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Flour and Feed Sacks and Designer Dresses

Updated on September 13, 2016
Fiddleman profile image

I am Robert Elias Ballard, married to Pearlie Jane (PJ) for 45 years on November 24, 2017. We live in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Flour/Feed Sacks with the ingenuity of "mom" become great garments and other useful things.

The Flour Sack

When we were kids growing up in rural Western North Carolina times were lean for many of us. For me and my siblings, we were raised by parents who had grown up during the depression years and reared on small farms where most of the food they ate was grown and preserved n Mason jars. Green beans, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers made into pickles lined the shelves of the cellar and during those cold winter months, hunger was staved off by the fruit of hard work done during harvest time. I suppose by today's standards, those canned goods offered a balanced diet of healthy vegetables.

Grains such as rye and corn were taken to the local grist mill where the seeds were ground into flour or meal. As a boy, I recall shelling corn as a activity sitting around a warm wood heater to be taken to McFadden's Mill in Hendersonville, North Carolina when we had finished. It was not unusual to have 50 or 100 pounds of fresh cornmeal and precautions were taken to insure the fresh meal was stored in good containers that would stave off any moisture or allow for weevils to flourish.

We always had a cow or two, chickens and hogs. The cows provided plenty of raw milk and butter and the hogs were slaughtered in the cold months of winter. Sausage, tenderloin and ham were all cooked as breakfast meats. Daddy cured the hams with brown sugar and salt. It was a process but a good country cured ham or shoulder ( the front anatomy of the hog) could be cut and enjoyed by Easter.

Having those farm animals meant feed had to be purchased that could not be grown on the farm. The Company Store in Tuxedo sold all varieties of feed. Scratch for the hens, "shorts" for the hogs and sweet feed for the cows. I loved smelling the sweet feed daddy bought for the cows that had black strap molasses as an ingredient. Seemed those cow sure enjoyed eating it and one day I tried a bite of it for myself. Well, it didn't taste anything like it smelled so I never robbed the cows again!

The feed came in colorful fabric sacks. Some feed bags weighed 50 pounds or more and the fabric was so nice many women who had daughters often used the material to make dresses for their little girls. Most moms in those days had the necessary skills to cut out and sew a beautiful new dress and oftentimes without using a standard pattern, they just copied a store bought dress. The dresses were good enough for Sunday go to meeting. The feed sacks disappeared into oblivion and were replaced in later years by a material made of paper or burlap, neither suitable for a pretty dress.

Flour was also sold in pretty fabric sacks. The flour sacks like the feed sacks became material for the genius of moms who knew how to recycle before recycling became vogue. My mom loved the flour sacks and made dish towels from the ones our flour was purchased. I can't recall the brand but those flour sacks made excellent wash clothes and oh yes, mama did not exclude her sons from the kitchen chores, my brother and I were well acquainted with those white almost peppermint cane looking dish towels. The fabric was durable and I never saw one with a hole in it or a patch although over time they would wear a little thing .

The flour sacks also had other uses. If it was time to make jelly, the flour sacks served as a great cheese cloth to keep those irritating seeds from our blackberry or strawberry jelly. When it was time to dry apples, the apples were dried in the sun and hung up in those flour sacks right next to the leather britches and pepper.

Mama also used flour sacks to strain the raw milk. It was my chore to milk the cow and bring the pail of milk from the barn. The cows teats and bag was always rubbed down before milking, just in case she might have some pasture muffins that might fall into the milk from her hide, especially if the cow had been in the stable and had perchance lain down. The flour sacks worked fine for this and our milk was strained and kept in gallon pickle jars was always white as snow without any contaminates and healthy for us to drink.

Those old flour sacks and feed sacks found lots of other uses from pillow cases to making a rag doll. Country folks have always been creative and use what's available, even if they are old feed or flour sacks. My grandmother used feed sacks sewn together for the back of a quilt she made. The feed sacks she had used were from the feed for dogs and had brand emblem. She dyed the fabric a deep purple using a dye she made from Polk root berries. I was given that quilt and it is a treasured heir loom. Over time and no doubt countless washing with lye soap and scrubbing on an old wash board, hung in the sun, the quilt has faded and the old emblems on the feed sacks can be seen.

Feed Sack dresses

Ladies, did you ever have a dress made from feed sacks?

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Flour Sack Underwear

Recently while visiting with my mom we were discussing how she made flour sack or feed sack dresses for my sister. She laughed and told me when she was a little girl that her mama made her underwear from those materials. No elastic!!! A drawstring was sewn into the fabric. I share this with a friend and she told me she had heard stories about two girls getting into a fight at school in the old days and one girl was knocked to the ground and her dress flew up over her head and the drawstring in her drawers came loose!!! Probably not so funny to the victim!

Another story was written by a Pastor in a sermon where he told of a local Preacher who got in a big way of preaching and removed his coat. He wore suspenders but his underwear crept out of his trousers! Flapping behind him for all the congregation to see were the words, "Kansas Maid!" It was obvious to everyone who saw he was wearing underwear made from a well known flour company.


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    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 2 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      We didn't know how good we had it and our parents lives were even harder. They gave us a heritage for which I am most thankful.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Very good memories, my mom told me these stories, and I lived on the farm and we to raised our own food. It was hard but we might have been better off, we know we can survive if we have to.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 2 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Thank you Virginia for your comments. i just now saw it and by coincincidence, my mom was telling me today how she made my sisters first dresses, all handmade. Her comment came after asking me about a baby shower given last weekend for our youngest son and his wife who are expecting a brand new baby girl December 12.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 2 years ago from Central Florida

      My mom had fond memories of wearing feedsack dresses back in the 1930s. I'm always interested to read other people's experiences like this. Well done!