Vintage Embroidered Flour Sack Towels are such a treasure! They are useful in the kitchen, beautiful, and have a rich history.
When sorting through the things at my parents’ house recently, my sister and I came across a plastic storage tote filled with vintage embroidered flour sack tea towels!
It felt like we had just found a hidden treasure!
Inside was a little note in my mom’s handwriting, stating that the towels had been embroidered by her mother and her two grandmothers. Unfortunately, there was no way of differentiating who made each one, but I was still thrilled to have these little pieces of vintage history connected to my grandmother and great-grandmothers. ❤️
They clearly had been packed in the box for a long time. Most likely my grandmother inherited these vintage embroidered flour sack tea towels when my great-grandmothers died, and then my mom ended up with them all after my grandma died. Now they are split between my sister and me.
Some History of Vintage Embroidered Flour Sack Towels
I was so enamored with these towels, I did a little research. Here’s what I learned…
Shortly after the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s, cotton sacks replaced barrels for flour storage and shipping. It wasn’t long before clever housewives noticed their absorbent and lint-free qualities, and started repurposing them for kitchen towels.
The arrival of the Great Depression in the 1930s forced families to use whatever resources they could in creative ways. The flour sack represented a source of cheap cloth, and large companies such as General Mills started packaging flour, sugar, and other foods into colorful cloth sacks that could be recycled.
The companies even used washable ink for their logos and printed information, so that it would wash away and leave a piece of cloth that could be utilized for other purposes around the home.
It was during this time period of the 1930s-1960s, that embroidered tea towels on flour sacks became quite popular.
Wanting a stake in the flour sack market, sewing companies like McCall’s, Simplicity, and Aunt Martha’s began manufacturing iron-on transfers that were simple and could be stitched quickly and easily to make a lovely, personalized tea towel to brighten up the kitchen.
By the 1950s, manufacturers had found a cheaper way to package their products–paper–and the flour sack tea towel started to become less common.
If you’re lucky, you may inherit some vintage embroidered flour sack towels that were hand-stitched by a family member, making them even more special.
But if not, I frequently see them for sale in flea markets and antique shops for only a couple of dollars each. They are still practical for use around the house, but even more so for adding a touch of nostalgia to your kitchen decor.
Aunt Martha’s Iron-On Patterns
Also in my mom’s house, I discovered these vintage Aunt Martha’s iron-on patterns.
The pattern is ironed on the flour sack or tea towel and then stitched over with embroidery thread to completely cover it up.
None of these are for the particular towels that I have, but I was able to research Aunt Martha’s patterns to help me determine the approximate age of my towels, based on when the patterns were sold.
I mean, look how cute these vintage patterns are! And 15 cents! Can you buy anything for 15 cents anymore?
Shop Vintage Embroidery Supplies
Colonial Girl Transfer for Vintage Embroidered Flour Sack Towels
My Colonial Girl Gardening Day towel is what I believe to be the oldest one I have.
The pattern was originally published about 1940, and the towel it’s on still shows a very faint label from whatever kind of sack it originally was.
Based on the age, my guess is that it was made by one of my great-grandmothers.
I love looking at this and imagining her working on it stitch by stitch. It makes me laugh because whoever made these towels, was clearly very “free-wheeling” with the color choices.
Many of the towels have some interesting choices– I mean, this particular one has yellow water coming out of the watering can. 🤣
This sweet towel has been well-used, but I still love it. Not only do I like thinking about one of my great-grandmothers stitching it, I think of her using it for all her kitchen chores, something like 80 years ago. 💕
And do you know what’s so cool?
You can still purchase Aunt Martha’s patterns! Places like eBay and Etsy have vintage ones, but several of the popular old-fashioned patterns are now being reprinted, and you can get them on Amazon.
I’m seriously thinking about buying this Colonial Girl pattern and making the entire set.
How cool would that be to add my own handiwork to this collection, before passing them on to my own daughter? ❤️
Aunt Martha’s Hot Iron Embroidery Transfer–Colonial Girl
Eight Vegetable Motifs
This vegetable motif towel appears to be one of the newer ones in my collection. It’s embroidered on a tea towel, rather than a flour sack, and is in better condition.
