Making Clothes And Underwear Made From Mother Hubbard Flour Bags


Ma had an old foot-pedaled sewing machine. I don't remember a great deal about it--even though it was an important fixture in our house. I only remember that there was some sort of oval box that as placed over it when it wasn't in use. All of our families woman's clothes were made by Ma.

Cloth for outer wear could be purchased from the hucksters who made their periodic rounds through the patches. These same vendors also carried a few patterns. Most families had three or more daughters thus in need of multiple patterns in different sizes.

The cheaper route followed by the poorer families (the laborers) was to reuse patterns and if you didn't have a pattern for your ten year old daughter, you might visit a neighbor with a ten year old and make a copy of her pattern. Newspaper or wrapping paper was used.. Another source were old worn dresses. Before being used as dust rags, they were disassembled and a pattern was cut.

As for our family, Ma had only one pattern in different sizes and from it she made all our dresses with short sleeves for the summer and long sleeves for the winter. There were no other variations--no bleating, smocking, collars etc..All of our dresses were long and modest.

We envied our cousins. Aunt Helen was a better seamstress and liked variety. They managed to look more stylish. Ma was practical to the point of futility --at least on our part. “Clothes were made to cover the body and not for show or vanity.” Grandmother agreed. The Issue was not to be challenged except with maturity.

Ma also made all our under wear from bleached Mother Hubbard flour bags. They were practical but nothing more. Some of our cousins and friends had store bought clothes. Their underwear had embroidery and lace.

When my sister Mary reached her teens she became more aware of these differences and would spend hours embroidering and crocheting lace on her Mother Hubbard underwear..

Being innovative, Mary also found ways of making blouses from my older brothers shirts. Periodically Ma would buy remnants of cloth marked down by the huckster, so that Mary could make her own skirts. Mary was always very neat and tried to look fashionable.

It was always my hope that I might grow into Mary's clothes before they were ready for the rag pile.

All of my sisters britches along with my own were made from MOTHER HUBBARD flour bags. The bags were first washed and then hung in the sun to bleach. This was a slow process and not too effective. The figure of MOTHER HUBBARD was staunchily imprinted on each article.

There she was with her stiff white bonnet, a full dress with a ruffled white blouse, and holding a loaf of bread.

On Mondays, all one had to do was to walk through the yards and observe all the baselines to know what flour each family proffered. What better advertisement than a line full of slips and britches, each heralding that they were once stuffed with KING MIDAS, GOLD MEDAL or MOTHER HUBBARD flour!

These bags surely proved their worth- even though the stuffing changed from time to time.

We used a lot of flour. Ma had a big round deep boiler with a tight lid which held a 100 pounds of flour. This was kept in the kitchen near the stove so that the flour was always warm and ready for bread making.

As for the boys and men they always wore ready-made.

No one ever made fun of our underwear. Our dresses were long, and we were always careful as to how we sat. This was for two reasons.

The first was modestly and the other to avoid embarrassment should MOTHER HUBBARD be caught peeking out from our covers.