How Amish Beehives Came to Lehman’s

Amish-made beehives recently arrived at Lehman’s, and how we found them is a unique, not your run-of-the-mill tale, one that involves handwritten letters, friendly honeybees, and of course, Sal. Continue reading

25 Ways to Use Flour Sack Towels Around the Home

One of the cornerstones of being prepared is to identify items that multitask and to embrace their use during normal times. Doing so not only saves money, but also saves storage space and eliminates having to choose which product or item to use for what.

A good example is the common Mason jar. Another is the flour sack dishtowel.

I was chatting with Backdoor Survival reader, Susan Perry, about this very same thing when she offered to share her top twenty-five uses for flour sack towels. How cool is that?

I grew up around flour sack dishtowels. I remember how my grandmother used them for everything including cleaning rags, aprons, and tidy little bundles holding dry goods. I had forgotten about them until ten years ago when I saw a package at Wal-Mart. There was no looking back and I still use those same towels today. I even embroidered them myself with colorful little cabins.

What the Heck are Flour Sack Dishtowels?

As a homesteader, I’m all about quality when it comes to basic supplies, and as an herbalist who also loves cooking from scratch, that goes double in the kitchen. I discovered years ago that when it comes to kitchen towels, flour sacks are the only way to go.

Although the term might provoke an image of rough, dusty, oversized rags, they are quite the opposite. They’re super absorbent, lint free, and vastly superior to the decorative towels you might find at a department store.

A Short History of Flour Sack Towels

It all started back in the 1850’s. Those old wooden barrels were heavy and bulky. Cotton had become inexpensive, so grain mills began shipping flour in large, thick cotton bags strong enough to hold fifty pounds.

Before long, cotton bags were being used not only for flour, but also for sugar, seeds, animal feed, fertilizer, and more. These goods were sent out to general stores and carried home by horse and wagon. Resourceful housewives soon realized that the bags’ sturdy fabric was way too useful to be tossed out. Rural families typically had limited income, and soon this packaging material was finding new life not only as towels, but also as aprons, diapers, coverlets, and even clothing.

Of course, no one wanted to wear a shirt or dress with the name of a flour company printed across the front for all the world to see. Housewives learned how to remove the labels with several rounds of soaking and washing with lye soap and bleach.

Over time, manufacturers decided they could increase their profits by upgrading the bags. They began using removable paper labels and started printing embroidery patterns onto the fabric. But the real excitement began in the mid-1920s when cotton mills started producing sacks using colorful flower prints, border designs for pillowcases and curtains, and patterns for children’s clothing, dolls, and teddy bears.

During the Great Depression, women fashioned clothing out of flour sacks.

The clever use of cotton sacks only increased during the depression years, and as clothing wore out, every scrap was put to use in beautiful, carefully designed quilts.

I’d been on my farm only a few months when I discovered today’s version of flour sack cloths. A neighbor showed me the Lehman’s Catalogue, and there they were, more than thirty inches long and almost as wide. With every week that went by, I found more ways to use them. That was twenty years ago, and I still find a new use for one every now and then.

Two Kinds of Flour Sack Towels

For homestead use, the best towels measure at least 30 by 30 inches and are thick and durable, made of pristine, high-quality cotton cloth with hemmed edges and a high thread count. With their quality and size, these are the most useful and longest lasting kind, giving good service for many years.

They are perfect for dealing with large batches of herbs and produce. I’ve used them to carry two gallons or more of blueberries from the counter to the sink.

The one thing I don’t use them for is straining herbs, yogurt, or jellies, as the thick fabric usually holds back too much of the liquid. I’ve even had the liquid squirt out the top and onto the counter when I tried to hurry things along by squeezing.

Some may think the smaller, lesser quality towels are not worth having, but I disagree. Their thinner fabric makes them the best choice for straining. They are much less expensive and readily available at discount stores such as Wal-Mart. I keep a kitchen drawer full for daily dish drying and counter wiping, and for small batches of herbs or produce.

There are other sizes and fabric choices, so hopefully the above will help you decide what you need.

Twenty-Five Ways to Use Flour Sack Towels

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels In the Kitchen:

  1. Cover bread dough and baked goods to keep them warm while rising.
  2. Wrap and cover dinner rolls and breads to keep them warm at the table and contain crumbs.
  3. Spread towels out on the counter to drain produce after rinsing.
  4. Fold a towel in half and sew a seam on the edge of the long side, and on one of the short edges. This makes a bag you can use for storing produce in the refrigerator.
  5. Line a refrigerator drawer with a slightly damp towel to keep greens, lettuce, and salad items moist and fresh. The produce won’t be harmed as it would be by plastic wrap, which can quickly cause deterioration.
  6. Sort blueberries on white towels to easily see and remove damaged berries, loose stems and bits of leaf; clean the berries by holding up one end of the cloth and rolling them from one cloth to another. Any remaining debris or tiny insects cling to the cloths. This eliminates the need to rinse the berries, which causes the skin to toughen when frozen.
  7. Use thinner cloths to strain homemade jellies, yogurt cheese, and anything else that needs straining. For large amounts, line a metal strainer with the cloth.
  8. Dry dishes, wipe counters and do general kitchen clean-up. Save trees by using fewer paper towels.
  9. Set canning jars on a towel to drain after washing; spread out a new, dry cloth to keep jars clean, avoid slips, and catch drips when filling jars with soup or other liquids for the freezer, or when filling jars with beans, grains, or other items for storage.

