Mailboxes and Old Barns: Beautiful Flour Sacks

barn with windmill

The fabric used for the 25 and 50 pound bags of flour during the ’30s and ’40s was tough and useful and pretty.

In the days before doubleknit or wash and wear, there was pleasure in variety and the flour sacks provided flowery variety.

Here’s a simple little poem about the wonders of those flour sacks.

The 1930’s Flour Sack
by Colleen B. Hubert

In that long ago time when things were saved,
when roads were graveled and barrels were staved
and there were no plastic wrap or bags,
and the well and the pump were way out back,
a versatile item, was the flour sack.

Pillsbury’s best, Mother’s and Gold Medal, too
stamped their names proudly in purple and blue.
The string sewn on top was pulled and kept
the flour emptied and spills were swept.
The bag was folded and stored in a sack
That durable, practical flour sack.

The sack could be filled with feathers and down,
farmyardfor a pillow, or t’would make a nice sleeping gown. It could carry a book and be a school bag,
or become a mail sack slung over a nag.
It made a very convenient pack,
That adaptable, cotton flour sack.

Bleached and sewn, it was dutifully worn
as bibs, diapers, or kerchief adorned.
It was made into skirts, blouses and slips.
And mom braided rugs from one hundred strips
she made ruffled curtains for the house or shack,
from that humble but treasured flour sack!

As a strainer for milk or apple juice,
to wave men in, it was a very good use,
as a sling for a sprained wrist or a break,
to help mother roll up a jelly cake,flour sacks 2
as a window shade or to stuff a crack,
we used a sturdy, common flour sack!

As dish towels, embroidered or not,
they covered up dough, helped pass pans so hot,
tied up dishes for neighbors in need,
and for men out in the field to seed.
They dried dishes from pan, not rack
that absorbent, handy flour sack!

We polished and cleaned stove and table,
scoured and scrubbed from cellar to gable,
we dusted the bureau and oak bed post,
made costumes for October (a scary ghost)
and a parachute for a cat named jack.
From that lowly, useful old flour sack!

So now my friends, when they ask you
As curious youngsters often do,
“before plastic wrap, elmers glue
and paper towels, what did you do?”
tell them loudly and with pride don’t lack,
“grandmother had that wonderful flour sack!”

Flour sack dress from the 1930's

Yes, all of these girls’ dresses were made from flour sacks.

I found that bit by just typing in “poems about flour sack dresses”… and sure enough, Colleen in Cleveland knows about such things, and took the time to write about a mailbox and an old barn that stands back there in her memory.

flour sacksoiuer

The old patterned flour sacks were made of the tough fabric that stood up to the specific commercial duty of providing storage and transportation for 50# of flour or sugar or seeds, and that was only the beginning of its story.

Each of those flour sacks were like the children’s Christmas stories that tell the sweet life story of the “spindliest little tree that became a beautiful Christmas tree for the poor boy down the block” or the “lonesome-est tree way up on the hill, longing for companionship from the bigger trees at the bottom of the hill who always mocked it because it had never grown as tall as they all had because the winds were so strong up there–and the sun was so hot up there–and the winter wind was so cold up there, but ultimately the lonesome-est tree was taken home to flour sacks 1a beautiful and warm and cozy great room owned by the richest farmer in the woods…” Each of those flour sacks had that story.

Each with their own twist.  So many different patterns.  So many different railroad cars, depot platforms and bumpy wagon rides (in the early days).  So many different garages, grain bins, vegetable cellars and flour bins.  So many different little girls and boys into flour sacks 5whose homes each flour bag ultimately came to rest…and that was only the beginning.

Those who were there will confirm that on the day Dad or Mom were going to be buying four or five bags of something–the daughter who needed a new dress would be the child invited to go with, so she might have a hand in choosing the print for her new dress, coming as it did filled with flour.

This wasn’t just for the girls on the farm; even the young boys might have a new shirt from a flour sack.  All of us had the pillow cases made from flour sacks.  It was fun having new colors and new designs.  That fabric was substantial and washed up real nice.

After being sprinkled and rolled for a day or so, it ironed up real good, too. The phrase crisp and clean was useful and meaningful when discussing things made from flour sacks.

flour sacks 3

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11 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: Beautiful Flour Sacks

  1. SR says:

    Ah, the memories. While I can still find baling wire, what I would give for some flour sacks and “gunny” sacks, so many uses.
    Also, what a nice treat to not be able to sleep and find MBOB waiting to take me back to a peaceful time. I miss peace.
    Thank you Sharon.


  2. WeeWeed says:

    Most, if not all, of my great-grandmother’s quilts were made from flour sacks – some very odd and some very beautiful prints were used to form the pieces and blocks.


    • stellap says:

      That was my thought, too, WeeWeed. The quilt on your bed was often the final destination for that flour sack!


    • stellap says:

      I have a quilt very much like this one – now falling apart – that my grandmother made:


      She was born in 1869, and died in 1940.


      • a says:

        I have a couple of those quilts too. The pattern is called “Grandmother’s Flour Garden”. My Grandma made me one (and my younger sister) for our High School Graduation. I still have it and use it now and then. She had ‘crazy quilts’ too. They had pieces of wool suits, silk ties,


        • Sharon says:

          The pattern is still called Grandmother’s Flower Garden, and is still used in crocheting as well. I wonder if the Grandmother’s “Flour” Garden name was perhaps their play on words, as they used the flour sack fabric? Love it. 😉


  3. Letsbefairtogz says:

    My Mom,who just recently passed, told me fondly of how excited she was to see the new colors and patterns of the sacks because she knew that a fancy new dress was coming soon. She had a proud smile when she told me of this. That she knew that things would never be like this again. It makes me wish things were as simple in MY days.


  4. churchlady says:

    Sharon, this is one of your all-time best essays! I have lots of these sacks (most opened) in my antique shop, and every so often I sell one. Biggest market, though, is eBay. Fine, all-over two-color prints seem to sell the best (imagine for quilt backings). Funky, quirky designs like two bobby-soxers in a malt shop also bring big bucks. We’re talking $100+ for just one. Another thing I discovered recently is that the solid sacks (such as plain white, blue, yellow) also bring a premium. For the most part, it’s American seamstresses & crafters who are the best customers, but sometimes they go to Japan.


  5. Alexandra M. says:

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful and heartwarming series of articles. I genuinely appreciate them and enjoy reading each and every installment!!!!! My Grands were pure country folk—-humble, God-centered and beautiful. Such fond and treasured memories! 🙂


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