Feed Sacks and Roses

Posted: March 6, 2013 in Great Depression, Letty Owings, living in poverty, Ray Owings MD

You guys must wonder where I have been for the past several months. I have been researching and writing the Frog Gravy legal case! I will begin to blog that soon. Today’s essay is a continuation of a historical series about Missouri farm life history.

Cross-posted at Firedoglake MyFDL

Bertha: the Singer 201K

photo by Princess Froglips on flickr

This is a nonfiction account of sewing, materials and clothing and how they progressed, from the late 1920s on a small Missouri farm, to the years beyond the war, as told by Letty Owings, age 88.

Feed Sacks and Roses

Massive change came to sewing over the years from the Great Depression to the post-WWII era, due to fabric importation from countries like China and India as well as the introduction of stretch (synthetic) fabric. The first time I really remember seeing a Made in China symbol, Ceaușescu was trading with Mao.

Before stretch fabric and textile importation, every store had a section where they sold bolts of cloth, and they also had remnant tables where they sold fabric scraps. Any town of any size had an industry, whether it was a button factory, a textile manufacturer, a sewing machine manufacturer, a foundry, a machine shop, or a related industry.

I first started learning to sew in 1929 when I was five and lived on a small farm in Missouri. I was fortunate, because my mother let me use the treadle sewing machine as soon as I could get up to it. Since we were so isolated on the small farm, I lived in a world of imagination and dolls, so I made doll clothes. When I reached the upper grades of grade school I started making children’s clothes for my aunt’s children, taking real pride in my work, and my aunt acted like she was grateful.

We washed our clothes with a scrub board (a washboard) and homemade soap. Our cleaning was not mechanized for many years because seclusion placed us behind the the times, but our first ‘washer’ was a hand-cranked wringer that we used to wring clothes that we had washed in a tub. Electricity did not extend to that rural area, even by the end of WWII. Our ironing board was made of wood.

By this time, the chicken feed industry had figured out how popular the sacks were for clothing, and they put color prints on the hen scratch sacks. My mother made everything, even underwear and hats, from the sacks. She also dressed so that all of her skin was covered for picking corn, because a tan was considered ugly. My mother sewed the sacks and the remnant table scraps for many years. My prom dress was pink sharkskin with a black collar. We took the collar off, and the prom dress was my dressy dress after that.

People continued to sew from feed sacks even in later years. When I was first married and lived in Georgia, we had a visitor who asked for a bed sheet. We didn’t have a bed sheet, but I made one, by sewing four feed sacks together. A woman across the street in Georgia had figured out how to make money by sewing for rich people. She sewed for the Southern belles, and she taught me how to attach embroidered butterflies to a garment so the butterflies appeared to be flying. She also taught me smocking and other sewing tricks. Also, during this time, I would go to the fancy department stores and draw the patterns for kid’s clothes, then take the patterns to remnant places and use the drawings to make my kid’s clothes. Often, stores did not carry much variety in boy clothes, but I made boy and girl clothes.

No female ever wore pants in the years before the war. It was an absolute no-no, although when they started making wool pants for snow, my mother got me a pair for three dollars, to wear for bobsledding. During the Rosie-the-Riveter cultural icon era, where women wore slacks and heavy shoes to work in the war plants, wearing slacks never carried over to the home. Even boys sometimes wore little dresses. One permissible exception was that a female could wear pants to sled ride and ice skate. Incidentally, a fabric black market arose during the war effort, since fabric went to the 24/7 war plants.

I tore a hole in the butt of my three-dollar wool pants, bobsledding on the river bluffs with friends, but I never told my mother, because first of all, she would have known where I had been. When I taught in the tiny school I had attended, I once wore slacks in the snow during a one-hour break. The next day, a girl told me that her father had called together a family meeting and read a passage from the Bible to illustrate how unacceptable it really was, for me to wear pants.

In 1941, Ray, the man I would marry, was called to service in the war. He came to my house with a dozen roses, to let me know. I was wearing slacks, and I ran across the yard to greet him. My mother was horrified that I would even think to greet a man outside, wearing slacks, and she screamed at me. My mother was an artist in her heart, but the other side of being an artist is often a feeling of social displacement, and this description fit my mother.

end notes, author’s disclosure and updates:

Letty’s husband, Ray, who came to the house with a dozen roses, served in the Pacific Theater of Operations, Battle of Okinawa, on the attack cargo ship Artemis Class USS Lacerta (AKA-29), as a boat Commander. He turned 90 in January, 2013. This Friday, his son and grandson will accompany him on a visit to Pearl Harbor, and the Pearl Harbor museum.

