From the sewing rooms of the nation's flag makers to the steps of the U.S. Capitol -- where thousands of flags are briefly flown so that congressmen can give them to their constituents -- the word is the same.

Americans are buying and flying Old Glory in record numbers.

"Ten years ago they bought [a flag] only to step on it or to spit on it," said Tedd Christensen, owner and manager of Copeland Co., a major flag maker in Alexandria. Now, he says, "the pendulum is swinging towards patriotism."

And, it might be added, swinging toward ever-increasing sales of flags.

Copeland, which normally sells about 50 American flags to individuals each week, expects to sell almost twice that many this week. Guild Specialty in Northwest Washington sells a weekly average of 10 to 15 American flags to individuals, said the owner, Alfonso Stanley. Now, however, such sales are "doubling, maybe tripling," he said.

Yet, while the Fourth of July weekend is obviously responsible for some of the immediate increase, the trend is much broader and more dramatic.

Since 1937, people all over the country have been asking their congressmen for flags that have flown over the Capitol. Each day flags are hoisted and lowered in rapid succession, then shipped out to those who request them. In the last 10 years there has been an almost uninterrupted increase in the number of requests for such flags.

Last year, the Capitol Flag Office reports, 69,579 flags were flown over the Capitol -- a whopping 26,568 more than in 1979 and 34,033 more than in 1978. Most surprisingly, last year's number is even higher than that flown during the Bicentennial year -- during which 10,471 were flown on July 4 alone.

Since the 1960s, when the Vietnam War was dividing the nation, many area flag dealers have seen a fairly steady increase in the number of flag-hoisting Americans. Yet, while most businessmen explain the ups and downs of their businesses by referring to the economy, flag makers chart their business successes and failures in terms of patriotism -- they are, after all, about as close to the heartbeat of the nation's self-esteem as anyone.

Claude Haynes, who founded the National Capital Flag Co. in 1962, believes that 10-20 years ago Americans were not buying as many flags as today because is seemed that, as a nation, "we couldn't do anything right. We were the whipping boy of the world -- some of our own people were apologizing for us."

But now, says Haynes, "We're starting to recognize that we've been the most generous people in the world. Anytime there was an earthquake or anything, we were the first to help out."

Christensen believes, as do many other flag dealers, that Ronald Reagan's election has further nudged the pendulum toward increased patriotism -- and flag sales.

Dealers also attribute the most recent increase in sales to the heightened patriotism triggered by the ordeal of the American hostages in Iran.

Who is buying flags today? Flag makers say the typical buyer is white middle-aged or older, and a middle-class homeowner. Not many dealers agree on just why -- they speculate that maybe it is because the older generation is more conservative or that older folks are more likely to own a house on which to hang a flag.

But officials at both Copeland and National Capital, two the biggest flag companies in the area, say they have seen a "surprising" number of young people coming in to buy the Stars and Stipes in recent years.

"Values have changed," says Christensen.