sack cloth clothing

During the Depression era in the 1930s. many people didn’t have much money so they “made do” with what was available. Most clothing was homemade. For people lived on farms, they bought animal feed and flour in sacks made of finely woven cotton fabric. They used the fabric to make clothes – shirts, underwear, dresses, kids clothes, kitchen towels, curtains, quilts.

The companies who sold these products realized that their customers were repurposing the sack cloth for clothing, so the companies printed the fabric with attractive designs, that don’t having anything with feed or flour, but people appreciated the print fabric for clothing.

  • 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.
  • Feedsack dress – By the 1940s the bag manufacturers were turning out bags in bright colors and printed designs. It was felt that these designs and colors would boost sales, because the woman of the house would always select the brand with the most attractive fabric.
  • Flour sack – Because they came along with the purchase of essential flour, flour sacks were universally recycled and used by many cultures as a source of free textiles for clothing and other necessities.

That’s Engineering!

How might we make the bags we use to ship flour more attractive so that our customers can recycle these bags to make clothing and household items?

The flour bags used to hold flour were made of densely woven cotton fabric. When people started to use the fabric for other things like clothing, the flour company realized that they could increase business by helping customers reuse the bags.

  • print information about the flour in ink that could be washed out of the bag before reuse. They even printed the instructions for removing the ink on the bags.
  • print the bags with patterns that were suitable for clothes and curtains. Prints came in many different colors – blue was popular. There were patterns for ladies’ dresses, men’s shirts, kids clothing, even instructions for making toys like dolls and stuffed animals.

Engineering ideas

  • recycle, washable, temporary, permanent, print, woven

Do it
Challenges for you to work on…

  • design a repeating pattern for printing. Make a basic design on a 4″ x 4″ square of paper. Make the design in a way that it tiles – looks like a continuous design when several squares with the same design are placed together along the edges to simulate print.

Learn more…

  • Living History Farm
  • Smithsoneon Museum of American History
  • Feedsacks – A 1942 estimate showed that three million women and children of all income levels were wearing print feedbag garments. Many sacks had themes. Some of the more collectible sacks now are those with Walt Disney themes (Davy Crockett, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy), movie themes (Gone with the wind, above), Comic book themes (Buck Rogers) or nursery rhyme themes (BoPeep, Humpty Dumpty)

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