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Flour Sack Connections

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By a generation, I missed wearing flour sack clothing. After drying dishes with Grandma’s treasured dishtowels that originated as such containers, I was relieved the Depression was over so I didn’t have to dress in something that started as a bag. However, over decades as I’ve listened to stories of those who did, I realize I missed making memories that people still talk about 70 to 80 years after the fact.

What’s interesting is the fondness I hear in the voices of the people who were children during this hard time as they recall those flour sack dresses, shirts, undies, towels, and quilts. Instead of seeing them as a mark of hardship, many women talk about how pretty the dresses were. One explained how her dad and older brothers would drive the horse and wagon into town to pick up that season’s supplies. Her loved ones spent extra time to look for the prettiest prints to bring back to their women who would later turn them into clothing.

Another lady talked about how her mom hand-stitched a pink flowery print into a dress pretty enough that it was passed from one girl to another as the “picture taking” dress for that family. After seeing some of the detailed handwork accomplished by that generation, I don’t doubt that it was every bit as beautiful as that storyteller recollected.

Others commented that their moms and grandmas had made them summer jumpers out of these sacks. I can see how the big ones would require only a few changes to turn them from a flour container to a young girl’s dress. A bonus is that they’d get softer every time they were washed.

Another woman talked about how she didn’t have a dress for prom. Her mom used those bright prints to create a special outfit so her daughter could attend this special occasion. After all these decades, I could tell how much it meant to wear such a pretty dress. On the other hand, I can’t imagine a modern teenager being nearly so happy to wear a gown that started as a flour sack to such a function. I also bet present day teens won’t recall their prom gowns with nearly such affection.

A gentleman involved in this discussion stated that he doubted modern companies would accommodate patrons the way milling companies did during that dark time. Another individual commented that it would be nice if current packaging were designed to suit dual purposes. I hadn’t considered that before, but it would reduce waste in the landfill if people took advantage of such forethought.

For those of us who came along too late to wear those flour sacks, we get excited when we find a box of them at an auction or a quilt or apron made of them at a thrift shop or antique store. These treasures connect us to our loved ones’ lives.

I’m glad I come from people who made and wore flour sack clothing. I’m glad I dried dishes with those old towels. I wish I owned a quilt constructed from those bright rectangles. Most of all, I’m glad I heard the stories.