How to use Flour Sack Towels In the Garden and Around the Homestead:

  1. Line a peach basket with a large towel for picking small or delicate produce such as berries, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes. This keeps berries from falling through the gaps and protects produce from the rough edges.
  2. Hold the corners to carry a few handfuls of produce from garden to kitchen.
  3. Use a cloth to line a wicker basket to cushion fresh eggs as you gather and carry them from the hen house.

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels In the Home:

  1. When a cloth is stained and worn, relegate it to the box of cleaning rags. Snip off a small piece of one corner to identify it as a rag, so it doesn’t end up back in the kitchen. Use for cleaning windows, appliances, wood furniture, and cars; for blotting up carpet stains; and for general cleaning, polishing, and dusting.
  2. Fold a towel in half and sew along two edges to make a bag for protecting delicate clothing in a washing machine. These bags can also be used for storing or organizing like items, such as small toys, travel items, candy and snack bars, things to keep in the car, first aid and cosmetics. Add a button or snap to keep it closed if needed.
  3. Make a broom cover for collecting spider webs and dust in the high corners of a room, on ceiling fans, and behind furniture. Just fold the cloth in half, place the ends of broom bristles in the fold, then tie the corners together: tie the two corners on the right side, then the two corners on the left side. When finished cleaning, just shake the cloth outside and throw it in the wash.

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels For First Aid:

To use flour sack towels for first aid, wash and fold new, never-used cloths, then store them in plastic zip-close bags and keep them with other first aid supplies.

  1. Use a towel to make a castor oil pack for healing serious injuries.
  2. Make a sling to support an injured arm, hand, elbow, wrist or shoulder. Just fold the towel into a triangle, then tie the ends together.
  3. Cut a towel to the right size for use as a bandage for covering wounds or wrapping injuries.
  4. Stop serious bleeding by applying pressure with a clean towel or wrapping the towel to serve as a tourniquet.
  5. Arrange one or more towels to cushion and protect painful areas.

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels For Working with Herbs:

Prepare towels as for first aid above, and store separately.

  1. Use a towel to gather and carry fresh-cut herbs.
  2. Spread towels out on the counter to air-dry large quantities of herbs after rinsing. To dehydrate, change to a dry towel as often as needed.
  3. Crush and add hot water to healing herbs like comfrey or plantain to make a poultice; place the herbs and liquid on a towel and apply where needed.
  4. Use a thin towel to strain herbal oils, alcohol extracts, and teas.
  5. Cut a towel into pieces measuring about five by ten inches. Sew together two sides, fill with dried herbs, then sew the third side to make an herbal bath bag or aromatic sachet. These make nice gifts or a luxurious treat for yourself.

The Final Word about How to Use Flour Sack Towels

Learning how to do things in the resourceful and creative ways of earlier generations can both save the budget and be deeply satisfying. And for me and most other preppers, it’s also great fun. What additional ways have you found for using flour sack dish cloths?

Please leave a comment and share your good ideas!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy

*Editor’s Note: We are honored to welcome Gaye Levy to our blog as a guest expert contributor. Gaye teaches the principles of preparedness and a self-reliant lifestyle at her website Backdoor Survival.  As a blogger, she shares her nuts-and-bolts knowledge and common sense perspective in a way which is non-intimidating, friendly and easy to understand. 

Gaye’s emphasis is on prepping for the mainstream while doing so with compassion for others and optimism for a positive outcome, no matter what.  Her hallmark series, Twelve Months of Prepping: One Month at a Time, speaks to the need to prepare without fear and without being overwhelmed by the daunting nature of storing food, water and gear while at the same time learning life-skills such as fire-making, cooking from scratch, and making your own soaps, salves, and first aid remedies.

How To Make Hand-Dipped Candles

hanging candles 3

Making hand-dipped tapers is one of the oldest ways to make candles, and also the most hands-on. But, like anything, once you go through the process it becomes simpler each time you repeat it. Continue reading

How To Make Your Own Window Quilts

Window QuiltEditor’s Note: This is one of the most popular posts in the history of our blog. Re-sharing the information – hopefully it helps you in 2018!

Instant insulation for (about) $20!