Ray and Letty, who tell their story, are my parents. This essay is part of a series. Links to some other essays:

Public Health Hospital and Charity Hospital New Orleans Internship of 1958

The Lavender Ribbon

A Kernel of Wheat

Medicine in a Rural Farming Community in 1920s Missouri

Resources for people who own treadle sewing machines today (maintenance, conversion, restoration, repair):

The Sewing Machine Shop

The Wood Shop


An Off-Topic bald eagle update: The Decorah Eagles chose a nest that is off camera, but Raptor Resource reports that Mom Decorah is sitting on her first egg. They have observed the ‘Decorah Shimmy’ from the ground. Dad Decorah Eagle occasionally visits the Y-Branch that is still on-camera.

  1. ed nelson says:

    Seeing the treadle machine, I bet you that was one of the things that the energy folks were… “non plussed” about, like just using normal elbow grease to do work, not too much encouraged by them who sell energy… Oh they don’t care if it kills the planet/bioshphere… !

    Those who are in the seats of power in corporations, why do they care so little? or, how can these people be so dense? As they really don’t see the problems?

    I postulate, that these people are compromised from… “cradle to grave”, in divergent ways.

    Now let me put it like this: (well, to make a division: “black Mail” vs. “conscription”…)

    That’s it! You get the goods, and blackmail, and you do other bad stuff… We are probably under a regime of such assholes, who are under black mail, and what ever other tricks that motivate total obescence. (ok it isn’t a word, but I mean it anyhow!).

    PS: do you remember as I think I do… that time, about… 10 years ago, when the congresses stood down and just stopped talking, they got the word to STFU! It was plaine to see, the whole bunch just stood down. Kennedy got his cancer… none of em said nothing no more, they got the word, and they know they are not to say anything!

    Maybe they don’t want to be tortured to death and their families too, maybe…

    • Greed is a hard animal to tame, Ed. And it causes so much pain in the world. I think that even if some people in power had everything in the world, it wouldn’t be enough. Because, with chronic spiritual bankruptcy, nothing is never ever ever enough.

      So good to see you and hear from you! Thank you so much for the comment, much appreciated.

  2. ed nelson says:

    I really like your term” “spiritual bankruptsy”… I mean you have it right there! That is it!

    I still wonder, and I still yet, wonder, about just about all the people I meet… whether they are on the one side: Good. Or: are they on the other side?

    I saw this in my cups… I saw it back a couple a years ago…

    And… I sawr that there is some kind of cosmic war… between good and bad.

    Crane, I tell you, I saw it, and I remember it, and it was: A war between the good angels, and the bad angels….

    I mean it!

  3. ed nelson says:

    Dear Crane Station: I have been a little worried, that my comments might be off the topic!

    And sure, they are off the topic of the main thrust of the diary… as per: your mom’s story.

    I want to tell you one thing: I have the very same story in my family. I have a total reverence for the folks who tell that story, and I am a guy who listened to the oral history of old timers…

    I think I might have put in some comments… that are not really germain, to your diary about your mom, who is so similar to my… gram… like I know about that life back there… the way they made everything in a big pot called a “washboiler”.

    My old ninety year old grammy would call me up on the phone, and say: come up, I got a good dinner! And, me, maybee already in my cupps!: would say, OK, do you want me to bring anything?…

    And what I mean: is: I learned of the ways of the old west, the old ways of the midwest, and so much more, I had a mentor/mentoress, I think I know something from those many years of contact with my mentor/grandmor…

    And they did quilts, and they did WTF. they did it, just like ole Letty told!

    • Off-topic is always welcome, no worries! Our next essay will be on medicine shows, side shows and minstrel shows. That will be Wednesday, and it should be very interesting!

      • ed nelson says:

        Thanks for the great posts, and thanks for what, in my thinking is: just superb quality!

        INOW’s, you are cool! And to the point of to say that you do so much good, I say: you should get the Nobel Prize!!!! Yeah, I mean it!

        Crane Station for Nobel PEace Prize. NOW! [ Petitiion to follow… ] I will sign it, it will prevail!!

