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Designer creates custom nautical flags

When it comes to boat burgees, no job is too big or too small for the Sailbag Lady and her unique skills

When it comes to boat burgees, no job is too big or too small for the Sailbag Lady and her unique skills

Crickets, dogs, Prince Valiant or initials — the Sailbag Lady can pretty much put anything you want on your boat burgees and flags.

With the tagline “We Can Make Your Dreams Fly,” Madison, Conn., resident Bettina Braisted has been creating flags for boats since 1982 and has never looked back.

As a former English teacher, practicing her craft started out first as a way to make money and stay home with her children.

“I started out making 10 flags for the Stamford (Conn.) Boat Show, and it grew from that,” says Braisted. “Suddenly I found myself doing eight boat shows a year.”

Braisted initially tried making totes out of sail material, in addition to her banners — the bags didn’t last, but the name stuck.

“I also do house banners and college mascot flags; that expanded over the years,” says Braisted. “We use nylon fiber that’s much stronger than Dacron, and we piece the design onto the flag like a quilt rather than embroidery, which can unravel and fade with time.”

Originally from Cos Cob, Conn., Braisted says that she always grew up near the water and boats were a big part of her life.

“Being in this business has allowed me to stay connected to the boating world,” says Braisted.

Braisted has noticed trends over the years as events shape what people would like to see on their flags. For instance, there was a surge of patriotic themes that came about after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There was this trend for cutesy cartoon characters about seven or eight years ago and recently we’ve had none,” says Braisted. “People are done with cute; the trend is now more traditional, more formal.”

Braisted estimates she has designed about 30,000 flags over the last 23 years and keeps a photo catalog of every completed project. She even designed one for the United States Merchant Marine Academy that flew in space in December 2001 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, a shuttle orbiter constructed in 1991 to replace the Challenger. It was named after the first ship commanded by 18th century British explorer James Cook, according to NASA.

Braisted says since she’s been getting so much business from her Web site ( ) she’s cut back to four boat shows per year, hitting usual standbys such as New York, Chicago, Newport, R.I. and Maine.

“I just get so much work over the Internet now,” says Braisted. “And shows take so much time and energy, depending on how long they run.”

Braisted says people can pretty much put whatever they would like on the flag, but her biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple.

“We tell people to focus on one primary idea or theme and then personalize it,” says Braisted. “For instance, one family did flags of their initials in signal code with a love knot in the center. Now it has become a family tradition with their children.”

Another was a memorial to a man’s friend who died on Sept. 11, 2001 that consisted of the person’s initials with two black bars in the center helping to create the letters, but also depicting the World Trade Center. Bettina says classic designs often include people’s dogs.

“One of my favorite flags I’ve designed is a woman who had a yellow lab and a black lab, and she wanted both of them on the flag,” says Braisted. “So I gave them both sunglasses and a bandana, and that has been a design I’ve used over and over again.”

Customers can choose between a rectangular, triangular, reduced swallowtail or straight swallowtail for their flag’s shape, and at boat shows Braisted will sketch out a rough plan of what the design will look like upon completion. Those who order by mail must include their own design sketch and color scheme, but Braisted offers free design advice. Flags run from $95 to $115 and include the first five pieces of material; each additional piece is $4.

Other suggestions Braisted gives to creating the perfect flag is to choose contrasting dark and light color sections that will compliment the color of the boat, and have something that can be unique to the person: have a traditional design as an anchor, for instance, but then add stars for each grandchild the family might have. Once the design is set, Braisted gets to work piecing the design together. Most orders take about three to four weeks for delivery.

“Don’t be afraid to let out your inner artist,” says Braisted. “If you sketch a little, we’ll flesh it out. All we need is the basic idea.”

Even though Braisted’s business didn’t turn into what she thought it would be, she says she’s never been happier.

“It’s a creative challenge,” says Braisted. “I love helping people design something unique they can enjoy for years to come.”

For information, visit or call Braisted at (203) 245-8238.