Belgian embroiderers in Mons

My search for one specific image: women who are actually embroidering flour sacks has been successful! This is the photo: two Belgian embroiderers holding embroidery needles and the flour sacks they were working on.

Decorated flour sacks from WWI: Belgian embroiderers in Mons

The ladies were posing for the photographer with a series of original printed, unprocessed flour sacks in the background, probably in 1915. The location was Mons, the capital of the province of Hainaut. The women were committed to the charity work for prisoners of war, the “Mallette du Prisonnier”.

May 4, 2020, Monday afternoon, the long-sought photo ended up in my mailbox, sent spontaneously by Rob Troubleyn. What a gift! Rob Troubleyn is a specialist in the history of the Belgian Army during WWI at the In Flanders Fields’ Knowledge Center in Ypres. Rob is one of the leaders of the “100 years of the First World War” project of VRT NWS, the news service of the Flemish Radio and Television broadcaster. During my research in the Knowledge Center, June 2019, we had met and exchanged contact details. It resulted in this great surprise.

This book contains the photo on p. 109

The photo is printed in the book “La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 1914-1918” by Mélanie Bost & Alain Colignon (CEGESOMA), published in the series “Ville en Guerre” at Renaissance du Livre in 2016.
The photo itself is solidly archived in the Musée de la Vie Wallonne in Liège, so it was not hidden in a dusty archive or stored in a box in the attic!

“Mallette du Prisonnier”
In Mons, the prisoners of war relief had been organized by the “Committee de la Mallette du Soldat Belge Prisonnier en Allemagne“, abbreviated <mallette du prisonnier> (literally translated “prisoner’s suitcase”). Several local newspaper reports referred to this in the fall of 1915.

The atmosphere of a game of bounce (jeu de balle) in Charleroi. Photo: Catawiki, Postcards 1900-1940

Sports competitions were organized, such as football, cycling, athletics and bounce (“jeu de balle”), the proceeds of which were for this good cause. [1]

Selling unprocessed and decorated flour sacks would also have been part of the money collection as is shown in the photo.

The photo with caption on p. 109 in the book “La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 14-18”

The caption to the photo reads: “Jeunes femmes au service de l’œuvre <La mallette du prisonnier> composant des caisses de vivres à destination des prisonniers de guerre, Mons, 1915. La <mallette du prisonnier> est une émanation de l’ Agence belge de renseignement.
(Young women employed in the work <La mallette du prisonnier> assemble crates of food intended for prisoners of war, Mons, 1915. “La mallette du prisonnier” is part of the Belgian “Information Agency”).

The “Work of the Prisoners of War” was organized locally throughout Belgium. The aim was to raise money and donations in kind to help Belgian prisoners of war in Germany. It took care of shipments of clothing and food. The organization consisted of a group of dedicated (young) ladies and gentlemen who came together to compile and send packages. Thousands of packages of clothing and foodstuffs were shipped to Germany every year. All towns and villages took care of the prisoners from their own community. (See my blog “Een geborduurde Paaszak in Gent: hulp aan krijgsgevangenen“)


Belgian embroiderers in Mons. Photo: La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 14-18

The caption of the photo doesn’t properly describe what is actually visible in the photo, namely four young women, two of whom have flour sack embroidery in hand, decorated with empty, unprocessed flour sacks. On the table is a box, “the suitcase”, which the standing woman is filling. The seated woman, on the right, is holding a book, probably the notebook in which orders were written. At the “Caisse de Vivres” the benefactors could buy or donate their packages weighing two kilograms for three francs and five kilos for six francs, it says on the “Mallette du Prisonnier” placard.

Four small flags, of which I recognize the Belgian and American, confirm the patriotic background of the activity.

Photo collage of flour sacks identical to the ones on the photo of “Belgian embroiderers in Mons”

The flour sack prints are very recognizable. Processed and unprocessed flour sacks with these prints can be found in public and private collections, both in Belgium and the US. [2]

On the left, the lady on the chair has a backrest, a “Sperry Mills American Indian” flour sack, very popular amongst collectors, as much in 1915 as now in 2020. A sack “Aux Héroiques Belges de la part de leurs Amis Vancouver Canada, Hard Wheat Flour British Columbia Patent 98 LBS” is hanging from the table. On the left wall are two flour sacks “CASCADIA Portland Roller Mills, Portland, Oregon” and “American Consul The Rockefeller Foundation Belgium Relief War Relief Donation FLOUR 49 LBS net“. In the center above the table we see the flour sack “Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana USA through The Louisville Herald“. To the right of that I distinguish the flour sack “Contributed by the People of Indiana USA“, collected by the Indianapolis Star newspaper for the Belgian Relief Fund. On the top right wall a flour sack “Hanford Roller Mills, HG Lacey Company, Hanford, California” has been hung. Underneath is a flour sack “Donated by Belgian Food Relief Committee, Chicago, U.S.A.” Finally, I see behind the standing young woman a “Chicago’s Flour Gift” sack, collected by the “Chicago Evening Post“.

