“Ask for Flour Sack to Use for Clothing For Farmer’s Family,” said the headline in the Regina Leader Post, January 5, 1925, in an appeal to help a distressed Saskatchewan farm family. “Three successive crops dried up, hailed out and burned by fire—children take turns to wear one set of clothes.”
Sack clothing was popular for hard-pressed prairie farmers, in both Canada and the United States, in the 1920’s, more so in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and even into the 1950s. Sometimes referred to as “feedsack,” or even “chicken linen,” the most commonly used for clothing were cotton flour and sugar sacks. The sacks were used to make dresses, aprons, shirts, blouses, even underwear. A sack for 100 pounds of flour would make a shirt or blouse but a dress usually required three or more sacks.
While conditions were worst in the 1930s, farm distress was not unusual in the 1920s. “With agriculture all over the world suffering from prolonged depression, what is surprising is not that there is distress in some farming districts in Saskatchewan, but that distress is not far more widespread than it is,” the Leader reported three days before the appeal for flour sacks.
If farmers were distressed, so was all of Saskatchewan. Population on the prairie province by this time had risen to 815,000, of which 71 percent were located on 120,000 farms. On the farms, and in some cases in the towns, there was little money for clothing, and younger members from a farm often made do with hand-me-downs from older siblings.
The first flour sack dresses of unbleached cotton were as plain as the bald-headed prairie. Then one of the sack manufacturers found a competitive edge by offering sacks in bright colours and attractive patterns. Flour sack cloth became popular, particularly in the United States. The sack makers helped by offering free booklets with dress patterns and advice on how to make them. For clever seamstresses, sack clothing became as attractive most store-brought clothes
Cotton shortages in the Second World War brought a revival of sack clothing, particularly dresses. Lizzie Bramlett, of North Carolina, in her website, Fuzzy Lizzy Vintage Clothing, says her aunt, in 1945, made her wedding dress from feed sacks.
In the 1950s, sugar and flour mills began to package their products in less costly paper bags, bringing an end to sack clothing.