Lucille Rodriguez barely looks up before giving a warm “hello” as she sews. Her tan fingers adorned with simple silver rings move two pieces of red and white fabric placed steadily on a black Singer sewing machine. A mask decorated with an American flag covers her mouth and nose as she works. 

The Betsy Ross American flag Rodriguez is sewing is one of five she and her fellow needlewomen will be finishing up over the next few days. These flags will be shipped to Washington, D.C., on Monday where in six weeks they will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol for the presidential inauguration, said Vanessa Van de Putte, Dixie Flag and Banner president and CEO.

As the lead seamstress at Dixie Flag and Banner Company, Rodriguez heads the project; she and her team are making two Besty Ross flags, two 13-star U.S Navy flags, and one present-day American flag with 50 stars. While the Betsy Ross and current flags are always used in an inauguration ceremony, two of the flags are meant to represent the incoming president, Van de Putte explained. The two 13-star U.S Navy flags represent Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania, which was one of the 13 original colonies.

“For the Bush-Gore election we had to make two sets of flags since we didn’t know who was going to win that one,” Van de Putte said. “The two that ended up getting used were the two 28-star flags, which was representative of Texas joining the nation.”

Lucille Rodriguez drapes a Betsy Ross flag around her as she works on the finishing touches with a vintage Singer sewing machine. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The five 12-by-25-foot flags will hang in the background between the columns of the U.S. Capitol as President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, the fourth consecutive president to do so with Dixie-made flags backdropping their inauguration. 

“It’s exciting to know that they’ll be [at the inauguration],” Rodriguez said.

As a locally-based, family-owned-and-run business, Dixie Flag and Banner Company has been in charge of making customized, hand-sewn U.S. flags for the past six presidential inaugurations, dating back to George W. Bush’s in 2000. 

The five-flag order from Washington usually takes about two weeks to fill, Van de Putte said. Having been in business since 1958, Dixie specializes in hand-sewn appliqué flags – flags made by layering fabric on fabric. Appliqué is the oldest method of custom banner and flag manufacture, dating back centuries

“These flags represent the past, present, and future,” Van de Putte said. “It’s always exciting to be a part of the inauguration; we love seeing San Antonio in the national spotlight or, in this case, international spotlight since the world will be tuned in.”

American flags carry so much symbolism, Van de Putte said. She added she hopes the Dixie-made flags bring viewers a sense of unity and positivity during these difficult times. 

Van de Putte said her family’s business has gotten flak from both Democrats and Republicans in the past, angry her business was making the flags for the inauguration of presidents they didn’t vote for.

“It was like, ‘Oh I can’t believe you’re making flags for Obama,’ or ‘How can y’all be supporting Trump this way?’” she said with a laugh. “We have people who vote on both sides working here, and we’re proud to be the choice of flagmaker for whoever is in office.”

Employees at Dixie Flag and Banner Company work on various projects including the flags for the presidential inauguration in January. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

This year has been a strange one for Dixie Flag and Banner Company, Van de Putte said. With 40 to 50 percent of its business usually consisting of flags made for large events such as Fiesta, football games, and military ceremonies, it’s been a slower year than usual. 

Still, the company’s seamstresses have stayed busy; at the start of the pandemic in March, all 32 employees were hard at work getting thousands of face masks sewn, Van de Putte said. Some employees were working a full seven days per week to keep up with the sudden demand, she added. 

Van de Putte said she is proud to have a staff she is very close to and considers family. Having grown up running around the three-story Dixie Flag and Banner Company building located at 1930 Interstate 35, Van de Putte said some of the seamstresses have been working at Dixie for more than three decades – including Rodriguez. 

“I started working here when I was 19 and worked here for 20 years,” Rodriguez said. “I took a break for a while to raise my kids, and I’ve been back here for 14 years now.” 

Van de Putte co-runs the business with her sister Bella Van de Putte. She jokes her 16-month-old son likes to “help out around the warehouse” as well. As a third-generation owner of the business, Van de Putte said she looks forward to making the inaugural flags for years to come. 

“We’re proud of every stripe and every star we make,” she said. 

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.