By Diana Geis
In early July of 1813, Mary Pickersgill signed the contract and began creating the flag that would be raised over Fort McHenry and inspire Francis Scott Key to compose the words to our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. She created the flag with the help of approximately 10 to 12 other women. It was 30 feet high and 42 feet long. Very large! There were 15 stripes and 15 stars representing the 15 states in the Union. It was delivered six weeks later, but not flown over Fort McHenry until a year later, on September 14, 1814.
In early July of 2013 (200 years later), a group of visionaries from the Maryland Historical Society began creating a duplicate flag. Area women from quilt guilds were asked to do the hand stitching. The required 400 yards of fabric were custom made to resemble the original; hundreds of women answered the call to sew—usually in groups of 10 to 12. Successfully completed in six weeks, the flag is identical to the original in size and design.
It was an honor to be part of the group. It was also quite a lot fun to meet other women who sew and who were committed to honor a fellow seamstress, Mary Pickersgill, in this way.
The women who constructed the flag started by cutting fabric, and then basting and sewing the shorter red and white stripes. The blue field was added by attaching rows of blue cloth to create the solid field. The stars were added very carefully, and then the long red and white stripes were sewn. Each seam required at least 3 rows of stitches (sometimes 4). The edge was attached with a set of eight stitches carefully catching all the layers to make it strong against the flag pole.
The flag will be moved from the Historical Society to Fort McHenry by horse-drawn carriage September 13 and raised over Fort McHenry on September 14, 2013 at 6 p.m.
Interested in learning more about the Star-Spangled Banner? Check out these selections from our collection: