Flour Sacks for Clothes
"Repair, reuse, make do, and don't throw anything away" was a motto during the Great Depression. Very few farm families had enough money to buy new clothes at a store. Mothers mended socks and sewed patches over holes in clothes. Clothes were "recycled" and reused as younger children "made do" with hand-me-downs. When farmers brought home big sacks of flour or livestock feed, farm women used the sacks as material to sew everything from girls' dresses to boys' shirts and even underpants. Norma Ehlers says she didn't have a "store-bought dress" until she went to high school. Her mother made feed sacks into dresses. To help the minister's family, Norma's mother sewed dresses for his children, too.
Herman Goertzen notes (see photo) little girls' dresses had the same patterns in the material. He says the companies that made the flour and feed sacks soon caught on and created new patterns on the sacks. "Well, the chicken feed usually came in a patterned material, and the ladies liked to sew at the time." He says most clothes were homemade and the "patterns came from chicken feed sacks, flour sacks I believe. Flour sacks came from the same item." He says it was a sales incentive. "They wanted to sell flour, and if the ladies would like to put patterns on the sacks, sure, that would be the incentive to buy more feed, and it was always probably hard to get the next pattern. The next time you went in to buy a sack of feed, you couldn't get the same pattern."
Millie Opitz (right) remembers sewing the sacks into all kinds of garments. She says they had to recycle the flour sacks, "Cause, Lord, we didn't have no money to spend or nothing."
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.