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Alexandria woman sews American history on quilts

Ruth Gess, quilter, displayed her patriotic quilts.

In May 1776, a few months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Betsy Ross was sought out to sew the first American flag.

In Betsy Ross's lifetime she would sew countless other U.S. flags and take pride in helping her country through the Revolutionary War.

Betsy Ross has not been the only person in American history to use her independence and patriotism as a muse for sewing, however. Ruth Gess of Alexandria, a former quilt shop owner, has been sewing ever since she can remember.

Ruth, like Betsy Ross, came from a large family of children and was taught to sew at a very young age. Though George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris did not seek out one of Ruth's ancestors to sew the first American Flag, Ruth's reputation for sewing is well known.

When the Gess Eye Clinic moved to a new building, customers asked Ruth what happened to the uniquely designed quilts that used to hang in her husband's clinic. Ruth had thought the walls at the new eye clinic were simpler bare, but at the customers' request, she draped the quilts on the walls and changes them seasonally.

Two in particular that were quilted free hand and hang floor to ceiling in the office's hallway, burst with patriotic flare.

The first shows American flags throughout history, including the famous 1776 flag sewn by Betsy Ross. Gess sewed the stars by hand.

The quilt also exhibits the 1861 flag used in the Civil War, the Cambridge Flag of 1776, and the flag flown over Navy ships in 1775 that displays a snake and reads: "Don't tread on me."

The quilts are befitting, as the Fourth of July is next Monday. Soon red, white, and blue will decorate every surface of the United States.

Fireworks will illuminate the sky in an extravagant lightshow over our heads, while the Star Spangled Banner hums in the distance.

Aside from the Fourth of July, however, America's history is also celebrated in many other events in our lives.

Gess' second patriotic quilt shows eight different memories many U.S. citizens experience in a year: apple pies, watermelon, and snowmen just being a few. In these blocks of memories, American flags are also sewn in the design.

The quilt helps people remember the freedom they have living in the U.S. and the resilience and unity that the American flag represents.

Gess' quilts, on display at Gess Eye Clinic, personify the history of the American flag, and show how American freedom plays a role in our lives today.

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