Flourishing in Flour Sacks
A year ago I did a post about a child’s flour sack dress that I picked up at an antique store. The dress intrigues me because the front and back are highly contrasting, and I always wish I could know the story behind it – did the little girl ask her mother to sew the dress of two separate fabrics? Was it her favorite?
One of the readers who stopped by, Jeannette Cyr, said that she had a picture of her mother’s family in clothing made from flour sacks, and she did know the stories behind it. There is nothing I love more than ordinary, everyday textiles and their stories, so I asked her to do a guest post. I am so honored to present Jeannette’s family photograph and the story she wrote about it!
The LaFramboise Family
My mother was the oldest of six girls in a family of eight. Born in Canada in 1915 she came to the states by train at the age of three. The family was moving to a farm and a better life, along with many of their relatives and friends. It was hard work raising a large family, dependent on what they could grow for their own food as well as the animals they raised. With the premature death of her husband at age 39, the widow took charge and continued farming with the help of all the kids and one hired hand. During those hard times they learned to make everything they needed including clothing and soap for bathing and washing clothes.
My grandmother would use the bags and sacks that contained wheat and seeds. By opening one seam it would become a larger piece of ‘fabric’. After bleaching and washing them many times, she made clothes for the girls and boys, even their underwear from these sacks. Years later, one aunt would describe to us how her underwear was so scratchy that it made her itch. Her dream was to have store bought underwear like her friends at school. The enclosed photo shows this family a couple years before the father passed. In the photo the 8th child was not born yet and she later told me she was too young to remember her father. The girls wore similar dresses made from the sacks as well as the boys shirts. My mother is shown as the taller one in the back row. It was a very difficult life, the older girls took care of the younger ones and the household while the mother worked the fields and animals with the boys and one hired hand until the boys got older.
Raising a family during the depression, forced everyone to live simple and make do with what you had. My parents were married in 1934 and my mother continued to live the way she had learned from her mother. So in turn we also made do. For example, my father would save all the seed sacks and feed bags, and my mother in turn would wash and bleach them until most of the printing and writing washed out. She showed my sister how to sew on the treadle machine making circular towels from the seed sacks with French seams joining each sack. These were made into hand towels. This was my sisters’ punishment when she did something out of line. In our old farm house the bathroom was a converted closet and had only a tub and toilet, no sink. We had to wash our hands in the kitchen sink and to the right of the sink was the basement door. My mother hung a broken roller shade bar on the outside of that door and placed those circular hand towels on the roller bar. When company arrived my mother would quickly give that towel a quick tug and the clean side of the towel appeared with the dirty side hidden in the back.
Being the youngest of four children born during the depression I’m sure I grew up with many luxuries that my older siblings did not have until later years such as the indoor bathroom. They always told me I was spoiled.
My mother passed away two years ago at the age of 96. Only two of her sisters remain today, both in their 80’s. I have two quilts made by my grandmother using those seed sacks. The weave of the fabric is very coarse and there are many of them sewed together for the backing. Some of the sacks still have the writing and logos on them. One has the face of Abraham Lincoln and another has a picture of a rooster. These are utility quilts made for comfort rather than show, but they’ve become priceless to me.
I love the details in this account that help me visualize so clearly. I wonder if the sister who had to sew for punishment hated to sew when she grew up. The father in the photo looks like such a cheerful person, happy to take a moment to capture his family in a picture, and I think you can see the mother’s pride in her family as well.
Thank you, Jeannette for such a lovely story. I am so glad you have the quilts your grandmother made, and the wonderful memories to pass on to us!
Wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing.
My mom is one of eight children….born in the 30’s. She spoke of how carefully my grandma would choose the flour sack in order to have a different pattern for the next dress to clothe one of the five girls. My grandmother remained frugal for life….but was still the most giving person I ever knew. Thanks for this post and the sweet memories ♥ paula
That has got to be my favorite flour sack story – the planning, the anticipation – I bet those girls hoped they wouldn’t grow too much before their next dress was ready! So wonderful. I would love to know more about the people that designed that flour sack fabric, and if they ever had any idea how loved their creations were.
Mom said that just before grandma passed ~ she was in the hospital and her hands were both “working”….even though she seemed unaware of all around her….she continued to sew.
I would love to know the story on that as well! ♥
I think that’s why I love all the textile crafts so much – I associate them with my great-grandmother and her four daughters. I hope I get to work up until the last minute too!
🙂 I can understand your love for this very reason. And ME TOO! ♥
Thanks for posting such an interesting story. I myself try diligently to “repurpose” as many items as I can to help in my daily tasks.
Me too – I don’t know that I get little lifts from them the way everybody seems to from flour sacks though! I just have too much stuff to start with. 🙂
My dad’s mother saved flour sacks, hundreds of them, for use ‘some day’. That some day came when my mother, a quilter, discovered them in an old trunk and took them home with her. I made inserts for the glass doors of an old Hoosier cabinet I have with a couple of them. The others my mother continues to hoard for ‘some day’. (I can’t imagine having underpants made from those things..ugh!)
That is so wonderful! I LOVE the idea of using them in glass doors! That idea belongs in This Old House or Country Living magazine!
In 2012, I saw an exhibit of cotton sacks and items made from them at the Winedale Historical Complex here in Texas – it’s part of the University of Texas. Maybe someday your mom can exhibit her collection, even if she doesn’t get around to using them all. I can’t find an online link to the person who collected all the flour sack items that UT displayed, so I can’t give you better information – but maybe it will spark an idea for your mom! 🙂
I would like to have at least a yard of that awesome fabric/material. Great family pic. Blessings, Mtetar
You can sometimes find it an antique stores – it feels so soft and comforting! I hope you find some, Mtetar!
Thanks for this info will look into that and definitely let you know. Blessings, Mtetar
Thank you for sharing this story. In response to your question about the sister still sewing, yes. She made all her school clothes and some for me in later years. Made her own Pendleton wool suits for work giving me the left over pieces for doll clothes for my granddaughters. In fact, she’s the one that encouraged me to start quilting. It’s so nice to have a friend/sister to sew, fabric shop, share projects, and just talk with about sewing.
Oh, I am so glad. I am to sewing late, and I am still pretty much at a novice level, but I do get so much enjoyment from it – I am glad that y’all can share that interest.
What a wonderful post! My mother and her cousins often speak of growing up during the Great Depression and wearing shirts (for the boys) or dresses made of flour sacks and feed sacks. My two favorite aprons are made of chicken feed sacks.
Thank you! I am so glad Jeannette shared the story – and I can’t believe I was so slow to think of asking her! Someday this blog business will be second nature to me. Maybe.
Feed sack aprons sound great! I have a couple of sack that may need to be turned into aprons.
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