Inside the workshop where presidential flags are lovingly made, mostly by immigrants

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Hand embroidered is the presidential flag (center).

Caroline Gutman, NPR


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Caroline Gutman, NPR

The presidential flag (center), which is hand-embroidered,


Caroline Gutman, NPR

Philadelphia is the city of brotherly affection, and birthplace of American Democracy. The only place where presidential flags can be made. The Defense Logistics Agency Troop support Flag Room is where the work takes place. A 13-person team embroiders the flag inside the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Flag Room for months. The flag features the famous presidential seal with an eagle holding a olive branch and arrows between its claws.

Helen Hoa Nguyen embroiders on a flag. Right: Nancy Chhim (54), a 54-year-old sewing machine operator, is at her embroidery desk.

Caroline Gutman, NPR

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Caroline Gutman, NPR

Nancy Chhim, a Cambodian who arrived in the U.S. 30 years ago without knowing any English, says: “It means the world to me.” She has been working on the team since 15 years. She says, “It was a great honor to be here and to create the Presidential Flag.”
The room has a quiet atmosphere except for the sounds of needles and thread. Dung Lam is busy stitching small diagonal white and gray threads on an eagle tail feather. She learned to sew in Vietnam as a child. She claims that it can take up to one and a half days to stitch a single feather. It’s hard. “Your eyes must focus for eight to ten hours,” says she.


A machine for embroidery at the Defense Logistics Agency Troops Support Flag Room.

Caroline Gutman, NPR

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Caroline Gutman, NPR

A machine for embroidery at the Defense Logistics Agency Troop support Flag Room.

Caroline Gutman, NPR

Embroiders hand stitch flags of every branch of the military in addition to the flags of the president and vice-president. It can take six months to complete a flag, and the competition is fierce to get a job. Adam Walstrum, flag room supervisor, said this reflects the unique nature of the work. This is something that’s been done in Philadelphia for more than 170 years. This is an incredibly beautiful product when you see it in person. It is alive and vibrant, which you can’t achieve with machine technology. “

Left: Duwenavue Sante Johnson, 51, embroiders a design on a flag. Right: Bobbins used to make the flags.

Caroline Gutman, NPR


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Caroline Gutman, NPR


Walstrum says these women think of themselves as a 21st century Betsy Ross, after the famous upholsterer who made flags during the American revolution.

“There’s going to be a unique style that comes from each individual artist,” he says. “Each of those millions stitches will result in a unique and personalized work. “

Duwenavue Sante Johnson is a woman who exudes personality. She has studied hand embroidery in England, France and South Korea. She and her colleagues are artists who use embroidery as a tool. Even under the predetermined flag design, each individual’s style is evident. “If you look closely, you will see that each person has their own unique stitch pattern. She says, “Our stitches are just like penmanship – nothing is similar to the other person.”
In the room, a framed machine-embroidered flag tapestry is displayed.

Caroline Gutman, NPR

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Caroline Gutman, NPR

In the room, there is a framed machine-embroidered flag tapestry.

Caroline Gutman, NPR

“I was born at Vandenberg Air Force Base which is now Space Force Base. It’s a complete circle, she says. “We made the first Space Force Flag here.” “I felt that I could connect my family with a language I speak — that is in my life — so that they can understand the value an art practice. “
An embroidery that Johnson and other embroiderers create to last a life time.

“We want to ensure that these last at least 100 years,” she says.