The two flour sacks in the hands of the embroiderers are currently not identifiable to me.

Exhibition “Sacs américains brodés”: decorated flour sacks
In early 1916, embroidered flour sacks were exhibited in Mons in a shop window.

Le Quotidien, January 8, 1916

In Mons. The “prisoner exhibition”. – Since a few days we can admire a shiny decor of fine woodwork and scarlet fabrics in the Mali windows in the Rue de la Chaussée in Mons, in which artworks are presented, paintings, watercolors, photography, pyrography, tin, brass and relief leather, embroidered flour sacks, various kinds of lace, embroidery, etc. All this together is the ‘Exhibition of the Mons prisoner’; everyone contributed to the constitution. Men and women, children and old people, rich and poor, they all turned out to be artists!” [3]

Mons Memorial Museum
The Mons Memorial Museum has a collection of nine decorated WWI flour sacks. Curator Corentin Rousman previously sent me an overview photo of the museum’s permanent exhibition, which contains some WWI flour sacks.

Permanent display in Mons Memorial Museum. On the right side of the wall some decorated flour sacks in WWI. Mons Memorial Museum collection

Now that I take a closer look at this photo, I am delighted to see two flour sacks that are the same as the ones in the photo of the embroiderers: “Sperry Mills” and “Rockefeller Foundation“!

Coincidence or not, the decorated flour sacks in WWI continue to fascinate me!

My sincere thanks to Rob Troubleyn for sending the pictures!


[1] Le Bruxellois: August 13 and December 6, 1915; La Belgique: journal publié pendant l’occupation sous la censure ennemie: September 9 and 16; October 14 and 20; November 5; December 5, 1915; January 25, 1916

[2] The photo collage contains eight flour sacks from the following collections:
CASCADIA Portland Roller Mills, Portland, Oregon: St. Edward’s University, Austin, Tx
Chicago’s Flour Gift, Chicago Evening Post, Illinois: Coll. Frankie van Rossem
Hanford Roller Mills, H. G. Lacey Company, Hanford, California: HHPLM
American Consul The Rockefeller Foundation: MRAH, Brussels
Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana: HHPLM
Sperry Mills American Indian, California: IFFM, Ypres
Aux Héroiques Belges de la part de leurs Amis Vancouver Canada: MRAH, Brussels
Contributed by the People of Indiana: WHI, Brussels

[3] Le Quotidien, January 8, 1916

Belgische borduursters in Bergen

Mijn zoektocht naar één specifiek beeld: vrouwen die daadwerkelijk meelzakken borduren is geslaagd! Dit is de foto: twee Belgische borduursters met borduurnaald en de meelzak waar ze aan werkten, in handen.

Versierde meelzakken in WOI: Belgische borduursters in Bergen. Foto: coll. Musée de la Vie wallonne

De dames poseerden voor de fotograaf met op de achtergrond een serie origineel bedrukte, onbewerkte meelzakken, waarschijnlijk in 1915. De locatie was Bergen (Mons), de hoofdstad van de provincie Henegouwen (Hainaut). De vrouwen zetten zich in voor het liefdadigheidswerk van de krijgsgevangenen, de ‘Mallette du Prisonnier’.

Maandagmiddag 4 mei 2020 belandde de lang gezochte foto in mijn mailbox, spontaan toegestuurd door Rob Troubleyn. Wat een cadeau! Rob Troubleyn is deskundige van het Belgische Leger tijdens WOI bij het Kenniscentrum IFFM in Ieper. Rob is een van de sterkhouders van het dossier ‘100 jaar Eerste Wereldoorlog’ van VRT NWS, de nieuwsdienst van de Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie. Tijdens mijn zakkenonderzoek in het Kenniscentrum, juni 2019, hadden we kennis gemaakt en contactgegevens uitgewisseld. Dat leverde dus deze grote verrassing op.

Dit boek bevat de foto op p. 109

De foto staat afgedrukt in het boek: ‘La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 1914-1918’ van Mélanie Bost & Alain Colignon (CEGESOMA), verschenen in de serie ‘Ville en Guerre’ bij Renaissance du Livre in 2016.
De foto zelf bevindt zich in het archief van Musée de la Vie Wallonne in Luik en zat dus niet verstopt in een stoffig archief, of weggeborgen in een doos op zolder!

‘Mallette du Prisonnier’
In Bergen werd de hulp aan krijgsgevangen georganiseerd door het ‘Comité de la Mallette du Soldat Belge Prisonnier en Allemagne’, afgekort <mallette du prisonnier> (letterlijk vertaald de ’koffer van de gevangene’). Meerdere krantenberichten verwezen hiernaar in najaar 1915.

