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Published July 04, 2011, 10:46 AM

SD Woman Enjoys Fixing the Stars and Stripes

It bothers Sally Kushman to see a tattered American flag waving in the breeze, so she does everything she can to prevent it.

By: Jaff Natalie-Lees, Aberdeen American News

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — It bothers Sally Kushman to see a tattered American flag waving in the breeze, so she does everything she can to prevent it.

Every year, she sews about 200 American flags for the Exchange Club in Aberdeen. Club members place the flags in front of sponsoring businesses throughout the city on holidays and special occasions. The stars and stripes are displayed about 15 days a year.

"Flags can't help getting tattered in this part of the country where we have wind all the time, but there is no need for them to get too tattered," Kushman said. "I enjoy sewing and think it is a service to keep them in good condition."

Kushman, 84, has been sewing since the 1940s when she bought her first treadle sewing machine.

"I am really self-taught," she said. "My mother sewed, but she never wanted me to touch her sewing machine."

Kushman took to sewing naturally and before long was making dresses, shirts, jackets and other garments.

In the 1960s, she began working for a fabric store and in 1968, became the manager of World of Fabric in the Super City Mall. She managed that store until 1987.

About five years ago, she began sewing flags for the Exchange Club. She uses an Elna sewing machine and a White serger. She sews a small zig-zag stitch instead of a straight stitch because it holds better, she said.

She sews the flags at least two times. When flags are new, she double hems the outside edges before they are flown. That extends their life. After flags start to fray, Exchange Club members bring them to her, she trims the outside edges and hems them again.

"When I was a Girl Scout leader, we learned flag etiquette, and I always thought a flag had to be properly disposed of when it was tattered," she said. "Now I know that flags can be repaired and they can be washed."

She said the edge where the red and white stripes end can be trimmed more than once. There is no set ratio for the length of a flag versus its height, as long as the flag's length is longer, she said.

"It can't be a square," she said.

In addition to sewing American flags, she sews the 50 state flags on display at Wylie Park and the state flags at Centennial Village.

The flags at Wylie Park are double hemmed at the beginning of the season and remain there 24 hours a day until the end of the season, said Doug Reierson, a board member of the Exchange Club, which pays for the flags at Wylie Park and Centennial Village.

The state flags do not have the same etiquette requirements as the American flags and can be displayed overnight without a spotlight, he said. New state flags are purchased every year, he said.

Flags are usually brought to her in bunches of 50. Her goal is to sew about 10 flags a day, she said.

Flags typically are made either of nylon or Damask fabric. She said Damask is more expensive, but lasts longer.

She has, at times, sewn large flags, but they are unwieldy, she said.

"I did a 10-foot-long flag and I decided I would never do that again," she said. "My apartment is too small for that."

Her work helps extend the life of the Exchange Club's American flags.

"We get four or five seasons out of our flags and without her help, we most likely would get only one," Reierson said. "She does a good job for us and we are very appreciative. I don't know what we would do without her."

Advancing patriotism is the top priority for the Exchange Club, and having flags in good repair helps accomplish that, he said.

"I guess I am patriotic," said Kushman. "I think we should respect the flag."

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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