This pattern was originally published in 1960, so I’m wondering if maybe my grandmother made this one? I have no way of knowing for sure, but this one is clearly newer than many of the others, so it’s likely.
I enjoyed using this one lightly (just for drying my hands) when I made my Easy Refrigerator Pickles a few weeks ago.
It was fun to use some of my mother’s, grandmother’s and great-grandmothers’ things while I worked. It was almost like spending time with them in the kitchen. ❤️
Aunt Martha’s Iron Embroidery Transfer–Eight Vegetable Motifs
Stitched-in Fabric Pieces
Some of my inherited towels have stitched-in fabric pieces, which I haven’t been able to learn much about.
If you have knowledge on the patterns or the practice of creating these types of tea towels, I’d love to hear from you!
This towel is also on an old flour sack. By hunting around online, I was able to find this Vogart pattern on eBay that it came from, but that’s about all I know.
I also have this adorable rooster, and the SILVER towel, but haven’t located their patterns yet.
Shop Embroidered Flour Sack Towels
How to Clean Your Vintage Flour Sack Towels
My towels were in pretty rough shape when I brought them home. They had been stored in my mom’s basement for many years, and who knows how long in my grandmother’s/great-grandmothers’ before that.
They smelled musty and had yellowed quite a bit.
Because they are so old and hand-stitched, there was no way I was putting them in the washing machine.
Instead, I filled up the sink in my laundry room with very hot water and used my go-to stain remover– OxiClean.
I soaked all of the towels in here overnight and then rinsed them gently by hand in cool water.
This made a big difference, but they still weren’t quite as white as I had hoped, so I refilled the sink with hot water, and this time dropped in one of these OxiClean White Revive Pods.
I always use these pods on my white towels and sheets, and it keeps them such a nice, bright white color, so I figured it would help with these towels as well.
Again, I let them soak for several hours, before rinsing gently under cold running water.
I let as much of the water drip out as possible, before spreading each tea towel out on a thick bath towel and patting out more of the water.
I was careful not to wring or tug on the fabric too much, because of their age, and because I wanted to protect that precious hand-stitching.
Finally, I took the towels outside in the warm summer sun and hung them to dry. The sun has great natural whitening effects, too! Since they are so thin, they dried quickly.
I was so pleased with the outcome.
Although not perfect, they were vastly improved and now have a wonderful scent from the combination of detergent and fresh air.
Keeping Them Out Where They Can Be Appreciated
After all that hard work of bringing these towels back to life, there was no way I was packing them back in a box to be stored away for years again.
I wouldn’t use these towels to do the “heavy lifting” in my kitchen, but they certainly look beautiful hanging on my stove…
And they work perfectly for taking lovely blog photos…
I love how they add charm and nostalgia to my kitchen.
I wonder what my great-grandmothers would think about these little pieces of their handiwork from so long ago, still being used and loved so many years later? 💕
Flea Markets & Antique Stores
I see handmade vintage towels and linens every time I’m in a flea market or antique mall.
On some level, it makes me a bit sad, because I imagine they come from estate sales, where families have gone through the things of their deceased loved ones, and nobody saw any value in keeping these “old” towels.
When I look at them, I see the care and love these women put into stitching each one by hand, and wish I could buy them all and put them back into service again.
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to inherit any vintage linens that were lovingly made by your own relatives, there’s still value in visiting some antique shops in your area and picking up a few.
They will certainly add to the vintage charm and farmhouse style of your modern-day kitchen, while at the same time serving as a way to honor these hard-working ladies of days gone by.
PS. If you have expert knowledge of vintage flour sack tea towels, I’d love to hear from you!
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OxiClean Laundry Stain Remover
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43 thoughts on “Vintage Embroidered Flour Sack Towels”
SO GOOD, Niky!!! I LOVE this post SO MUCH! Tea towels always tug at my heart strings whenver I See them and have a hard time leaving them behind! I recently inherited one tea towel that was my husband’s grandmother’s…so it’s probably close to 70 years old? It’s got the sweetest embroidered hearts on the front. I too soaked it overnight in OxiClean (twice)…there was so much gunk and yellowing on it from her smoking for so long. ANYWAYS! I understand the joy that comes with finding old treasures such as these. Thanks SO much for sharing!!!