De sfeer van een kaatswedstrijd in Charleroi. Foto: Catawiki, kavel ansichtkaarten 1900-1940

Er werden onder meer sportwedstrijden georganiseerd, zoals voetbal, wielrennen, atletiek en kaatsen (‘jeu de balle’), waarvan de opbrengsten voor dit goede doel waren.[1]

Het verkopen van onbewerkte én versierde meelzakken zal ook deel hebben uitgemaakt van de geldinzameling blijkt uit de foto.

De foto met bijschrift op p. 109 in het boek ‘La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 14-18’

Het bijschrift bij de foto luidt: ‘Jeunes femmes au service de l’œuvre <La mallette du prisonnier> composant des caisses de vivres à destination des prisonniers de guerre, Mons, 1915. La <mallette du prisonnier> est une émanation de l’Agence belge de renseignement.’
(Jonge vrouwen in dienst van het werk <de koffer van de gevangene> stellen kratten met voedsel samen, bestemd voor krijgsgevangenen, Bergen, 1915. De ‘koffer van de gevangene’ maakt onderdeel uit van het Belgische ‘Agentschap voor Inlichtingen’).

Het ‘Werk van de krijgsgevangenen’ was in geheel België lokaal georganiseerd. Het had als doel geld en schenkingen in natura bijeen te brengen om de Belgische krijgsgevangenen in Duitsland te hulp te komen. Het verzorgde zendingen van kleding en levensmiddelen. De organisatie bestond uit een groep toegewijde (jonge) dames en heren die bijeenkwamen om pakketten samen te stellen en te versturen. Duizenden pakketten kleding en levensmiddelen werden jaarlijks naar Duitsland verzonden. Elke plaats zorgde voor de gevangenen afkomstig uit de eigen gemeenschap. (Zie ook mijn blog ‘Een geborduurde Paaszak in Gent: hulp aan krijgsgevangenen’)


Belgische borduursters in Bergen. Foto: coll. Musée de la Vie wallonne

Het bijschrift van de foto laat in het midden wat er daadwerkelijk op de foto te zien is, namelijk vier jonge vrouwen, waarvan twee met meelzak-borduurwerk in de hand in een decor, behangen met lege, onbewerkte meelzakken. Op tafel staat een doos, ‘de koffer’, die de staande vrouw aan het vullen is. De zittende vrouw, rechts, heeft een boek in de hand, waarschijnlijk het opschrijfboek waar bestellingen in waren genoteerd. De weldoeners konden hun pakketten kopen of doneren bij de ‘Caisse de Vivres’ met een gewicht van twee kilo voor drie francs en vijf kilo voor zes francs, staat op het plakkaat van de ‘Mallette du Prisonnier’.
Vier kleine vlaggen, waarvan ik de Belgische en Amerikaanse herken, bevestigen de patriottische achtergrond van de activiteit.

Fotocollage van meelzakken identiek aan die op de foto van ‘Belgische borduursters in Bergen’

De bedrukkingen van de meelzakken zijn zeer herkenbaar. Versierde meelzakken met deze prints zijn te vinden in publieke en particuliere collecties, zowel in België als in de VS. [2]
De dame links op de stoel heeft als rugleuning een meelzak ‘Sperry Mills American Indian’, een zeer populaire meelzak voor verzamelaars, toen in 1915 en nu in 2020. Van de tafel af hangt de meelzak ‘Aux Héroiques Belges de la part de leurs Amis Vancouver Canada, Hard Wheat Flour British Columbia Patent 98 LBS’. Op de wand links hangen onder elkaar de meelzakken ‘CASCADIA Portland Roller Mills, Portland, Oregon’ en ‘American Consul The Rockefeller Foundation Belgium Relief War Relief Donation FLOUR 49 LBS net’. In het midden boven de tafel hangt de meelzak ‘Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana USA through The Louisville Herald’. Rechts daarvan ontwaar ik de meelzak ‘Contributed by the People of Indiana USA’, bijeengebracht door de krant Indianapolis Star voor het Belgian Relief Fund. Op de wand rechtsboven hangt een meelzak ‘Hanford Roller Mills, H. G. Lacey Company, Hanford, Californië’. Daaronder bevindt zich de meelzak ‘Donated by Belgian Food Relief Committee, Chicago, U.S.A.‘ Als laatste zie ik achter de staande jonge vrouw een meelzak ‘Chicago’s Flour Gift’ bijeengebracht door de ‘Chicago Evening Post’.

De meelzakken in de handen van de twee borduursters zijn voor mij op dit moment niet herkenbaar.

Tentoonstelling ‘Sacs américains brodés’: versierde meelzakken
Begin 1916 waren geborduurde meelzakken tentoongesteld in Bergen in een winkeletalage.

