My neighbor Shirley was showing us photographs from her youth. I smiled as I looked at images of Shirley and her classmates weaving ribbons around a flag pole that had been festively transformed into a May Pole on that sunny afternoon in 1940.
And best of all….Shirley was wearing a flour sack.
Now here is the thing about our ideas about upcycling and repurposing….we sometimes forget recent history and mistakenly think that these are new ideas. We put upcycling into the same category as guerrilla gardening and yarn bombing, and we make it the domain of hipsters and Buddy Holly look-alikes.
But here was Shirley, proudly photographed in a smart, well-made dress…a dress made from a flour sack. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Shirley spent that afternoon telling Joe and I stories of going shopping with her family and getting to choose the flour and sugar and even chicken feed bags, specifically for the patterns of the sack. A new sack meant new clothes. And the companies that made flour and rice and animal feed knew about this and actually chose to make their packaging out of attractive cotton fabric. Companies would print their label on the cloth bag with washable ink and smart companies switched up their patterns regularly, knowing that different patterns meant more paying customers! What a great marketing technique! And thank goodness that back then, Mamas really knew how to sew!
Now I have talked to many people about my love of Shirley’s flour sack dresses. “Oh, that was back in the Depression!” some friends respond. Others say, “Was that during World War II?” and might refer to the tough times of ration books and Victory Gardens. Many say, “Thank goodness it isn’t like that now!” Somehow, repurposing out of necessity is acceptable only in the grimmest of times.
But aren’t we in a recession of sorts right now? In recent years, have our pay increases kept up with the rising costs of gasoline, food and heat? And in recent months, hasn’t the U.S. economy showed itself to be a bit more fragile than many of us had thought it might be? “Fiscal cliff”….whether we knew what it really meant or not, it sounded scary, right?
It is wonderful to me that repurposing and upcycling have crossed over into the arena of the cool and the trendy. But many of us repurpose some things and feel environmentally responsible, but most of us don’t actually use repurposing to improve our own financial position. So I am suggesting that we all try to do a little more of that. Cause after all, we are living in hard times. But I am not suggesting that you all go out and clothe yourselves exclusively in commercial packaging, discarded items, and flour sacks….unless you want to, of course. If so, I have a few calico print cloth shower curtains that might make a smart set of cover-alls. Just say the word, and they are yours!