5 Things You Should Know About U.S. Flags

We see it everywhere... a U.S. Flag torn at the seams, tattered at the fly-end with loose threads flapping in the breeze. In our experience, this has a lot to do with how the flag is made and not the length of time it has flown.


We see it everywhere... a U.S. Flag torn and tattered at the fly-end with loose threads flapping in the breeze. In our experience, this has a lot to do with how the flag is made and not the length of time it has flown. At FlagDesk, we just like people who fly flags! We feel strongly about the flag flyer and want to support them. We think worrying about the quality of your flag should be your last concern. That's why we decided to give you all the information so you know what to look out for. Here are 5 things you should know about U.S. Flags.

  1. Why aren't all U.S. Flags the same?
  2. What is the difference between Chain-Stitched and Lock-Stitched Flags?
  3. What's better, Nylon or Polyester?
  4. Embroidered vs. Appliqued Star Field
  5. What is the best height to width ratio?

1. Why aren't all U.S. Flags the same? Printed vs. Sewn

Printed Flags are ink-dyed with the stars and bars onto a UV treated fabric (hopefully). They are considered for the consumer market or for commercial events. These flags are great for: House Kits, Temporary Display, Decorations, Promotional Give-Aways. Don't expect a printed US Flag to last very long on a flagpole (20 feet +). Typically, printed flags are made on a fabric, easier for the dye to adhere, lighter, and finished with a single row of stitching. This fabric (even if it is labeled polyester), is not as durable as commercial counterparts.

Sewn Flags are completely different. The flags are not dyed. The fabric comes in bolts, which are treated and dyed at the manufacturer. So the color fastness is very high. The process of dying the fabric in the plant, actually strengthens the fabric. You'll notice the white fabric on a sewn flag breaks down faster (not by a huge degree, but it does). These bolts are sewn together. Stars are either embroidered (like a patch), or appliqued. The process provides a durable flag with excellent fly-a-bility.

2. What is the difference between Lock-Stitched and Chain-Stitched?

Chain Stitch Image

The truth is, both a chain-stitched and lock-stitched flag are useful in their own way. Chain-stitched flags are easier to produce and therefore cost less. They are more suitable for short term use, such as events, promotions or giveaways. However, for 24-7 outdoor use, chain-stitching will simply not do. The reason is that chain-stitching is a sewing technique in which a series of looped stitches form a chain-like pattern. The earliest examples of chain-stitching are found in Chinese silk fabrics dating from the 5th to 3rd Century BC, and because chain stitches can form flowing, curved lines, they are used in many surface embroidery styles that mimic "drawing" in thread. For flag flyers, chain stitching means once on strand breaks, it is only a matter of time before the entire flag unravels.

For example, Lock-stitching uses two threads, an upper and a lower. To ensure the best quality for your flag, FlagDesk uses a 4" needle for all of our lock-stitched flags.

While the chain-stitching technique does come with a certain versatility, it lacks in strength and durability. Lock-stitching answers this call where chain-stitching leaves off. For example, Lock-stitching uses two threads, an upper and a lower. To ensure the best quality for your flag, FlagDesk uses a 4" needle for all of our lock-stitched flags.


How Lock-Stitching works... in case you are interested.
Chain Stitch Image

The upper thread runs from a spool to the machine, a take-up arm, and finally through the hole in the needle. The lower thread is wound onto a bobbin, which is inserted into a case in the lower section of the machine. The machine lowers the threaded needle through the cloth into the bobbin area, where a hook catches the upper thread at the point just after it goes through the needle. The hook mechanism carries the upper thread entirely around the bobbin case, so that it has made one wrap of the bobbin thread. Then the take-up arm pulls the excess upper thread back to the top forming the lock-stitch ideally in the center of the thickness of the material, the tension mechanism prevents the thread from being pulled from the spool side, the needle is pulled out of the cloth, and the feed dogs pull the cloth back one stitch length, the cycle is repeated as the machine turns mechanically.


3. What's Better, Nylon or Polyester?

Nylon Flag vs. Poly Flag Fabric

We get asked all the time, why don't my flags last longer? We have to first ask another question to answer this question. What is the purpose of a flag, and what makes it different from a sign? We will answer the later and then come back to the former.

As a rule of thumb, we think every flagpole should be able to meet a minimum requirement of no more than two flags per year. In order to achieve this, we recommend Nylon in the summer and Polyester in the winter.

We call flags in-motion-signage. So yes, they are part of the sign family but what makes them special is the motion they bring to a building, park, or home. In order to create a sign in motion, we need to make something light and flexible. Fabric is a great solution and the Chinese in about the 3rd millennium B.C. (earliest known flag) thought the same thing. But in order to get that in-motion effect, we have to sacrifice durability. If the fabric is too thick, it doesn't fly. It is not in-motion. If a fabric is too light, it falls a part quickly.

As a rule of thumb, we think every flagpole should be able to meet a minimum requirement; two flags per year. In order to achieve this, we recommend Nylon in the summer and Polyester in the winter. Polyester is clearly a stronger fabric, but it has a hard time flying in minimal breeze, during those summer months. Polyester also has a duller luster. Alternating between the flags give the flagpole new interest every change over. A successful flag draws the eye and compliments its surroundings. We don't want you to just put a flag on a pole, we want you to be flag flyers.


4. Embroidered vs. Appliqued Star Field

If you are getting a commercial-grade flag, our flags have either embroidered or appliqued stars. Whether you get either depends largely on flag size. flag sizes, larger than 8x12' have appliqued stars (cut star fabric sewn onto the OG blue star field). 8x12' flags and smaller have embroidered stars (fully sewn stars with a horizontal stitching pattern that creates the star shape).

Embroidered US Flag Stars

Embroidered US Flag Stars

Appliqued US Flag Stars

Appliqued US Flag Stars

What is important to note, is not what style your flag gets, but how the stars appear on the pole. In some cases, you'll find the star has a shorter point to it. In your hand, the star looks fine, but on the pole, the star looks more like a dot. The reason for this is simply due to cost savings on materials. As a flag flyer, you should fly a flag that doesn't cut corners to maximize profits. The flag should reflect the integrity of the flag flyer, who is the backbone of the community.

5. What is the best height to width ratio (i.e. 5' x 8' or 5' x 9-1/2')?

This is a good question and has to do with some guys in an office building around 1776. When they were designing the flag, they made it 5x9-1/2 feet. This became the government standard. However, during the rise of manufacturing, it became much more cost effective and easier to scale a flag with a 5x8 ratio (2x3, 3x5, 4x6, etc.). Because of this, the 5x8 flag is the most commonly flown flag in the US. Many post offices still fly the 5x9-1/2' flag, some nostalgic history buffs also prefer this flag. It essentially wears the same on the pole, difference being the stripes are longer. Generally, the more fabric, the less flag life, although it is not so much that it makes a difference really.

This being said, we have found several flags adhere to neither of these aspect ratios. Again, like the stars, you will find the flag 4" short on both sides to save material cost. Since these flags are finished by hand, there may be a variable finish length. Made in USA means fabric bolts, assembly, and sewn in America. We save a little time by allowing machines to run the striped and embroider the stars, but to this day, it is more efficient with less product error, to have the flags finished by sewing experts. We want to make a flag you can be proud to fly.