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Tag Archives: cotton mills

Flour Sack Dresses

Until I started researching about the lives of Appalachian women who worked in the cotton mills, I had never heard of flour sack dresses.

We tend to think that recycling as a new thing, but Solomon tells us plainly that, “What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

During the Great Depression, all had to be salvaged; scrimping and saving was a way of life. It was not an option. Clothing for growing children was, of course, a necessity, and cloth was expensive.

Going to buy one of their staples, flour, at a mill’s Company Store created a new market for the flour sacks. Mothers made dresses, shirts, pillow cases, curtains, and kitchen towels out of empty sacks.

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Manufacturers weren’t slow on picking up on this, so they packaged their flour in printed bags of cotton. Even animal feed sacks followed suit to help their consumers out. Notice the variety of patterns in the Sun Bonnet Sue Flower below.

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During World War II, there was a shortage of cotton fabric for the civilian population, and the recycling of bags became a necessity, encouraged by the government. The military was using cotton for their uniforms.  Using feed sacks for sewing was considered patriotic, and women still enjoyed finding attractive prints on feed sacks  One feed sack could have easily made a child’s dress or shirt, and three identical sacks to make a woman’s dress. One study said that over three and half million women and children were wearing clothes created from feed and flour sacks.

Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour Mills

Looking at these old patterns, it is obvious that manufacturers aimed to please a variety of tastes in their consumers. They are bright, beautiful, and useful.  It was a great marketing ploy as women picked out flour, sugar, beans, rice, cornmeal and even the feed and fertilizer for the family farm based on which fabrics they desired.  Some sacks displayed lovely border prints for pillowcases.  Scenic prints were also popular.  Manufacturers even made preprinted patterns for dolls, stuffed animals, appliqué and quilt blocks. Rodkey’s Best Flour sold a bag with Alice in Wonderland characters printed on it.

One of the vignettes at the Textile Museum in Englewood, Tennessee, includes this quote, “I washed five feed sacks and made me a bedspread.”

I have several flour sack kitchen towels that were my Nanna’s. Even after all these years, they are the best drying cloths I own. And if you want some similar ones, try the Vermont Country Store. You won’t have to buy flour with these!

The 1930’s Flour Sack 
by Colleen B. HubertIn that long ago time when things were saved, 
when roads were graveled and barrels were staved
and there were no plastic wrap or bags, 
and the well and the pump were way out back, 
a versatile item, was the flour sack.

Pillsbury’s best, mother’s and gold medal, too
stamped their names proudly in purple and blue. 
The string sewn on top was pulled and kept
the flour emptied and spills were swept. 
The bag was folded and stored in a sack
That durable, practical flour sack.

The sack could be filled with feathers and down, 
for a pillow, or t’would make a nice sleeping gown.
it could carry a book and be a school bag, 
or become a mail sack slung over a nag.
It made a very convenient pack,
That adaptable, cotton flour sack.

Bleached and sewn, it was dutifully worn
as bibs, diapers, or kerchief adorned.
It was made into skirts, blouses and slips.
And mom braided rugs from one hundred strips
she made ruffled curtains for the house or shack,
from that humble but treasured flour sack!

As a strainer for milk or apple juice,
to wave men in, it was a very good use,
as a sling for a sprained wrist or a break,
to help mother roll up a jelly cake,
as a window shade or to stuff a crack,
we used a sturdy, common flour sack!

As dish towels, embroidered or not,
they covered up dough, helped pass pans so hot,
tied up dishes for neighbors in need,
and for men out in the field to seed.
They dried dishes from pan, not rack
that absorbent, handy flour sack!

We polished and cleaned stove and table,
scoured and scrubbed from cellar to gable,
we dusted the bureau and oak bed post,
made costumes for October (a scary ghost)
and a parachute for a cat named jack.
From that lowly, useful old flour sack!

So now my friends, when they ask you
As curious youngsters often do,
“before plastic wrap, elmers glue
and paper towels, what did you do?”
tell them loudly and with pride don’t lack,
“grandmother had that wonderful flour sack!”

Flour sack dress from the 1930's

There’s something “that long time ago” that we shouldn’t forget.

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Yahoo to the New Book Cover of “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”

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Can I say this book cover wasn’t what I was expecting?Book Cover.jpg

But then I didn’t know what I was expecting either, and it is perfect for Tales of a Cosmic Possum.

My surprise was real, as I gazed at the mountain-blue nuances. The dark coolness of shades drew me into the Appalachian range where the Ingle family lived with its customs, food, and sayings that were once foreign to me.

When Make and Lizzie Ingle left Erwin, Tennessee, to work in Tucapau Mill in Startex, South Carolina, they left their open, mountain shelter behind for the clacking noises of cotton mill workers. Not far behind them, Amanda and John said good by to their hand-to-mouth struggle on a small, North Carolina farm in the hills and moved to the sweltering. work environment of Clifton Mill #2.

Neither the mountains or the farm land could support either family any longer. A weekly pay check was necessary for survival, and so they moved to the Upstate. These cotton mills, where they worked, changed their families’ lives for four generations.

Their stories show these unknown women as heroines. They all have fortitude, hardiness, and gumption, which they passed on to their children, because that is what Appalachian women do.

And, so the countdown begins until I hold my fifth book in my hands. Thank you, John, for sharing your family’s stories with me! It’s been another adventure.

Mill Hill Recipes from “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”

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Women in the mill hill villages depended on their own gardens, chickens, cows, pigs, as well as buying from the Company Store for their food. Fruit trees and pecan or walnut trees usually produced bounty to divide with neighbors. They freely shared with each other, and all had a kitchen specialty. Though they had little, the matriarchs made the best of what they had.
They cooked on a wood stove with light from the windows or kerosene lamps. Water was provided from a common well that several families shared. Wooden utensils stirred and turned food heating in cast iron skillets and bean pots (We have John’s mother’s/Lois.), and porcelain pots.
Meals were plain, uncomplicated, and similar. Any left overs were eaten at the next meal or fed to the animals. Drying and canning vegetables from summer and fall gardens improved winter diets. Nothing was wasted; even watermelon rinds were made into preserves. Though menus were sparse in variety, biscuits or cornbread topped with homemade butter and honey never grew old.

Here is  one.

Simple Slaw
Choose a solid and firm cabbage from your garden, and squeeze the cabbage head to check to see if it’s ready for the table or not. Cut the cabbage off the stem. Wash cabbage, and shake excess water out. Strike the bottom of cabbage down on table to loosen the core. Twist the core to remove. Cut the cabbage to slaw consistency with a very sharp knife. Add salt, pepper, and Duke’s mayonnaise to taste. (In 1917, this favorite was created by Mrs. Eugenia Duke at Duke’s Sandwich Shop in Greenville, SC.) Stir and serve this extra for Sunday dinner or when company was visiting.

Tales of a Cosmic Possum is just weeks from being published, and I am going to share some vignettes with you.

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