Le Quotidien, 8 januari 1916

‘In Bergen. De ‘tentoonstelling van de gevangene’. – Sinds enkele dagen kunnen we in de etalages van Mali in de Stoepstraat in Bergen, een glanzend decor bewonderen van fijn houtwerk en scharlaken stoffen, waarin kunstwerken zijn gepresenteerd, schilderijen, aquarellen, fotografie, pyrografie, tin, messing en reliëf leer, geborduurde meelzakken, diverse soorten kant, borduurwerk, enz. Dit alles bij elkaar is de ‘Tentoonstelling van de Bergense gevangene’; iedereen heeft aan de samenstelling meegewerkt. Mannen en vrouwen, kinderen en oude mensen, rijken en armen, allemaal blijken ze kunstenaars te zijn!’ [3]

Geborduurde meelzakken The Gwinn Milling Company Columbus Ohio, 1916 en Mohns-Frese Milling Co., San Francisco, Ca. Coll. Mons Memorial Museum; foto: D. Dendooven

Mons Memorial Museum
In Bergen heeft het Mons Memorial Museum een collectie van negen versierde WWI-meelzakken. De conservator van het museum, Corentin Rousman, stuurde me eerder een overzichtsfoto toe van de permanente tentoonstelling in het museum waarin enkele WOI-meelzakken zijn opgenomen.

Vaste opstelling in Mons Memorial Museum. Rechts op de wand enkele versierde meelzakken in WOI. Collectie Mons Memorial Museum

Nu ik nog eens goed naar deze foto kijk, ontwaar ik tot mijn vreugde twee meelzakken die hetzelfde zijn als op de foto van de bordurende vrouwen: ‘Sperry Mills’ en ‘Rockefeller Foundation’!
Toeval of niet, de versierde meelzakken in WOI blijven me fascineren!


Mijn grote dank aan Rob Troubleyn voor het toesturen van de foto’s van de borduursters; Dominiek Dendooven stuurde mij enkele foto’s van de meelzakken in de collectie van Mons Memorial Museum.

[1] Le Bruxellois: 13 augustus en 6 december 1915; La Belgique: journal publié pendant l’occupation sous la censure ennemie: 9 en 16 september, 14 en 20 oktober, 5 november, 5 december 1915, 25 januari 1916

[2] De fotocollage bevat acht meelzakken uit de volgende collecties:
CASCADIA Portland Roller Mills, Portland, Oregon: St. Edward’s University, Austin, Tx
– Chicago’s Flour Gift, Chicago Evening Post, Illinois: Coll. Frankie van Rossem
– Hanford Roller Mills, H. G. Lacey Company, Hanford, Californië: HHPLM
– American Consul The Rockefeller Foundation: KMKG
– Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana: HHPLM
– Sperry Mills American Indian, Californië: IFFM
– Aux Héroiques Belges de la part de leurs Amis Vancouver Canada: KMKG
– Contributed by the People of Indiana: WHI

[3] Le Quotidien, 8 januari 1916

Trotting on a flour sack

Ball games have always been around in history. How nice would it be if balls were to appear on decorated flour sacks from WWI: printed on the original flour sack in North America or embroidered/painted in Belgium?
I would like to write a blog about it.
The thought came to my mind because of Matthew Schaefer’s blog, “Opening Day, Baseball and Tough Times,” about Herbert Hoover’s involvement in baseball. It recently appeared on the blog of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, USA. Archivist Matthew Schaefer regularly publishes on “Hoover Heads”, blogs covering a wide variety of topics related to the life and work of the man who was director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and later became the 31st President of the United States of America, Herbert Hoover, and his wife Lou Henry Hoover.
But since I have not yet found a ball on any flour sack, I would like to present another sport on a flour sack, namely the equestrian sport.

“Roller Mills IXL”, one of eight panels with decorated flour sacks in the folding screen. Coll. IFFM IFF 002733


Trotter and driver on a sulky, detail folding screen. Coll. IFFM
‘Roller Mills’ in backstitch. Coll. IFFM

Trotting on a flour sack
The first “equestrian sack” I got to know was in the collection of the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM) in Ypres. It is part of a folding screen which consists of 8 panels with decorated flour sacks. One of the panels is the flour sack “Roller Mills IXL” with the image of harness racing: a fast trotting horse in front of a sulky with large wheels and a concentrated driver on it.
During my flour sack research at IFFM in June 2019, I was able to study the horse and driver on the folding screen in the Depotyze depot at Zonnebeekseweg.

The driver on the sulky in green tunic with double row of golden buttons. Coll. IFFM

The flour sack was first painted and colored. Then the embroidery was done: the contours of the horse along the neckline and some accents on the green uniform of the driver. The jacket has a double row of golden buttons, the crease of the pants and the headgear are accentuated. The details of his face are entertaining: black stitches form the eyes and a proud mustache!

