Tuesday 20 December 2011

Collect Those Stitching Memories Now Before It's Too Late - Even Flour Bags!

We were talking at the Textile Society AGM about the need to record or otherwise gather the stories of textile workers - stitchers, knitters, curators - whoever, before it is too late and their voices and experience lost. There was much discussion about the way this should be done: the correct way to elicit information and so on. Hopefully some course will be established to enable a more professional gathering. But as Richard says to me when I have the camera. Just take the shot! Then, if it hasn't moved, you can take time and get your perfect shot. And he is absolutely right. The number of times I have missed the moment completely because I was too hung up on getting the perfect shot. I say get the experiences down now - we can all do that with our mobile phones, pencils and paper - and we can work on refining them later, when we have learnt all the skills. History will not forgive us for being perfectly equipped after the moment is lost. And who in a grand prepared strategy of things would think to turn the topic to flour bags? Here is an example for you in the archives of the Highland Council. In the late 1970s, Mrs Rollo, an elderly resident of Friars Street, Inverness, shared her memories of old Inverness with a Mrs. Sneddon. Mrs. Rollo had lived as a child in Shore Street and moved to Friars Street in the early 1920s. She had five of a family; three boys and two girls. Her husband worked for the Highland Railway. In an audio extract, Mrs. Rollo remembers creating bed linen from flour bags. Click here to access the recording. Below is a transcript of the interview and above is a
photograph of Friars Street, where Mrs Rollo lived, with the steeple of the Old High Church in the background.

Interviewer: So, ye did some knitting but ye didn't really have much time but -
Mrs Rollo: No, no.
Interviewer: Well sewing?
Mrs Rollo: Oh aye. We'd make an mend - mend an patch everything.
Interviewer: Yes. An what about flour bags?
Mrs Rollo: Oh aye, flour bags. What did I do wi that?
Interviewer: Tel me where ye got them an what ye did wi them?
Mrs Rollo: Well, I got some from Mr. Anderson, the baker, an some from Mr. Grant in Eastgate. They had the meal store then.
Interviewer: An did ye have to buy them?
Mrs Rollo: Yes. I think we got them for sixpence each an they were good value, weren't they?
Interviewer: They were that.
Mrs Rollo: Compared to the day, the rubbish. An then if they were very, very highly coloured we would send them for the first cleaning, to the laundry, after we'd soaked them an got the worst of the flour out, we'd send - dry them off - an then send them to the laundry an they would bleach a lot o the colouring off. An then we would do the rest ourselves. So then we made them into cot sheets, or single-bed sheets, an pillow slips. That kept us going sewing.
Interviewer: It would have.


  1. Many are the quilts and dresses even that were made in my Mother's family back in the 1930's with flour sacks. My Father's mother made quilts with them too and with 10 children I'm sure there was clothing made as well.
    Angela in the US

  2. How right you are. In the group I belong to we are interviewing all our elderly members for their stories about embroidery and the rolls this played in their lives. All those little lives add the shading to the pictures of history and are very important.

  3. These memories are so precious - I love those words 'shading to the pictures of history' and you see we didn't have flour sacks where I lived when I was young. So things were done with sheets - worn sheets were cut down the middle and then sewn selvedge to selvedge so you had an interesting rib down the middle of the sheet instead of a bald patch - I always prefered bald patches... and when those finally gave way, then they were dyed and made into summer dirndl skirts or pinnies - a bit of embroidery and they looked fabulous!