Tuesday, August 2, 2016

That Dress is a Bag - Literally

by Connie Cortright

Many years ago, my husband-to-be won a door prize at a dance in a small town in Wisconsin. He was thrilled to find out that his prize was a twenty pound bag of flour. Now what would a single man attending college do with a prize like that? Needless to say he got on the good side of his future mother-in-law by giving it to her.

The one thing that I remember about that prize was the cloth sack that the flour came in, not a common thing in the 70s. After doing some research, I found that this was very normal back in the 1920s, 30s, and into the 40s. When food staples and feed were sold in large quantities back then, it would be sold in a sack of pretty floral patterned material.

In the late 1800s cotton sacks were used for shipment of food stuffs such as flour, sugar, and rice because they were easier to handle than wood barrels or boxes. Animal feed was also shipped that way.

Women living on farms, not wanting to waste anything, started sewing clothes out of these cloth sacks. When manufacturers discovered this, they starting printing the cloth with colorful patterns hoping to sell more sacks of flour.

A woman needed three identical sacks to make a dress, so the farmer would buy three matching sacks to help her out. These patterned cotton sacks were also used for making aprons, pillowcases, diapers, laundry bags, curtains, table cloths, dish towels, and even toys.

This continued even into the Roaring Twenties and especially into the years of the Great Depression. During the 30s, girls were often sent to school in feedsack dresses. In a one-room country school, the siblings were easy to identify since the girls would all be dressed in the same patterned dress material - made from feedsacks. Boys in the family ended up with shirts made of sack material, but of course their mother would pick plainer ones for them.

During World War II this was more common with the rationing of items across the country. Staples and animal feed were always needed on a farm, so mother used up the flour and feed sacks by sewing them into needed articles. The strings of the feed bags were even used in knitting or crocheting items. Now that's recycling!

After World War II, the use of cloth bags ended. Manufacturers discovered that heavy paper or plastic bags were more cost effective for shipping these bulk items. The cotton sack was not produced anymore so flour sack dresses were no longer sewed. Any colorful cloth sacks still available were used in quilting by mothers and grandmothers.

Have you ever seen any of these colorful feed sacks in antique stores? Maybe there were all used up in sewing projects years ago.

Information taken from Feedsack Fabrics and Flour Sacks for Clothes

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