Kepi of the Belgian ‘chasseurs à pied 1837, 1845, 1850

The headgear most resembles the kepi of the Belgian ‘chasseur à pied’ or the ‘karabanier’.[1] Even a regimental number has been added with some black stitches.


The X of “IXL” in backstitch with French buttons

The contours of the letters “Roller Mills” are embroidered in backstitch. The letters IXL are filled with stitches and “French buttons”. Underneath that is the word “FANCY”, also embroidered, but the letters have been cut in half because the panel’s nails are punched into the fabric at that location.

A beautiful flour sack, unfortunately without an indication of the origin of the mill, which has donated the sack filled with flour to Belgium.
Which mill sent this sack, where did the flour come from? After hours of unsuccessful online research and days thinking about a way to find out the name of the mill, I got an idea. Equestrian sport.

The unprocessed flour sack IXL, Central Milling Co., Logan, Utah. Coll. RMAH Tx 2650

Horse racing
I remembered the Bulletin of the Art & History Museum (RMAH) in Brussels. In it, Professor Guy Delmarcel of UCLouvain published an interesting article about the museum’s collection of decorated flour sacks in 2013. [2] He described a flour sack depicting “horse racing” with inventory number Tx 2650. Appendix 1 to the article, the “List of American Flour Sacks in the RMAH” listed the state of Utah, brand name IXL, miller Central Milling Co. in the town of Logan.
Even without seeing a picture of the RMAH flour sack, I thought: “IXL in combination with horse racing: YES! that may well be the right combination, also for the flour sack in the IFFM folding screen!”

In February 2020 I was able to study the RMAH collection in Brussels for a day. I have indeed found the second equestrian sack, my assumption was correct.

Trotter and driver on sulky. Unprocessed flour sack IXL, Central Milling Co. Coll. RMAH Tx 2650
Trotter at full speed. Coll. RMAH

It is intriguing to compare the two harness racing sacks with my photos from Brussels and Ypres: the American print of the unprocessed flour sack next to the processed flour sack with Belgian painting and embroidery.
The horse races just as intense, the driver is just as concentrated. But there are differences: the large wheels of the sulky have gossamer spokes, the driver wears a jacket with a single row of ordinary buttons, the pants are without fold, on the head there is a cap with visor. The eyes look straight ahead and the mustache is a little less pleasing on the upper lip.
All in all, the Belgian adaptation has made a colorful spectacle of the trotting.

Logan, Utah
I have tried to study the history of Central Milling Co. in Logan, Utah, starting from the question: why is harness racing depicted on the flour sack of this mill?

The old mill of Central Mills in Logan. On the right the Deseret Mills. Left the Logan Utah Temple. Photo: Central Milling Co. website

The city of Logan is the largest city in Utah after the capital Salt Lake City. Utah is known for half the population being Mormons affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The large Logan Utah Temple defines Logan’s cityscape. “A History of Cache County” [3] gives an impression of the arrival of the settlers in this part of the US, life in Logan and the County Cache in the early 20th century.

Photo: ‘A History of Cache County’

Founded in 1867, Central Milling is one of the oldest companies in Utah still operating today. Central Milling will have emerged as a cooperative of farmers who had their grain milled together. The society of Mormon settlers tackled many businesses together, leading to successful businesses. Railways were also constructed, accelerating transportation of goods to other states and accelerating the economic development of the Cache County agricultural area. Central Milling became a leading producer of flour using the industrial roller mill system for grinding grain. The mill was located on the Logan River, which supplied hydropower to power the machines. During WWI, the company was owned by 50 shareholders, the founders of the company. In 1917, Herbert R. Weston of Idaho bought out all 50 shareholders and the Weston family then ran the company for 80 years. The current mill has merged with Gilt Edge Mills and focuses on the production of organic flour products based on the philosophy of cooperation between farmers, millers and bakeries.

Photo: ‘A History of Cache County’

Harness racing
Baseball and horse racing were the primary outdoor sports for the people who settled in Utah.[4] They paid a lot of attention to the breeding and training of racehorses. A good half mile racetrack was laid out in Logan at the “Church Farm” in 1881, the public came from many areas around Logan and had a great time during horseraces and harness races, especially on Sundays and public holidays. The website mentions by name the successful stallions, geldings and mares and their owners from that era.
Through this information the link between harness racing and the flour sacks of Central Milling Co. is clearly established. But we will have to stay in the dark with regards to the names of the horse and the owner.

Lou Henry Hoover on horseback, circa 1931. Photo: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Lou Henry Hoover
Matthew Schaefer informed me that Herbert Hoover was not a fan of horses, he rode infrequently. On the other hand, his wife Lou Henry Hoover loved horses and was a good rider.

Matthew added that he had recently attended the opening of the exhibit “The Pull of Horses” at the University of Iowa Library in Iowa City.

