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Flour Sack Costumes

Curated Submission
Craven, Saskatchewan
Circa 1950
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
Jacket 69; Skirt 70
Materials & techniques
Cotton flour sacking; Machine-sewn
Made by Eleanor Wagner
Saskatchewan Western Development Museum WDM-2009-S-315; WDM-2009-S-316
“Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without” might well have been the anthem of prairie folk struggling to survive the Dirty Thirties. In Western Canada a decade of drought and worldwide depression dealt a double blow, forcing thousands into a hand-to-mouth existence, scraping by to make ends meet. With growing families to clothe, ingenious mothers turned flour and sugar sacks into underwear, pajamas, shirts, and even dresses. Sacks were bleached and hung on clotheslines in the blazing sun to remove the offending labels. Still, many a child wore traces of Little John oats or Robin Hood flour on their back or bottom.

Pantywaists that stood the test
Had Pure Alberta Sugar across my chest
No lace or ruffles to enhance,
Just Quaker Oats upon my pants.
– Anonymous, c. 2005.

Pieced together and trimmed with a bit of embroidery, flour sacks also made serviceable aprons and dish towels, curtains and quilts. In the late 1940s an imaginative Eleanor Wagner, from the Craven area, north of Regina, Saskatchewan, transformed rolled oats and flour sacks into fetching mother-and-daughter costumes for a local Hard Times Dance at Kennell country school. Instead of removing the telltale evidence, she cleverly placed logos and printing to best advantage. Her three-piece outfit of sleeveless top, skirt, and long-sleeved jacket was emblazoned with brand names – decades before the practice became fashionable. A Victor oats tam, Windsor salt handkerchief, and homemade button jewellery complemented the hard times theme. Wagner decked out her young daughter in a delightful little Robin Hood flour sack pinafore. While the Western Development Museum collection contains a variety of artifacts made from flour and sugar sacks, these are by far the most creative examples.
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