earliest American flags had no particular guidelines about the arrangement of the stars and stripes. Each state in the new Union was represented by a five-pointed star and each stripe represented one of the original thirteen colonies.
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: “Resolved: That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” https://www.si.edu/spotlight/flag-day/flag-facts We still celebrate Flag Day each year on June 14.
An Executive Order of June 24, 1912, established the rows of stars on the background of blue. When Alaska was admitted to the Union on January 3, 1959, a 49-star flag went into production the following July 4. President Eisenhower proclaimed the stars to be in seven rows of seven. Dozens of 49-star flags are still available, even though they were only made for one year.
In preparation for the admittance of Hawaii, a high school teacher in Lancaster, Ohio, gave his students an assignment: design an American flag to accommodate 50 states. It was a math problem for Bob Heft. He successfully arranged the 50 stars in nine horizontal rows alternating six and five stars in each row. He kept the 13 stripes. Bob earned a B- due to “lack of originality.” He wrote to his congressman who convinced the government to adopt his design from over 1,000 that were submitted. His teacher changed his grade to A.
Hawaii achieved statehood on August, 21, 1959, and the 50-star flag went into production on July 4, 1960.
At the time of his death in 2009, Bob is thought to have designed a 51-star flag, too. Let’s hear it for Puerto Rico! and Guam!
--stay curious (and stand up for your ideals!)