Trotter in Logan, Utah. Detail flour sack folding screen. Coll. IFFM

To him it was enlightening to be reminded of the ubiquity of horses 100 years ago.
I myself received this feeling of enlightenment through the study of trotting horses on the decorated flour sacks of WWI in the collections of IFFM in Ypres and RMAH in Brussels.


Featured image:
Part of a digital photo collage of the collection of decorated flour sacks from WWI in the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres. Photo collage: Tamara Raats, 2020.


Many thanks to:
– Els de Roo of the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres. She received me as the first visiting researcher in Depotyze to research the folding screen with eight panels of decorated flour sacks, including panel ‘IXL’;
– Dr. Ingrid De Meûter and Ria Cooreman of the Royal Art & History Museum in Brussels. They gave me the opportunity to study the museum’s collection of flour sacks from WWI, the so-called ‘Errera Collection’, which includes the unprocessed flour sack ‘IXL, Central Milling Co.’.

[1] My sincere thanks to Rob Troubleyn for the information about the kepi of the Belgian “chasseurs à pied” and the “karabaniers”.

Kepi of the Belgian “karabaniers”

He corrected my earlier interpretation, the kepi of the French “chasseur forestier”, 1884 model, see the Dossiers/Files In Flanders Fields Museum 9, From Tradition to Protection. French military headgear in the First World War. Exhibition prepared by Philippe Oosterlinck i.c.w. Dominiek Dendooven

[2] Delmarcel, Guy, Pride of Niagara. Best Winter Wheat. Amerikaanse Meelzakken als textiele getuigen van Wereldoorlog I (American Flour Sacks as textile witnesses of World War I). Brussels, Parc Cinquantenaire: Bulletin of the Art and History Museum, volume 84, 2013, p. 97-126.

[3] F. Ross Peterson, A History of Cache County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, Cache County Council, 1997

[4] An Early History of Cache County… compiled by M.R. Hovey, Logan Chamber of Commerce, 1923. At website MendonUtah.Net


Article in Patakon

Embroidered flour sacks in WW I: Nice souvenirs, serve well as gifts; the profits are worth talking about.
The relic of a heroic people.

My first article about the WW I decorated flour sacks has been published in print!
23 pages with text, photos and a selective bibliography can be found in the September 2019 issue of Patakon, the bakery heritage magazine of the Furnes Bakery Museum.


The article in Patakon is putting the Furnes Bakery Museum WWI flour sacks in their historical context. Through historical newspaper reports and photographs I broaden and deepen the Belgian perspective on the remembrance culture of the decorated “American” flour sacks.

I present 15 newspaper reports and 8 images from illustrated magazines, published between 1914 and 1918, with flour sacks related quotes.

Ferdine de Wachter is showing proudly her embroidered and decorated flour sack, 1915. Photo courtesy of Rumesta History Circle.

Another 7 images illustrate the relief efforts of women in occupied Belgium, including Madame Vandervelde whose campaign for food aid in the USA resulted in flour sacks, printed with the name of her own Madame Vandervelde Fund.

Embroiderer Ferdine De Wachter, at the age of 18, is proudly standing next to her embroidered flour sack.

My research of the Furnes Bakery Museum flour sack collection led to the discovery of several remarkable details. The detection of similar flour sacks in other collections led to new conclusions through comparative research with the three Furnes decorated flour sacks. In addition, I delved into historical information about the origin of the flour sacks.

These flour sacks are souvenirs that the Furnes Bakery Museum is right to store with care and display with pride.
The article was created in collaboration with Ina Ruckebusch, scientific staff member/collection manager.

The article originally appeared in the Dutch language.
You can read its English translation here.

Transformation of flour sacks with embroidery, needlework and lace

The aim of my research is, among other things, to unravel the mythical history of the origin of the decorated flour sacks in WWI. Decorated flour sacks in WWI are both embroidered, decorated with needlework and with lace, as though they were painted by artists. Flour sacks have been transformed into clothing.
Who had the idea of reusing the sacks and where and when did that start? Was it a Belgian initiative or did it happen on American suggestion?
To find answers to my questions, I systematically went through a number of Belgian newspapers and illustrated magazines from the end of 1914, beginning of 1915; these have been digitized and are available online.
I had already found some American publications before and combined them with the information from Belgium.
In my first of a series of four blogs, I have discussed the origin of reusing the flour sacks as clothing.

Decorated flour sack embroidered by Germaine Joly, École Moyenne, Saint-Gilles, Bruxelles. Fig. “From Aid to Art”, San Francisco Folk Art Museum, 1987, Hoover Institution Library & Archives Collection, Stanford University, USA.

This second blog discusses the:
Transformation of flour sacks with embroidery, needlework and lace into decorated flour sacks. Belgian sources 1915.
Below are seven Belgian primary sources from 1915 about the origin of the decorated flour sacks.

