Flour sack dresses from the Flour Mills

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Flour sack dresses from the Flour MillsIn times gone by, amidst widespread poverty, the Flour Mills realized that some women were using sacks to make clothes for their children. In response, the Flour Mills started using flowered and patterned fabric.

With the introduction of this new cloth into the home, thrifty women everywhere began to reuse the cloth for a variety of home uses – dish towels, diapers, and more. The bags began to become very popular for clothing items.

This is almost 100 years ago and instead of improving the reuse things have gotten worse. But, what the Flour Mills did then every manufacturer could do for packaging. Firstly using things that can be reused and secondly to already create the idea of a secondary use of the materials. But, let's for the moment get back to the lour sacks and textiles made from them.

As the recycling trend looked like it was going to stay, the manufacturers began to print their cloth bags – or feedsacks – in an ever wider variety of patterns and colors, including those more suitable for boys and their shirts and nightshirts.

Over time, the popularity of the feedsack as clothing fabric increased beyond anyone's wildest expectations, fueled by both ingenuity and scarcity.

By the time WWII dominated the lives of Americans, and cloth for fabric was in short supply due to its use in the construction of uniforms, it was estimated that over three and a half million women and children were wearing garments created from feedsacks.

Images of the times help to remind us that large swaths of the country were once so poor that making clothes for children, out of flour sacks, was simply a part of life in those times. The manufacturers even gave instructions for how to remove the ink of their logos and such.

The family in the photo show their children wearing the Feed Sack dresses and shirts. People back then certainly knew how to try to use and reuse everything they had and not be wasteful.

Feed sacks continued to grab the attention of women during the Depression and World War II. In the 1950s, though, cheaper paper sacks became available, and thus the gradual decline for these bright, beautiful and functional fabrics began.

The start of the 1960's saw sack manufacturers trying to tempt customers back with cartoon- printed fabrics, from Buck Rogers to Cinderella. There was even a television advertising campaign intended to prick the conscience of the American housewife, but it failed to generate a significant upsurge in sales. Today it is only the Amish who still use cotton sacks for their dry goods.

The world has changed in so many ways since back then, yet having a mindset for making the best use of what you have available to you is a trait that, rightly, does and should carry on.

As I said earlier in this essay we need designers and manufacturers, of packaging especially, to design a second life into their packaging. It can be done as the flour sacks and feed sacks and other examples show.

Some of the makers of mustard, in both Germany and France, still do this in that the glasses in which the mustard comes, without even having to give it a second thought, are meant to be retained as drinking glasses. In Germany they are often small beer tankards which those of French mustard are the kind of glasses that would be used in homes for the vin de pays. It is hardly rocket science as it was done before and thus could easily be done again and, with giving people templates and ideas to go with it, encouraging them to reuse, it more than likely would work and work well.

In those days when people used the flour and feed sacks – made from cotton then – times were hard and money in short supply and they did not just use and reuse that kind of material but everything that they could reuse, including glass jars for drinking vessels – aside of other uses too. Though the poor working class did that well before the Great Depression and from that, we more than likely have the term of “having a jar” as to having a drink.

If we really want to be serious about reducing waste it requires industry and design as well as us as consumers to think and rethink our ways and we, as consumers, if there is not other way finding ways to make use of as much as the stuff that comes our way as possible. Consider also that (1) you have paid for the packaging in your purchase price thus you might as well reuse it and make something out of it if and where you can and (2) you have to pay for the disposal of it and the less you have to dispose ideally the less you have to pay.

© 2018