Ex-nurse enjoys her flag-waving Severna Park woman makes custom banners

August 13, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Claudette McDonald has taken thousands of orders to sew decorative flags of flamingos, dolphins, magnolias, geraniums, sea horses, sailboats, Oriole birds, hot air balloons and Indian corn.

But the pet Dalmatian request -- she had to draw the line there.

The 38-year-old Severna Park seamstress has spent five years building a hobby into a bustling business, taking bits of nylon fabric and fitting them, like a puzzle, into custom designs that fly over the doorways of homes and businesses.

As flag makers like Ms. McDonald have sprung up over the past few years in Virginia, Texas and New England, the flag-waving fad has caught on, especially in those areas, said the owner of Flying Colors Flags.

"It's an instant outdoor decoration," Ms. McDonald said. "People who don't have time to plant flowers and put in shrubbery can take a flag and put it up, and it automatically gives the front entryway a spark."

After sketching a pattern, Ms. McDonald can duplicate something as intricate as a coat of arms or an ear of corn, thanks to the colors and the stitchings that hold the pieces together.

But one design proved to be just too much, even for a seasoned designer who created her own wedding gown and sewed her first outfit at age 10.

It's the only request Ms. McDonald can recall turning down -- a flag showing a customer's two pet Dalmatians. The customer would settle for nothing less than perfect duplication. But the dogs' spots seemed infinite.

"They had over 200 spots," Ms. McDonald said.

The former intensive-care nurse started designing flags five years ago, when she lived in Virginia and saw flags becoming popular in areas of Richmond. At first it was a hobby. She'd hang flags outside her home, changing them with the seasons.

"People would walk past the house and say, 'Where did you get that?' " she said. "I started making them for neighbors."

Eventually she left nursing to spend more time with her daughters, now ages 7 and 9, and started the flag business with a $500 investment. Ms. McDonald poured her profits back into the business, hiring additional help and expanding during her family's moves to Florida and now Severna Park.

In the basement of her Chartwell colonial, she works out of a workshop, surrounded by rolls of fabric, spools of thread and two sewing machines. She employs 12 sewers who work at their own homes from her patterns and are paid by the piece.

She markets the flags, 200 patterns in all, through art shows, while sales representatives in five states do the same. A customer who buys a flag and a pole and brackets usually comes back for more, she has found.

For the last four years, business has doubled each year. She and her staff now produce and sell 40 to 50 flags a week, at $25 to $400 each.

She hopes to open a retail store, where she also could manufacture flags.

"In spite of the recession and hard times, some of the most intricate flags have been my best sellers," she said.

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