1) March 1915: “De Kempenaar, Turnhout” (province of Antwerp)

The earliest source discovered until now is a message in the newspaper “De Kempenaar” with a description of the decoration of flour sacks with embroidery, needlework and lace. In ornate words, the decorated flour sacks gave the opportunity for a patriotic “cri-de-coeur” from a journalist in Turnhout, province of Antwerp, under the headline: “The Germans in De Kempen”:
“While all sorts of necessities are coming from the billion-dollar country to help the Belgian population in pressure and distress, our feminine side has sought and found a means of expressing deep gratitude to the Americans with as much fine tact as generosity.
And look at the sacks in which American flour is sent to us and some of which bear the name of the world-famous billionaire Rockefeller, they have displayed their art in beautiful needle and embroidery, on which they picture the maps of Belgium, the province of Antwerp, flowers and figures have been worked out and embroidered, sometimes trimmed with fine real Turnhout edges and which will soon elicit an exclamations of astonishment and admiration in the new world, yes maybe will be sold at the price of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
After all, is it a memento of that small but brave nation, of those heroic Belgians who have fulfilled their patriotic duty so honorably and gloriously? … Is it the work of the mothers, of the sisters of those admirable soldiers, who now want to send a small but meaningful memento with their own art and own manual labor to the protectors of our people and our nation that will be received and preserved there in the large families like the relic of a heroic people, fighting for their rights, their freedom and independence??…”.
(De Kempenaar, March 21, 1915)

2) March 1915: “La farine d’Amérique”

Photo of shop window in L’Actualité Illustrée, March 27, 1915

The second source is a photo in L’Actualité Illustrée of March 27, 1915. The photo with caption “La farine d’Amérique” (“The flour of America”) shows the shop window in which empty flour sacks are displayed. What does this photo reveal?
– the window of a bread bakery that advertises its “hygiène et propreté” and “pétrissage mécanique” (“hygiene and cleanliness” and “mechanical kneading”)
– the presentation of a series of empty flour sacks and many American flags, with a framed, perhaps embroidered flour sack in the center at the top.
All this as proof of the enthusiasm for the reception of the flour, the quality of the bread baked by it, the gratitude to “America” and a gesture of Belgian patriotism including indirect reproach to the German occupier.

3) April 1915: Diary “J. v. d. K”

Embroidery and framed pictures of the Belgian princess and princes by a schoolgirl from Anderlecht, Brussels, 1915. Fig. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, Iowa, USA.

The diary of “J.v.d.K.” is an interesting source about embroidery at school. In her diary the girl noted:
Le 26 avril -1915…Mère brode a ma place des sacs d’Am
Le 28 avril – 1915…A l’école nous brodons les sac de farine am… Rien de nouveau sous le soleil (chanson de ma jeunesse)…”(Lucien Karhausen, Le Cahier Perdu…p 103, 104)

“April 26, 1915: … Mother embroiders Am sacks in my place…
April 28, 1915: … At school we embroider the am flour sacks … Nothing new under the sun (song of my youth) …”.
The girls were embroidering at (sewing) schools. They must have been bored at times, perhaps this is why this girl’s mother had put in the stitches for her. As the embroidery was performed as part of their education, the girls received no remuneration for their work.

De Belgische Standaard, May 7, 1915

4) May 1915: A letter from Opwijck (province of Flemish Brabant)
“OPWIJCK. From a few letters….
We are still well supplied with food: America takes care of everything. Long live America! We get wholemeal flour and flour every week and if we use a bit of farm flour, we eat the tastiest bread; …
We now show our gratitude to our benefactors, embroider empty flour sacks with tricolor drawings and inscription: “The grateful Opwijck to the United States”, and others. I make a ”milieu-de-table” and so everyone contributes something.
This is how people work in all villages and it seems that our work is being sold for dollars to the billionaires who want souvenirs of deeply ravaged Belgium. The proceeds are for us...”
(De Belgische Standaard (The Belgian Standard), May 7th, 1915).

5) May 1915: “Sale of American sacks”, Brussels

Het Vlaamsche Nieuws, Saturday May 29, 1915

There were reports in the newspaper about the sale of empty flour sacks.
“Sale of American sacks. – The sacks in which the flour of America comes to us have been sold for some time to the benefit of the “Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation”. The sales take place on Avenue Anspach (Brussels), in the offices where the Red Star Line used to be located. The first sales days gave a result which no one expected. The sacks were then handed over to young girls who manufacture all kinds of very beautiful things from them, all kinds of war souvenirs or expressions of gratitude towards generous America that sent us those sacks filled with the flour that saved us from famine.” Het Vlaamsche Nieuws (Flemish News), May 29th, 1915)

KBR: Postcard online
The shop window of the Red Star Line in ”l’Avenue Anspach”, Brussels. Fig. Exhibition War & Food, Evere, 2016

A postcard in the collection of the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR) in Brussels shows the window of said building on the Avenue Anspach.