When I was little and my grandfather was building our home “up in the sticks” of rural Massachusetts, we lived in three rooms plus an enclosed porch while the second phase was being added onto the back. It would become another two bedrooms and a bathroom, but for one winter I recall, it was enclosed but not insulated or finished, so an army surplus blanket hung in the roughed-in doorway at one back corner of the kitchen. Continue reading

The Best Way to Can Green Beans

Tis the season! The garden is sprouting and I am looking forward to restocking my pantry. Though in my area green beans are just sprouting there are some of you who may be beginning to think about canning them. I thought I’d talk about one of the most common question I receive.

How do you water bath can green beans?

This question is asked quite often, in varying formats.

I canned green beans for the first time this year using the water bath method. They were all sealed for almost a week and now they are all unsealing. The beans inside smell rotten. Why are they unsealing?

I don’t have a pressure canner. How long do I need to boil jars of green beans?

My parents canned green beans without a pressure canner, why can’t I?

Many people used to water bath can green beans. To do this they processed it for a very long time (several hours) in a water bath canner.

I don’t recommend that you do this for one very important reason. Green beans are a low acid food.

Low acid foods contain very little natural acid. Botulism is a type of food poisoning caused by spores on your food that thrives in low acidity. Botulism is a serious risk. It can be fatal!

A pressure canner obtains the high level of heat necessary to kill those spores and prevent botulism. A water bath canner does not… it is that simple. Pressure canning = high heat. This is why it is important to process low acid foods (including green beans) by using a pressure canner. Please don’t try to can using a water bath. It is not worth the risk.

If you don’t have a pressure canner you do have options. You might consider freezing your green beans or you can even consider using dilly beans which are a pickled product that can be safely processed in a water bath canner.

Step by Step Instructions for How to Can Green Beans Without a Pressure Cooker

  1. First wash beans in cold water and snap them to the desired size. I like to snap mine to about 2 inches. They fit nicely into the jars at that length. You can also leave them jar length if you prefer.
  2. Add salt to your jars. A ½ tsp for pints or 1 tsp for quarts. Salt is optional. If you rather leave it out due to dietary restrictions that is perfectly safe.
  3. There are 2 ways to pack your jars. Either hot or cold pack. I prefer cold packing. Some people prefer to hot pack their jars because you can generally get more beans in each jar. It is simple personal preference.
  4. To hot pack, boil beans 5 minutes. Drain and pack hot beans into jars. To cold pack (raw pack), fill jars tightly with raw beans.
  5. Cover with boiling water leaving 1-inch head space. Remove air bubbles in your jars by running a plastic utensil down inside the jar between the jar and the beans.
  6. Press lightly to release trapped air. I like to use a orange peeler. You could also use a plastic knife or the handle to a spatula. Any straight thin plastic instrument.
  7. Wipe the rims of your jars clean with a cloth or paper towel and place canning lids on your jars.
  8. Put the filled jars on the rack in a pressure canner. The canner should already have about 3 quarts of hot water in the bottom.
  9. Place the cover securely on the canner. Heat to boiling. Do not place the weights on yet. At this point steam should be escaping from the vent or the weighted gauge opening.
  10. Allow steam to vent for 10 minutes.
  11. Close the vent or put on your weighted gauge and let the pressure build.
  12. When the canner reaches correct pressure, lower your heat to maintain that pressure.
  13. NOW start timing.

Pints – process for 20 minutes
Quarts – process for 25 minutes

Adjustments for Pressure Canner
Altitude in Feet Dial Gauge Canner Weighted Gauge Canner
0-1000 10 10
1001-2000 11 15
2001-4000 12 15
4001-6000 13 15
6001-8000 14 15
8000-10,000 15 15

When time is up, turn off the heat. Do not remove weights or open petcock. Leave everything alone until the pressure comes back to zero.

You may now remove the weight or open the vent. Then wait two minutes. Carefully remove the lid, CONTENTS ARE HOT AND STEAMY. Tilt the lid so the steam will not hit you in the face.

Using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars and set upright on a wooden board or a thick towel to cool. Be sure they are in a draft free area and leave 1 to 2 inches space between each jar so air can circulate.

Listen…

Did you hear it? This is my favorite part. As the jars cool the seals will make the coolest little pinging sound. For some odd reason I love that sound. It is so satisfying. It means all my work is working!

Leave the jars alone until completely cool. I leave mine on the counter overnight. I love waking up in the morning to the jars sitting out on the counter with the morning sun shining off of them.

Label the jars with date and store.

Now that you have an abundance of green beans canned for the winter, think about what you are going to can next!

How To Make a Rag Rug

I was in a large department store recently and saw a huge display of rag rugs – in coordinated colors throughout. They were tightly woven and machine stitched into place, perfect row after perfect row. They were pretty, yes. But there was not a real rag in the whole place.

I can hear you laughing. Of course there were no rags! No one makes rugs out of rags! Rags are for the trash; you buy real cloth to make rugs.

That’s where authentic rugs came from, right? I mean, no one would ever have made rugs from ragsContinue reading