        Oh gee, I wonder what the Crane Station person will be if we make her like a senator, WTF/ I will make her Presidentess!! A real person instead of a stick-figure painted wonder.

        You know this… you do the great thing of being real! You are believable, and that is prescious!

        Ed N

      • You are so sweet Ed. To cool for words. I have decided to enter some essay contests, we’ll see how it goes. Right now I am working on an essay about traveling snake oil medicine shows, traveling side shows (freak shows) and minstrel shows. Should have that one up by Wednesday. Thank you so much for your kind comment, it means a lot.

  4. ed nelson says:

    Hi there Crane baby… and a hellow to Fredrick L.

    Well the FDL site sure is a bust insofar as they will bann somebody… (even if the fool deservs it, I still would think it a good policy… (like they have any adhearance to anything like that… IE: like that an organization would have anything… corporatism!! (Dream you little ass off… Buckwheat… sweat heart!!)
    In the digress: the bastard turd small people, couldn’t rise to the task of answering my repeated quandry/question: “Why am I banned from your blogg? as I did pay them $45 and they never refunded that, even after I asked them to do so!

    That woman whent on the MSMBC program: Ed Schults: and she was sort of obnoxious to the host, and as far as I know, that was the end of her TV stuff.

    And she and her Veal Pen” well all they do now is talk about cat doo doo.

    IE: “Pull up your cat”… or… “Pull up a chair”… or… how about: “Pull up your cat’s tail and take a great big smell… and maybe a nice lick… You stupid asshole!”

    THat same person who took over the fucking cat obsessional, is the one that got me banned from the FDL… so called… transgenderist: Margaret! I also don’t like Larue, and I don’t like much… (the name is like the father of the Hydrogen bomb… but I think that guy (philip) may be ok, in the long run, because I like some of his posting… IE: the Alaska info.

    • Wait, You are not banned from my blog in any way shape or form! I haven’t been to my blog much lately because I am working on writing about the legal case for publication. I want the world to know just how amazingly fucked up the courts in Western Kentucky really are.

      As for banning at FDL and other sites, I do not know. If it is any consolation though, Fred was banned from Huffington Post years ago, and even though several people are impersonating him there and have stolen his identity and avatar, he has no say because they do not give a fucking shit about identity theft.

      Needless to say, I am done with HuffPo, because I truly believe it has about 6 readers and 50,000 sock puppets. Fuck em.
      I still love you here, and if I don’t get back to you that quick, it’s just because I haven’t been here, although I will post a couple of videos today.

  5. ed nelson says:

    Ok like you say… Crane babe.. so check the post too, not taht big of a deal… but tell you what: I am reading what you said above, I am learning… I will learn… until I can’t anymore!!

    • I did check the post, finally! I have had some rough road health-wise this past couple of weeks…not able to move around much with a back problem, plus just not feeling very well at all, but I did check and thank you so much.

      Looking through my legal case and others makes me physically sick. Kentucky courts routinely using bogus ‘experts’ who fake and falsify credentials….and Kentucky is so loud and proud with their non-stop fraud. Crap like this makes me want to vomit, all day long, but I am sort of slowly recovering, as I try to figure out how to write about Bogusness in the Courts! LOL, HAhaaa.

  6. ed nelson says:

    Hi Crane… incidentally… Crane like in “Sandhill Crane”, saw one down the way, and it is a walk, that they put in… and I came up to about maybe 60 feet in front of me was this gigantic bird, with its long beek ready to stike at something, a gopher, and so I stopped, (I’m not a ‘cock blocker’…), I don’t like to stop any normal processes that I may see, I prefer to let nature take its course when that is inconsequencial to my own.

    The Sandhill crane which, I don’t ever remember it around here as a kid… but they’re here now, I’ve seen a number of them, and they are huge, at least 4 ft tall, and this one I saw he grabbed the gopher and flew up and landed in the creek, where he swooshed it back and forth… to clean off the dirt, and/or to break its neck, pretty good idea if you know gophers have bad ass teeth!!

    Back and forth by the grip on its head in the water a couple of times and up and swallow whole, and then as it was a big gulp that sort of stayed half way down the throught… he/it took one more swallow of… that ‘pristine bay effluent mix with some “fresh water” from leaking sewers and springs and gutters.. and washed the meal down. IT was a real eye opener, if your into… Cranes! hee hee.

    ‘might be nice if you answer your blogg once in a while

    My best regards, E

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