Taffeta or flour sack?

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Apr 03, 2019
Courtesy of: Marion Tucker-Honeycutt Larry and Marion Tucker in 1940.

Time to start putting away the heavy coats and pack up winter woolens in moth balls (or, as I prefer, dried lavender flowers), unpack our cottons and hang the sheets on the line. Winter's back is broken, seedlings behind the stove and it’s all uphill from here.

Digging out my summer cottons, I can’t but think about our clothes back up on the farm so many long years ago and all the changes in styles and materials over the decades. Today, as on the farm back in the '30s and '40s, we wore the natural fabrics: wool, cotton, linen, silk. (We somehow survived the “polyester years” in the '60s and '70s.)

Back on the farm, bedroom closets were only about a foot and a half deep. Women had their “Sunday go-to-meeting dress” and a few “house dresses.” One pair of “good shoes” and one pair for every day. Men, like Grampa, had a couple pairs of denim overalls — Grammie sent for the denim from the Sears Catalog (the Amazon of the day) and made them herself. He had a dress shirt, pants and jacket for when the occasion arose. A Maine guide and hunter, he had his heavy woolen pants and jackets for winter. It was a far cry from the walk-in closets of today, big enough for a small bedroom and stuffed with enough clothes and shoes to open a small store.

Grammie’s house dresses — what housewives wore at home, sort of like a uniform while going about their daily routine — she made from cottons, usually calico. I miss the old calicos — from Sears.

Most of my clothes were made from flour sacks. Back then, flour came in 20- or 50-pound bags made of sturdy, close-weave white cotton. Women then baked all their own breads, biscuits, cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, etc. During the Great Depression years, housewives would save the bags, take the side seams out and use them for towels, pillow cases, café curtains, and then started making clothing from them.

Today, “white flour sack” towels are available again — without the flour. I use them for hand towels, dish towels and in the summer, bath towels. And I made my dining area curtains from them, stencilling a border pattern to match the room's colors.

The flour mills quickly caught on to the ladies' use of the flour sacks and started printing the cloth with "flower" patterns. These are what most all my clothing was made from. Grammie made me blouses, skirts and "over aprons" and sewed a matching color design with baby rickrack.

The "over apron" was what both housewives and girls wore over their clothes to help keep the dresses, blouses, etc., clean. Should you go to town or should a car appear down the farm road, you would simply take the apron off and you were presentable. I can still see Grammie, if company came over the hill, quickly whip off the apron and reach to straighten out her hair.

When I was 8, someone gave me a store-bought dress. It was a fairy princess creation, powder blue and all rustling taffeta and frills. Along with a new pair of patent leather shoes, I was some proud.

Come Sunday, we were going out to my cousins' farm for dinner. I wanted to wear my princess outfit. Grammie said I probably should save it for special occasions but I wouldn’t be dissuaded. Grammie acquiesced, letting me learn my own lesson.

So I proudly showed up at my cousins' farm decked out like a city peacock. While my aunt and grammie got dinner together, we kids — my brother, me and my cousins — went out to play, as usual. However, when they started a game of “It” which meant running around in the yard and fields, I quickly learned that patent leather scuffs. So I stood and watched like a lifeless China doll.

And so it went while the rest of them played games, but when they went to the barn for my favorite game of climbing up into the haymow, scampering out on a beam and jumping off into a mound of hay, I was really wishing I had on my sturdy shoes and flour-sack clothes.

It was a lesson I have pretty much followed even to this day. I have my Sunday-go-to meeting clothes for "occasions" but I prefer my comfortable everyday cottons and wools along with sturdy shoes with toe-wiggle room.

And I wish I could still climb the beams.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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