Hands On Hemp didn't invent the idea of using cloth reusable bags for carrying and storing food, we just took a good idea, that's been around long before plastic or paper bags, and made it better with sustainable hemp cloth!

Cloth flour sacks and feed sacks were used since the 1800's, from the earliest years of pioneering and settling the United States. At the time these cloth sacks were introduced they made transport easier than the old barrels, boxes, and tins used to transport food staples, grains, flour, seeds, and animal feed,

Storing and transporting these goods in barrels, boxes and tins was replaced by this new cost-efficient cloth sack for many reasons. Because of the invention of the sewing machine, and the ability to sew a stronger seam than a hand-stitched seam, the cloth sack was the preferable method of storing and transporting goods. And, because it was lighter weight and easier to toss a cloth sack on the back of a horse than trying to transport bulky and heavier items, it became the preferable method of transporting goods.

In the Depression era (1921-1941), both money and cloth were scarce. Due to their strong and well-made fabrics, cloth flour and feed sacks inevitably became fashionable as clothing.

Because people didn’t have money, women would recycle the cloth sacks to sew clothes for the entire family.

The flour and grain companies immediately caught on to this trend. They began making the cloth bags in all kinds of interesting colors and patterns–making the bags themselves, as much as the products they contained, hotly desired items.

Clothes could be somewhat unique because flour and grain companies kept producing new patterns and discontinuing previous ones. And, depending on the skill of the seamstress, these bags could be legitimate fashion statements!

 

The Flour Sack:  A Poem By Colleen B. Huber

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. 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 feather and down,
For a pillow, or t'would make a 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,
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, Elmer's Glue
And paper towels, what did you do?"
Tell them loudly and with pride don't lack,
"Grandmother had that wonderful flour sack!"

 

LEARN MORE:

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MORE FACTS ABOUT FLOUR SACKS:

A 1942 estimate showed that three million women and children of all income levels were wearing print cloth feedbag garments.

Cloth feed and flour sacks were used to make:

  • Clothes
  • Toys
  • Underwear
  • Pillowcases
  • Diapers
  • Laundry bags
  • Curtains
  • Table cloths
  • Towels, dish cloths

Flour sacks in World War I

The Commission for Relief in Belgium was a voluntary effort established during the World War I under the chairmanship of Herbert Hoover, for the purpose of providing food relief to war torn Belgium. Between 1914 and 1919 up to 11,000,000 Belgians were fed through this relief organization.

The CRB shipped 697,116,000 pounds of flour, sugar and grains to Belgium. The flour was packaged in cotton bags by American mills.The empty flour sacks were carefully accounted for and distributed to professional schools, sewing workrooms, convents, and individual artists.

The flour sacks were used by various Belgian groups to make new clothing, accessories, pillows, bags, and other functional items. Many women chose to embroider over the mill logo and the brand name of flour, but entirely original designs were sometimes created on the sacks and then embroidered, painted, or stenciled on the fabric.

Frequent additions to the flour sacks were Belgian messages of gratitude to the Americans. Artists used the flour sacks as the canvas background for creating original oil paintings.

The completed flour sacks were carefully controlled and distributed to shops and organizations in Belgium , England , and the United States for the purpose of raising funds for food relief and to aid the prisoners of war. Many were also given as gifts to the member of the Commission for Relief in Belgium out of gratitude for the aid given the Belgian people.

Herbert Hoover was given several hundred of these flour sacks as gifts and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum has one of the largest collections of World War I flour sacks in the world. (See the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum website for more information about this war effort.)