Way Back in the Day…

Did Granny or Mom make clothes out of feed-sacks? Did you wear outfits with rickrack or smocking? Blog friend/author S. K. Nicholls reminisces in this recent post.

S.K. Nicholls

My grandmother never bought her clothes. She made most everything she wore. Sometimes her sister in Montgomery, Alabama, would send her store bought dresses.  That was a time when the sewing machine (and the piano) was the most prized piece of furniture in the house.

She baked her own bread, biscuits, cornbread, hoecakes, white bread, and pancakes. The flour and meal came in big fifty pound fabric bags. The feed sacks and flour sacks came in pretty floral prints and stripes, bright calicoes and solids.

cutting-the-pattern-out-pioneer-dress-300x225She would wash and dry the fabric and lay it out on the dining table, pin a pattern in place, trace it and cut it out. We would have to stand for what seemed like hours while she pinned the hems. She made all of our clothes that way. We literally wore flour sacks to school.

Here’s a picture that made it in the local…

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13 thoughts on “Way Back in the Day…

  1. Interesting article but I was very disappointed in the ending. The beautiful machine has been stored in the garage for who knows how long and now is being gotten rid of to clear our the garage? Ach! I feel so sad for it. 😦


  2. That is the way my Grandmother grew up too, on a large farm in Toledo, Ohio. They made everything, and my Great Grandmother also made pies and sold them to the men in the area putting in roads. She made clothes for five children, and everyone had jobs to do to make the household run. That is just the way it was. That old sewing machine hopefully is cherished by someone else who will adore it and take really good care of it.


    1. You come from a rich heritage too, Terry. I can tell you admire both you Grandmother and Great Grandma, an enterprising woman like you who used her skills to provide for the family and taught her children to do the same. It runs in the family!


  3. No, we did not have any smocking on our clothes. Rick rack on aprons, yes. I remember my mother sent for a grab bag of ribbons and laces that was advertised in the paper. The paper in the back pages, always used to have a pattern for sale, 75¢ I think it was, maybe even less. I loved that stash of decorative bits and used it on the dresses I made for my dolls.

    We have quilts made out of the feed sack fabric. I have one made for my mother by her grandma…you can see the backing is pieced. We took all quilts into the museum about 15 years ago when they had an expert there and they were recorded as to pattern, fabric, age, origin (area of country) and condition. Also , verbal family history of quilt, if known. A tag was sewn to corner of quilt for reference to the file.

    My oldest girl just finished her 3rd quilt, though she prefers using the machine for piecing and quilting. And I know exactly where our family treadle machine is and it’s in working condition, too.


    1. An artist with dolls, Athanasia! I have always thought it would be so hard to make doll dresses because of having to maneuver the sewing machine around tight corners. A few years before she died, Grandma Beaman made doll clothes for our daughter Crista and knitted an afghan for us in blue and brown yarn.

      You are introducing me to an new art form too, quilts made of feed sack fabric. I love how the tags sewn into the corner of the quilt connect it to its history. The quilts my mother helped make at her church were shipped to needy countries through the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief organization.

      Several months ago, I published a post on my own sewing history entitled Secrets of the Ra-Ra Sewing-hood: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2013/05/04/secrets-of-the-ra-ra-sewinghood/ You’ll see a lot of dress patterns here with cheap prices similar to the ones you described, Athanasia. Thanks for your detailed comment!


  4. I wore my first “store bought dress” when I was six. The man living next to my grandmother owned a dress factory and gave me and my cousin dresses for Christmas. My mother and my aunt made all our clothes up until then, and I had the added benefit of hand me downs from my older cousin. My grandmother was Mennonite and made all her clothes on a Singer treadle. I was fortunate enough to inherit it.


    1. What a legacy and on top of that you inherited the Singer treadle – I wonder, do you use it or is it “just for show’ – ha!

      My Great Aunt Sue worked in a garment factory and she gave us dresses which supplemented Mother’s sewing. Thanks for stopping by today, Barbara!


  5. I can’t even begin to imagine sewing clothes for an entire family on a peddle-powered sewing machine.

    Our school clothes were purchased at the store and were meant to last (behave like a lady!). Our play clothes were purchased at a thrift store and we could behave like the “Tomboys” that we were. I wore my sister’s hand-me-downs until one glorious day when I grew taller. I’m pretty sure the angels sang that day; I know I did!


    1. Your comments are as descriptive and vibrant as your posts. There is more than one advantage to being taller, something I am reminded of when I have to climb on a chair to reach high shelves. Now I wonder, did your sister get your hand-me-downs? Ha!


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