Monday, June 20, 2016

Flour Sack Dresses

I recently read a novel set in the ‘cowboy’ era of the 1860-70’s where the woman was wearing a ‘flour sack’ dress. Whereas that may have been true in a rare case, it certainly wasn’t wide spread.  
(No resources noted for picture on Pinterest.)
Throughout the later part of the 1800’s cotton sacks gradually replaced the barrels and crates that flour, stock feeds, and other such grain based products had been shipped and stored in for years. Made of unbleached cotton, these sacks were dull and had the same large logos that had previously been stamped onto the barrels. Getting rid of the logos was almost impossible—even with kerosene, lye soap and boiling. However, that didn’t stop women from utilizing the material. 
During that era, the bags weren’t suitable to make dresses. But they were usable, and frugal pioneers made rugs, towels, chair cushions, quilts and numerous other items from the sacks. Common items were nightgowns, diapers and underwear. The large logos were not an issue for these garments because they were worn under other clothing or in privacy.
It wasn’t until well after the turn of the century that companies started to make bags using bright colors and designs. Printed on logos and company names were replaced with easy to remove paper tags and labels. Companies hoped the colorful and reusable bags would boosts sales which had fallen drastically for almost every business at the onset of the depression.  The government supported the recycling of feed sacks, calling it a necessity due to a shortage of cotton during WWll.
(Picture from Treasures and Textiles.)
The sacks themselves were not very large, and several were needed for most every garment and this too brought about other thrifty activities. Bags were often sold, both to other people and/or back to the store/company to be reused, and community ‘sack’ exchanges were commonly held for people to trade amongst each other in order collect enough sacks of the same color and print. 
The popularity of the bags continued through the next couple of decades. Magazines, pattern makers, newspapers and the feed/flour companies created articles, booklets, and even dissolving ink patterns printed right on the sacks for women to make the most out of every yard.  
Sewing contests became another popular activity, locally and nationally. Often sponsored by companies in order to show off their latest prints, woman enjoyed the opportunity to show off their sewing skills. 
This dress, (photo from the National Museum of American History) was sewn by Dorothy Overall from Caldwell, Kansas in 1959 and took second place in the Cotton Bag Sewing contest. 
Why some believe our ‘age’ of recycle/reuse/repurpose and dispose properly is a new-fangled way of thinking, I believe in some instances, such as the flour sack eras, we are ‘behind the times’. 
In my April release, When a Cowboy Says I Do a story in Western Spring Weddings, my heroine is a seamstress. Ellie Alexander has know idea that promising to sew her best friend’s wedding gown may lead to her own spring wedding!


Andrea Downing said...

Really interesting post, Lauri. thanks for sharing all that.

Paty Jager said...

Interesting post. I remember my grandmother having some items made from flour sacks when I was a child. She especially like plain white sacks for drying dishes.

Anonymous said...

My mother had a flour sack apron that I remember well. Hand-me-downs and flour sack clothes were all she had growing up on an Oklahoma farm. Thanks for the great article.