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Flour sacks - who knew?

I was just watching a sewing program which featured a collection of WWII-era flour, sugar, and feed sacks. Turns out that for resource conservation purposes, these were made in various colors and patterns, with ink that easily washed out. The idea was for housewives to unzip the simple chain stitching that formed the sack, and to use the laundered fabric for clothing and household items. These were tight-woven cottons, not burlap. Pattern booklets were included, Some had doll pieces printed on them, to be cut out, sewn, and stuffed, One had drawstrings sewn in, and became an apron when opened up; one was already hemmed and became a dishtowel; another became a tote bag. 60+ years later, these are ecologically-desirable ideas. I would think that a company would boost its sales and reputation if it replaced paper bags with cloth that could be turned into a tote or towel, even though doing so would up the cost of the pantry staple.

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  1. Wow! I have one of these, handed down from an aunt. To me it just looked like a cotton fabric about the size of a very large dish towel with a flour ad on it, but I bet it was one of these. The print and picture are very faded.
    Thanks for the history lesson. And I think you are right that in an age where it seems as if consumers are getting more attentive to their ecological footprint that something like this might sell.

    1. a lot of people have hand-me-down quilts, dolls, towels, etc made from seed & flour sacks in the midwest. some of the patterns were very pretty and the dyes were mix & match for quilters. more info:


      some of the patterns were so pretty that they are still being reproduced today:


      1. I was a WWII history geek growing up (still am, I guess) and made my grandmother tell me stories all the time about getting married, setting up house, and raising my aunt during the war. She still has (and uses) a few flour sack dish towels.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mpjmph

          Wow, I hadn't thought of these for a long time. I am old enough to remember the feed sacks looked pretty disco at the farm store, and all my granny's dish towels were made from flour sacks.

        2. Great history lesson, thank you!

          1. Wow, that's genius. I'm definitely in for a flour sack that turns into a dish towel or even one of those re-usable grocery bags!

            1 Reply
            1. re: AndrewK512

              I think you hit on something there... I wouldn't be surprised to see a flour sack that turns into a grocery bag in the near future.

            2. I notice Japanese American ladies at events wearing aprons made from rice sacks. They wear them like badges of honor.

              1. Oh, yeah. I had a grandmother and great aunts that all made quilts from flour sacks and told stories of girls' dresses made of them. It did pre-date WW II, by the way, because the girls were girls in the years before the war, so I'm thinking the Depression, and even before, perhaps back to the late 19th century.

                1. I'm a quilter, and flour sacks, sugar sacks, or feed sacks, quite popular back in the day, have recently enjoyed a resurgence . Originally produced in plain fabric, manufacturers quickly caught onto the idea that there was a big demand for patterned fabric. Most of the time it was a pastel-ish background color with a tiny print on top. Although the pastels are most common, you do see deep blues, reds, and some with colored flowers on a dark background. Even the plain sacks with printing stamped on the front were soaked and bleached until no printing remained. This became the backgound fabric in the quilt.

                  If you go to any large quilt show now, you will find people selling old feed sacks -- either by the whole sack or by the half. I imagine you can get them on eBay as well. There are also a number of fabric manufacturers who have a line of repro feedsack fabrics, and those are quite popular for baby quilts and the classic double wedding ring quilt. Quilters like the look of these fabrics because they are colorful, in a gentle sort of way, and produce a "cottage chic" look. There has even been a renewed interest in making yo-yos from the repro prints to put into quilts of children's toys.

                  A quilter named Eleanor Burns has a whole series of patterns and books that hark back to the old feed sack days. One in particular is called "Victory Quilts", from the era of Victory Gardens.

                  The other posters are correct in that those feed sacks were used for a lot of things around the kitchen. Towels, as mentioned, and aprons. Aprons are now coming back in vogue with the home sewer -- lots of retro patterns available, and those retro fabrics are perfect for the nostalgic look.

                  1. They are actually quite collectible. I went through an antique linen phase and found quite nice ones in my travels. However, I would never actually cut them up to make anything.

                    Grandma use to sew simple hems and use them for dishtowels. They were very absorbent and were my favorite to use at her house.

                    1. My mother grew up as one of ten kids on an Alabama farm during the Depression. She told me she never had a home-made flour sack dress, but she and her sisters did wear flour sack knickers!