We are kindred spirits, Rachel! We were just at my mother-in-law’s this morning, and she gave me two embroidered towels so made when she was in elementary school. My vintage-loving heart was so excited! Not too many people would understand a love of yellowed old towels, so thank you for being on “Team VintageTowels” with me. 😂
(My two new ones are soaking in OxiClean as I type this!)
I am one of the lucky ones. I have several original flour sacks. My mom taught me to embroider when I was 10. I am 82 now, and I embroider dish towels for my 10 granddaughters, my neighbors and friends. My daughters and granddaughters like the 🌸 flowers in baskets or vases that I do. I also do cute teapots. I still have the fist one I made. . I’m glad they treasure them. I also have several embroidery transfers from Vogart and Aunt Martha. Some of my old embroidery floss is marked .12 cents. Such treasures.
Thanks so much for sharing your memories, Margaret. There’s something very special about these vintage treasures. It’s so fun to think back to our mothers and grandmothers and what their life was like–so different from ours now, I’m sure. 💕 Your family and friends are so lucky to have your hand-embroidered gifts!
Flour sacks are the absolute BEST. I learned to hand embroider on them starting at four years of age. I still love doing that but have also graduated to machine embroidery too. I can remember my grandmother making me pinafores and little girl slips to wear under the school dresses when I started school. In that era NO GIRL wore jeans or slacks, always dresses. Anyway, thanks for keeping the flour sack story alive.
Awww, what wonderful memories and experiences you’ve had, Dolores! Thanks for taking the time to share some of them with me. 🙂
What a treasure! I adore vintage linens and embroidery. Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm–pinned!
Such a great article. My mom taught me to embrodier on tea towels too. She made them from floursack too. She did it as a little girl too. What a great tradition to pass on. A year ago my mom passed away at 90 and as I go through her belongings I found a big book of embroidery patterns. And even the carbon paper that she used. How awesome!
I never knew she had that book all these years. I think she kept it out of reach because she didn’t want it to ruin. I kept that book and will now treasure it even more after reading your article and knowing the history of the flour sack towels.
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this comment. I love hearing about other people’s connections to items they’ve inherited. How lucky for you to find the big book of embroidery patterns! What a gift!
Happy New Year to you!
My wife has embroidered flower sack towles for years, with some hundreds of patterns now in inventory and she just started selling them on Facebook under embroidered kitchen towels. Also on Craigslist. We have found there great for drying dishes yet best for washing windows as they leave no lint or streaks from cleaning. It’s just a labor of love for anyone who spends hours to finish just one simple pattern accross these vintage embroidered flower save towels. Most find them to be the best towels for cleaning a house wife could ask for. Thank you for reading and stay safe.
Wow, I had no idea that flour sack towels were used by housewives during the 1800s because of how effective they are. I am looking for towels that I can keep in the kitchen that will soak up any spill. I’ll find some of these flour sack towels and put them on my Christmas list for my family to buy for me.
I”m glad you found the post informative, Chris. I love old antique and vintage items because it love learning the history they have.
I recently came across my mother’s wedding book where she talks of embroidering items for her hope chest. I’m certain flour sack towels were included. I remember Mom talking about these towels, and as I looked at your photos, I have vague memories of them in my childhood kitchen. Thank you so much for helping me understand the value of these heirlooms.
What wonderful heirlooms – it’s great you can still use them or have them on display today too.
The sewing technique used on the towels with the “stitched-in fabric pieces” is called appliqué. Perhaps that can help you find more information about that pattern?
Thank you, Janice! I knew someone would be able to point me in the right direction. I will do a little more research now. 💜
Loved all the crafts from the past. You are so fortunate to have these handmade items from your ancestors!
Yes, I do feel very blessed to have these handmade items from my grandmothers. ❤️ Thanks for stopping by.
Love them!!! Made some but use paint
instead …. put them in hot water and add a few aspirin and keep them clean, it works! Thanks for sharing!
