Belgian Embroidered Flour Bags

Belgian embroidered flour bag, originally from Canada, embroidered in Belgium. Belgian embroidered flour bag, originally from Canada, embroidered in Belgium. Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden, acc. no. TRC 2017.0422.

During the First World War (1914-1918), the American Commission For Relief in Belgium (CRB) was set up under the chairmanship of Herbert Hoover (1874-1964; he later became the 31st President of the USA). The aim of the commission was to provide food relief for war-torn Belgium. The CRB was eventually to ship millions of kilos of flour (but also other grains and sugar) to Belgium. These commodities were sent in cotton bags. 

The flour bags were filled by various American and Canadian mills and the bags were often printed with their names and logos. The flour bags were sent to neutral Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and from there they were distributed to German-occupied Belgium. The CRB also collected the empty flour bags and distributed them to convent workshops, schools, sewing workrooms in general, as well as individual artists.

Some of the schools and workshops that were chosen to receive the flour bags specialised in training girls to sew, embroider, make lace and to make and repair garments. Many of these centres were based in large urban centres, such as Antwerp and Brussels, and provided work for thousands of girls and women. The flour sacks proved to be a valuable source of scarce cloth and were used to make garments and household textiles, such as pillows and towels.

Many women worked their embroideries over the mill logo and brand names, but others left the original designs visible and used embroidery to enhance the appearance of the bags. Many embroiderers also stitched their names and/or messages onto the flour sacks. The Nuns of Providence, of the St. Joseph Orphanage, for example, embroidered their vocation on one sack along with the motto, "Dieu bénisse nos Bienfaiceurs" ('God bless our benefactors').

Not surprisingly, two sets of embroidered bags (and messages) can be distinguished, namely those that were worked by Flemish (Dutch) speakers from the north of the country and those by Walloon (French) speakers in the south. Many of these sacks were sent back to Allied countries, especially Canada and the USA, as souvenirs.


Digital source of illustration (retrieved 5 June 2016)


Last modified on Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:27