Thursday, November 7, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Flour and Feedsacks Served More Than One Purpose

1930s composition doll in flour sack dress

Studying the antique and vintage dolls in one area of display, my husband noticed a circa 1930s full-bodied composition doll that I have owned for years.  She was purchased along with a much larger full-bodied composition doll from a woman selling her mother's dolls.  It is apparent that the previous owner hand sewed both dolls' dresses with love.  The larger doll wears a handmade dress of yellow Dotted Swiss.  About the smaller one, my husband noted, "She's wearing a dress made from a flour sack."

Really?  How do you know?  Tell me more?  were some of my questions.

He answered:
Mama Jo (his grandmother) used to sew for her children, grandchildren, and people in the neighborhood.  She loved to sew.  Sewing was part of her daily routine.  After she cooked breakfast and did other chores around the house, she sewed until time to cook "supper."

She'd place a piece of newspaper on the floor, have the child lie flat on it, and trace around her body.  She'd place the newspaper pattern on top of two equal pieces of the flour sack and cut the pattern out leaving about an inch around all sides for the seam.  Then she'd sew the dress or whatever she was making completely by hand.  She'd use long strips to create the sleeves by sewing the ends together first.  Then she'd run a loose stitch along the folded edges and leave enough thread on each end to pull through the material to gather the edges.  Other pieces of fabric would be used for the front of the dress and to make a collar.  She'd also make waistbands.  My granny was bad [great]!  She could sew anything!  She took in laundry, too.  Her sheets were so white you'd have to wear shades... and she did everything by hand!

One of Mr. G's recently framed paintings of a rural woman doing laundry with baby in tow was probably inspired by his granny's handiwork.   (Although the woman looks nothing like his granny, the domestic work she is performing mimics what he, as a young child, witnessed Mama Jo do.)

Nice visual, I thought.  Mama Jo, a petite light-skinned woman with waist-length brown hair, was in her 90s when I met her in the early 1970s.  She died a few years later.  Other than owning one of her quilts, I was not able to enjoy the depths of her creativity. 

Closeup of the flour sack material used to make my doll's dress

Mr. G.'s account of Mama Jo's use of cotton print feed sacks is verified in an online article I read:

Farmer’s wives took advantage of this new source of essentially free fabric by turning the empty cotton sacks into everything from dishrags to dresses. Some feed companies, alerted to this reuse of their bags, began to print their sacks in gaily colored patterns—since it usually took more than one bag to make a dress, the idea was to give the farmer an incentive to keep buying their products.
I own several other dolls form the 1930s and prior.  Chances are that others also wear hand sewn dresses made from cotton floral print feed sacks during the early 1900s.  This was an excellent way to repurpose and economically sew clothing for dolls as well as for people.  Clothing of this nature also carries with it a piece of the dressmakers' creative spirit long after the dressmaker departs.


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  1. Making dresses out of feedsacks is a subplot of the 2008 movie "Kit Kittredge, an American Girl," a movie about one of the AG dolls.

    1. Thanks for sharing this information Skippercollector. I haven't seen that AG movie.

      I was at the AG website yesterday to check on prices of the Bitty Babies; my nice wants twin Bitty Babies for Christmas.

  2. Oh my goodyness! Thank you for your share of this because I hadn't seen it Black Doll. I am so happy someone gets it and verifies what Im saying. Love you girl.

    1. You're welcome, Sara. As a young child my husband lived that life (rural) where making do and repurposing was a way of life. I am sure people who lived in the city did much of the same thing in the last 40s/early 50s through 60s, but those who lived in rural-type settings did not have access to the amenities that city folk took for granted, even poor city folk had it better than people who lived in rural/farm-type settings. So he gets it. I love listening to his stories.

      Love you, too!



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