Upper Tower Hill – Ever wonder where those crisp red and white Canadian flags come from?
They can be seen, large and small, snapping in breezes on flagpoles throughout the county, the province, and beyond.
Many of those emblems of national unity, and Canadian pride, are made right here in Charlotte County by Theresa King, in the basement workshop of her Upper Tower Hill home.
King made flags for The Flag Store in Ontario for 28 years before her retirement in 2015. She and her husband Doug, a retired roofer, made their way to New Brunswick two years ago, where she has family, and settled in their new home.
Now, she freelances for her former employer making the national flags of a number of countries, and with Canada’s special 150th anniversary of Confederation celebrations on the horizon, she’s been very, very busy.
“These,” she said, barely pausing in her sewing of a seemingly endless length of the red and white fabric, “are the number one priority.”
“These are the Cadillac of Canadian flags,” explains King, zipping the 200 Denier nylon fabric through one of two heavy duty (and expensive) machines in her workshop. She gave the flags the prime designation because they have the maple leaf appliquéd on them instead of stamped or printed. They are more expensive than the printed ones as well.
With her husband’s help guiding the metres of flag fabric, King stitches a French seam along the red and white panels with a small attachment that folds the raw edges of the fabric together before they go under the sewing needle.
She will make 117 Canadian flags, each approximately one metre by 1.8 metres in size, from this 114 metre length of red and white fabrics she has sewn together.
The maple leaf appliqués will be applied with a zigzag stitch done on another specialized machine.
Those maple leafs are first traced onto separate squares of red fabric by King’s husband. Once the overall length of flag fabric is cut into individual flags, King then moves to another workbench where guide marks help her centre the red maple leaf fabric on the white background of each flag.
She has a special way to pin the fabric together, making sure the sharp point of the straight pin is anchored between two layers of fabric so she doesn’t get jabbed when she’s zigzagging the edges.
It takes between five and seven minutes to sew the outline the flag’s leaf (both sides are, of course, done at once.) “You have to make sure the points are right on,” King said, noting she and the company both take pride in their work. The pins are removed, lickety-split, with a magnet passed over the leaf.
Then comes the task of trimming the excess fabric from the leaf shape, a process which must be started on the wrong side of the flag (where the hem edges are visible) because stitches will pull if the right side is trimmed first.
With a razor sharp pair of small scissors, King zips around the outlines. In about three minutes, both sides are trimmed. “Done,” she said. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah!”
Right now, King’s working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily making the Canadian flags to help meet the demand.
She recently returned from Ontario after delivering 1,400 flags one metre by 1.8 metres. The Flag Store will install the grommets and package each flag before they are offered for sale.
King still has enough fabric in her basement workshop to make another 1,000 flags the same size. (A courier had just left carrying 100 Canadian flags measuring 1.12 metres by 2.28 metres to the parent company in Ontario.)
And when she’s done all the Canadian flags she can do, she has to start on the rolls of fabric which will become the national flags of Jamaica.
King said she wasn’t expecting to be producing quite so many flags this year. “I’m helping out for the Canada 150.”
Smiling, King said the work “keeps me busy for a little while.” She said she doesn’t mind visitors who want to see how the flags are made.
King said the company periodically sends her orders for more than 1,000 flags at a time because, not to boast, she said, she can get them done faster than newly trained employees.
The largest flag she ever made? “It was 30 feet by 60 feet. It took two of us to make it,” she stated.
Flags aren’t the only things King sews. She is a regular vendor at the St. Stephen Farmers Market where she sells bibs, baby blankets and quilts, aprons, and other sewn items.
Before she joined the flag making company, King spent 11 years making sails for boats.
“I love sewing,” she said with a smile.”Sewing is my thing.”
“It keeps me busy and out of trouble, and this gives me extra money for travelling.”