Last week, I wrote about mothers and shared a few fond memories of my own.

Once the wheels started turning, related topics quickly came to mind. My mother was no Betsy Ross with a needle and thread, but I often watched her darn socks with a china egg inside.

I also recall her patching the knees of my knickers over and over as the result of my slipping on the rocks, falling out of trees and destroying most of my britches. There was rarely a new article of clothing for children or adults in our house.

That's why I had to wear those hateful knickers in the first place.


Hand-me-downs were commonplace in those years, but are almost never seen in modern homes. Things are made to be disposable these days, but it wasn't always so.

I think we invented recycling out of sheer necessity. I often put my pocketknife to good use on the way to school by cutting the rubbers around the knickers' knees, much to my mother's everlasting consternation.

Nothing was thrown away. Even bits of string were wound into balls and saved for some future use.

After the pants and shirts were no longer patchable, they went into the ragbag, assuming a new life for cleaning or in braided rugs.

My mother and Kaye's told people we had three sets of clothes: "wash, wear and go without." When we complained about tough meat, they said, "It's tougher where there's none."

Our clothes were mostly purchased secondhand, adjusted to fit my older brother, Jim, and readjusted to fit me.


I remember an old Singer treadle sewing machine in our house, but I'm not at all sure my mother was very adept at using it. We played with it more as a toy than anything else, pushing the treadle incessantly, watching the long, leather belt turn the wheel and being fascinated by the needle going up and down.

My mind was set to whirling a week or so ago when Sue Connick shared a poem from our mutual friend, Marge Wood. Its title is simply "The Flour Sack," penned by Colleen B. Hubert. It begins, "In that long ago time when things were saved, when roads were graveled and barrels were staved, when worn-out clothing was used as rags, 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."

Marge and Sue wanted me to copy it for Millie Sears to see if she recalled when Marge's mother-in-law, Valeda Wood, lived almost across from Millie's mother, Phoebe LaMar, on Route 22B in Peru.

The poem was a great springboard. Millie said that her mother (like my own) wasn't much of a seamstress; so Valeda would help her make things out of flour sacks back in late '30s or early '40s.

Millie also remembers her mother and the other ladies fashioning beautiful quilts out of the cotton milk strainer squares.


Millie doesn't recall wearing any of the flour-sack dresses, but many folks do. The colorful sacks were also used to make tea towels, dish towels, bonnets and even underpants.

The flour-sack poem is a veritable historic document, outlining in rhyme how the string in the empty cotton sack was taken out and saved. The sacks were used to make pillows and nightshirts, book bags, bibs, kerchiefs, diapers, skirts, aprons, slips, blouses and all manner of other useful things.

I won't go into the economic reasons why the cotton sack replaced the wooden barrel for storing and transporting various items, but it is interesting to note to what lengths those home-brewed seamstresses went in an effort to remove the original labels from the bags.

I have read that lard, lye soap, kerosene and various kinds of bleach were utilized toward that end. A wonderful article titled "Soft Covers for Hard Times," by Merikay Waldvogel, relates a hilarious anecdote: "One young girl was out walking with her beau when she tripped and fell. Oh, how embarrassed she was when her betrothed noticed her underdrawers imprinted with Southern Best.'"


By the time Phoebe and Valeda started using the flour sacks for clothes and other household things, the companies had long since realized that they would sell more feed and flour if their sacks were jazzed up with floral and other bright designs. It worked. The sacks were even imprinted with pictures of dolls that could be cut out, stuffed and used as toys. Such items are now becoming very desirable as collectables.

Paper and plastic bags replaced the cotton sacks when I was a teenager in the '50s, but I remember some of the items made from flour sacks remaining around the house in those days.

I recall another of my mother's phrases, and I've heard Kaye use it with our own children: "Make do or do without."

I still save lots of "stuff." Hey, you never know.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

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