Aspirin in hot water cleans and whitens the towels? I did not know that! Thanks for the tip, Niki!
Thank you for sharing White Revive as a cleaning product which is new to me. Can’t wait to try it . I have many old linens and I especially love my Days of the Week towels. How did you know that White Revive wouldn’t affect colored threads? Fun post.
I had used the White Revive on other colored items before in my regular laundry and it had always been color-safe. I wasn’t absolutely positive on the vintage threads, but the towels were in such bad shape–smelly and discolored, that they were not useable as they were, so I took a chance. Luckily, it was fine!
I would suggest being very careful on your towels if you’re unsure. I’d hate for them to be damaged.
I learned how to embroider when I was a kid by doing this on tea towels. I grew up on a farm on the Canadian prairies. Wish I still had the towels, but they probably got worn out by use. In my family, things had to be utilitarian and there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on purely decorative items. My mom had very little time for that, as she was always cooking, cleaning, etc. for 9 kids, my dad, grandfather and uncle who helped out on the farm, plus feeding any neighbours who happened to drop by at meal time.
Gail, thanks so much for sharing this story with me! I love hearing about the different ways people grew up, especially farm life! Nine kids, and a farm! Your mom and family were clearly hard workers! 💜
I come from a very long line of Iowa farmers, although I didn’t grow up on a farm myself. My dad did, but was the first in our family to go to college. He became a teacher, and now I’m a teacher, too. But when my husband and I built our home two years ago, we found a small piece of land in the town where my dad grew up on the farm, and built here. It’s not a true farm, but I feel more connected to my roots here.
What an absolute windfall kinda find! These are adorable and completely take me back in time when I found my mom’s hidden stash as well.
Thanks, Donna. Yes, these are a treasure for sure! I’d love to see pictures of your mother’s towels, too. I’m kind of obsessed with these vintage towels now! 😂
I love this post so much! Found you through Michelle’s My Bijou life Online blog. Won’t you please come link up with me for my weekly Fabulous Fridays linkup:) Wonderful post!
I love the history behind these lovely tea towels! I am lucky to have a couple tea towels passed down from my grandma and I am grateful for the tips you shared for how to care for them. Thank you so much for sharing these at Farmhouse Friday!
I’m so glad to hear you have some vintage tea towels from your own grandma. These little things from the past end up being such treasures, don’t they? I’m happy you found some of my post useful, also! Thanks for taking a moment to comment. 💕
This story melted my heart! I would seriously love to have some vintage history passed down to me in my family, as you do with these wonderful tea towels. Such a sweet story and the towels are so cute!!
Thanks for sharing this post with us on the Embracing Home and Family link-up party. We hope you join us again on Friday!
Cherelle, thank you for your sweet comments. It’s funny how the little things I’ve brought home from my parent’s house after their passing are the things that mean the most to me, like these towels.
I definitely will join in again to your party!
Also…., I will feature these on this week’s Creative Compulsions.
That’s great news! THANK YOU, Michelle!
Oh wow! What an awesome find. Your grandmother & great grandmother did beautiful work. Thanks for sharing with Creative Compulsions!
Thanks so much, Michelle! I feel so blessed to have them now. 💜
What a fun find!!
Thanks, Danielle! I’d love to invite you to join my new Sundays on Silverado Link Party, and share some of your great posts, too!
Introducing the Sundays on Silverado Link Party!
I love these. They’ll go great in my kitchen. My house was built in 1951 and we try to decorate for the structure. Pinning this. A great project on those long winter days!!
These are so pretty! What a treasure to find!
Thank you for linking up to the Farmhouse Friday party again and congrats on the feature. Love me some old tea towels! Especially the embroidered kind but it’s hard to find them around here. I chuckled at the Vogart pattern advertisement saying they were for the modern house. LOL.
Thanks so much for featuring my Farmhouse Pantry Crates! Farmhouse Friday is one of my favorite link parties! I love The Painted Hinge and County Road 407 and get so much inspiration from you both!
The “modern house” 70 years ago, at least for the Vogart pattern!
What wonderful hidden treasures! I so enjoyed reading your post. I had no idea of the history behind vintage embroidered flour sack towels.