When Mother was a child on a small farm in Tennessee, one of five children, times were tough. They grew most of their food, canning vegetables, preserving fruits, smoking hams and bacon. Mother said there were days when supper was nothing but biscuits and sawmill gravy (made from leftover bacon grease, mainly.) Cornbread and biscuits were the staples of existence.
When she told me that her mother made dresses for them out of flour sacks, I found this hard to picture or to believe. I thought the fabric must have been rough, like a feed sack. Recently I did a little research, and saw that the fabric was necessarily thick and tough, to protect the contents, which were basically flour or chicken feed. But companies were marketers back then, too, so they began to use prints which looked more like something you’d want to wear, instead of advertising Martha White.
The only good part about it is that nearly everyone in their community was in the same state, so wearing a flour sack dress did not make you conspicuous. The only halfway affluent person was the postman and his wife–and he also farmed and sold milk. Mother was keenly aware that there were better dresses to be had, and that her family could not afford them. And she loved her Papa so much, she would never have said anything to make him feel bad that he could not provide for more.
Nonetheless, she was thrilled when she got a new dress one fall that was actually storebought. She set off for school with Elsie, her best friend (who married Daddy’s brother later when they were grown up. ) Elsie admired the dress, and asked Mother to switch with her. So she did, and Elsie arrived at school in the new dress. I can’t think why Mother did this, as badly as she wanted a new dress. I guess she loved Aunt Elsie more.