Francis Scott Ke

Stitching project to recreate Star-Spangled Banner

Star Spangled Banner Flag at Smithsonian

Star Spangled Banner getting cleaned and vacuumed in 1959. Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History

It’s a rare day when Baltimore-area quilter Joan Zelinka does not stitch.

So she’s pleased to be part of a project kicking off Thursday, July 4 that will recreate the flag with “broad stripes and bright stars” that flew during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that later became the words to our national anthem.

Key spotted the huge 30 x 42 foot flag on September 14, 1814 when U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised it to signal a victory over British forces. The restored remains of that banner are now displayed – under glass and in a special chamber – at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

As part of events marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Maryland Historical Society is creating a version of the Star Spangled Banner using authentic stitching techniques, method and material and keeping the same timetable that Baltimore flag maker Mary Pickersgill used to create the original flag during the summer of 1813.

“Sewing machines were not around until the 1850s and we know Pickersgill stitched this flag, and a smaller version of it, by hand with the help of just five or six people in about 6 weeks,” said Kristen Schenning, director of education at the Maryland Historical Society.

To recreate the flag, the historical society has recruited more than 100 experienced quilters to construct the majority of the flag beginning on July 4th at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Members of the general public who sign up ahead of time will be able to add stitches to the flag as well two afternoons of public stitching on Saturday, August 3 and Sunday, August 11.

“However few or many stitches I do, I’m proud I’ll be part of something that lets people know about our nation’s history and the role that Baltimore played in that history,” said Zalinka. “And I’m proud to be able to remind people that Baltimore is not just a football team; as great as the Colts are.”

One completed, the recreated Star Spangled Banner will fly over Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Then, along with Francis Scott Key’s original Star-Spangled Manuscript, the new flag will be part of the 2014 Flag Day celebration at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

(My story about the Star-Spangled Banner project first appeared – in slightly different form – on NBC Travel)