15 September 2016

Cotton Feed Bags as Fashion and Embroidered Flour Sacks as a Form of Thanks

Cotton Feed Bags as Fashion and Embroidered Flour Sacks as a Form of Thanks

I often write about adding “color” to the lives we research.  If you are like me, that became a necessity when records were hard to find.  I had to switch my focus to filling in details on their lives in order to feel like each person wouldn’t just be “a” sheet of paper with a few dates and places listed.  Because of that, I delved into where they worked, what church they attended, what social organizations they belonged to, what local events (parades, picnics, celebrations, etc), they may have attended, and much more.  Almost no heirlooms were passed down in my family, hence the focus on activities versus things.

I am always curious when I come across an article about how materials were re-used when times were tough.  Two articles that caught my eye, one recently -- NC seamstresses create fashion with raw materials – and one a while ago -- Cool Things - Embroidered Flour Sacks.

In the first case, the focus was on how the thrifty housewife could use cotton feed bags to create stylish clothes.

The style show aptly demonstrated the evolution of the feed bag. First it was a burlap bag that could be used for rugged farm duty. Then it was a coarse cotton bag that could be used for dish towels, and some thrifty housewives even made the sturdy cloth into everyday underclothing. Then came the idea of cotton prints, fashionable, good-looking ones, that women could make into dresses cheaply. With a yard and seven inches of good cotton fabric in the average 100 pound cotton bag of feed, it took generally three or four bags to design the winning frocks. The majority of those in the parade cost less than one dollar, the only expense being that of buttons, thread, and patterns.

In the second case, I learned about the Belgians and their suffering during WWI and how flour was sent over in sacks and then the sacks were re-used in many ways, including embroidered to give “thanks” for the relief provided.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library has a large collection of these flour sacks and tells us some of the history …

The Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) was established in October 1914 under the direction of Herbert Hoover to provide food relief to Belgium. The CRB fed millions of people in Belgium and occupied France between 1914 and 1918 by raising money, obtaining food, shipping the food past the British naval blockade and German submarines, and overseeing the distribution of the food by the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation.

The CRB shipped 5.7 million tons of food to Belgium. The flour was packaged in cotton bags by American mills. The movement of these bags in Belgium was monitored by the CRB since cotton could be used in the manufacture of German ammunition. The empty flour sacks were distributed to professional schools, sewing workrooms, convents, and artists.

Professional schools trained women to sew, embroider textiles, and make the famous Belgian lace. Large sewing workrooms were established in Belgian cities to provide work for thousands of unemployed. The flour sacks were made into clothing, accessories, pillows, bags, and other functional items.

Materials that are re-used are rich with stories – based on both their original use and then their subsequent repurposed use.

What fun or necessary re-use of materials did your ancestors engage in?

Editor’s Note: Related article on repurposing -- Repurposed Military Installations -- Sometimes not just the only and a GREAT option for preserving historical structures!

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