This image was on display at the “Food & War” exhibition “A culinary history of the Great War” in Brussels Museum of the Mill and Food in Evere from October 2015-August 2016. When the photo was taken is not mentioned, my estimate would be summer 1915. The shop window is filled with decorated flour sacks: “Sacs de farine Américains brodés et transformés vendus au Profit des Orphelins de la Guerre. (Embroidered and processed American flour sacks sold for the benefit of War Orphans) Marcovici editor, Bruxelles, 27, Av. Stephanie.” The head of the saleswoman is visible in the center of the image, next to the flour sack “Washington Flour”.

6) August 1915: Tribute book Ghent
The 1915 Tribute book of the city of Ghent expressed gratitude to a local committee of ladies with the following text:
Secours Discret, Section D: Aide et protection aux brodeuses (Œuvres des Sacs Américains). Cette section dont s’occupent spécialement:
Mesdames Baronne de Crombrugge, J. Feyerick, E. de Hemptinne, Vande Putte.
A pris l’initiative de transformer en coussins brodés et autres ouvrages artistiques, les sacs à farine (aux marques de fabriques originales) reçus de l’Amérique.
Son siège est situé Marché aux Oiseaux, dans les magasins de M. Robert, mis gracieusement à la disposition de la section.
La vente se fait au profit du Comité Provincial de Secours et l’entreprise assure un salaire à un certain nombre d’ouvrières.”[1]

(“Discrete Aid, Section D: Aid and Protection for Embroiderers (Work of American Sacks). This committee, which consists in particular of:
The ladies Baronne de Crombrugge, J. Feyerick, E. de Hemptinne, Vande Putte,
took the initiative to transform the flour sacks (with the marks of original factories) received from America into embroidered cushions and other artistic works.
Its headquarters are located at Marché aux Oiseaux, in Mr. Robert’s stores, which are made available to the section free of charge.
The sale is for the benefit of the Provincial Committee of Relief and the committee provides a salary to a certain number of workers.”)

Decorated flour sack, embroidered in Ghent, 1915. Collection and image: Frankie van Rossem

7) November 1915: “Nice memories, very useful as a gift”, Ghent

The Ghent committee thus identified working on flour sacks as providing employment to unemployed embroiderers and creating sales for charities such as those benefiting orphans and other war victims. Making objects to serve as Saint Nicolas (a local holiday akin to Christmas) gifts turned out to be important! Making gifts for American relief workers was not the aim … In November 1915 we read this announcement in several newspapers:

“The committee of American flour sacks has decided, with the prospect of St. Nicholas gifts, to sell a whole new series, beautifully embroidered sacks and a multitude of items made by means of sacks originating from the United States. Each of these items carries an American factory brand, artfully embroidered! A They are nice memories, very useful as a gift; what is more, the purchase of each of these objects is good work since the proceeds of the sale serve to provide for the maintenance of numerous workers and to increase the income of the “Work of the War Orphans. The sale will start on November 30.” (De Gentenaar. De landwacht, De kleine patriot. (The Land Guard, The Little Patriot, November 17, 1915)) [2]


Photo collage from the delivery of flour to the distribution of bread. Photo SA Phototypie Belge, Collection In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

Belgian women have taken the initiative with their commercial spirit to transform empty flour sacks into decorated flour sacks. In the spirit of North American donations, the flour sacks have indeed been reused, but in a surprisingly inventive manner. The approach of the Americans: “utility and thrift” – reusing flour sacks for making underwear and towels – has been deviated from due to Belgian generosity and the desire to create beauty, to make goods that people would like to buy as gifts and souvenirs.

Photo in the magazine “Le Temps Présent”, March 31, 1915

Even empty and unprocessed, the flour sacks with logos from American and Canadian flour mills and texts from the donating people were so beautiful that they formed an attractive souvenir. Together with beautiful cushions, tea cozies, hangers, table runners, sacks decorated with colorful embroidery, elegant needlework and lace, the flour sacks generously filled the Belgian shop windows, sales exhibitions and raffles.

The proceeds were intended for charity. The two underlying motifs for the Belgian inhabitants were
– to provide employment and
– to raise money through sales to help war victims.
Donating the decorated flour sacks as souvenirs, memories of the war, and out of gratitude for food relief was the selling point, it contributed to getting financial support from the wealthy circles in Belgium and the “billionaires” in America.


[1] Ville de Gand, Œuvres de Philanthropie…1915,  p. 73, 74
[2] Four newspapers: De Gentenaar. De landwacht. De kleine patriot; Het Volk. Christen Werkmansblad; Vooruit. Socialistisch Dagblad; Journal de Gand, all published November 17th, 1915