Last week, I wrote about how important it is to write down your memories of the days gone by. We’ve experienced vast changes in our lives in the past several decades, and it’s easy to take for granted such things as running water or pre-packaged food, or clothing purchased off the rack, as they say.

Sometimes, just a few words overheard or read, can trigger a whole chapter of memory that will never be experienced again. This happened to me just by chance last week.

In addition to writing this column, I also edit obituaries for Current Publishing. Many of these obituaries (or life stories) are very interesting and usually offer a few glimpses into history. One recent life story mentioned that the late woman had been a seamstress and had sewn clothing from flowered grain bags.

Flowered grain bags. I’d almost forgotten about them.

Many years ago, most country families kept a few chickens in a henhouse and chicken yard in the back of the house. Daily gathering of eggs, during the season when hens were laying eggs, was a job for the children. We’d even help feed the hens. Chickens eat grain, also called “feed” and so regular trips to the old Blue Seal Feeds in South Windham were part of growing up in the country.

Grain came in bags – not always burlap, although that was quite common. Sometimes grain or chicken feed came in 100 percent cotton bags, printed in calico in a variety of prints. After the grain was all gone, my mother would wash the bags, take them apart at the long seam and hang them out to dry on the clothesline in back of the house. They were just the right size for pillowcases, but more often, the material was used for sewing.

These beautiful printed bags were turned into aprons, quilts and clothing.

I remember one year, each of us three girls had five new dresses, complete with puffed sleeves, eyelet trim and buttons up the back. Long sashes were tied in a bow in the back. These creations were cut out without a pattern and sewed on a Singer treadle sewing machine. It wasn’t until I took home economics in high school that I was introduced to an electric machine and found out about clothing patterns.

Long years later, I am still amazed at the talent it took to change a feed sack into a proper school dress.

Nowadays, these flowered or gingham feed sacks can be found on the Internet, with prices starting at about $30 each. They’re advertised by old-time stores that specialize in selling quaint, country items. New, 100 percent cotton material can be purchased today at around $3 a yard, according to the latest information I have. Of course, in the olden days, the feed sacks were free with the purchase of the grain in them. Too bad we couldn’t figure out a way to use all the packaging material we get today.

I would love to hear about some of your memories. Drop me a line at 114 Tandberg Trail, Windham, ME 04062.


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