Monday, August 4, 2014

The Rag Bag

Do you still have a rag bag? I remember my mother having one, and it was the place to go for cleaning rags, shoe polishing needs, wax buffers, car polishers and all kinds of other tasks. Our wet mop was a wood-handle with a metal spring loaded top that could be opened to put in a new rag mop head--or rags, which is what we used.

I still have a rag bag, and it's as indispensable today in my home as it was in my mother's household. The rag bag is where we get rags for putting polish on the furniture, for removing stripper when we're refinishing and for putting on wood stain. We use rags to clean up spills and to wash the car. And I still have one of those wood-handled mop with the spring-loaded catch, and I still use rags in the mop when I'm mopping the floors. No Swiffer or whatever the latest craze is here. My mophead is recyclable. I wash my rags and reuse them many times before they are discarded. Old tee shirts, towels and other cotton fabrics fill my ragbag.

Many people saved rags for quilts, patches, dolls, rugs and anything else requiring fabric. Log cabin owners used rags to stuff in the chinking and around doors as insulation.

An old crazy quilt I bought 10 years ago, and still use. It is
made from scraps of upholstery material and velvet, with a
blanket serving as the filler.
This quilt was made in the 1950's of old silk neckties.

Ragpicker in France, from wikimedia commons

Rags were even worth money, as ragpickers came and bought used clothing and worn out blankets and such to be sold to pulp mills for use in paper-making. 

Feed sacks were often made of pretty cotton fabrics and were carefully saved to make clothing, underwear, kitchen towels and other useful household items.

Today rags don't get much respect. Most clothing is not made of natural fibers anymore so paper mills probably couldn't use them if the rags were available. Paper towels, wet wipes, microfiber mops and other more modern and convenient tools have replaced the rag as a cleaning device in many homes. Quilts are made with newly bought and carefully matched fabrics, and made more for their artistic value than for the basic need to keep warm.

With today's focus on living "green" I wonder if people are reconsidering the rag bag. Is it making a comeback in the homes of this century?

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Barra the Bard said...

My rag bag isn't a bag, but an oval basket in my laundry room, filled with folded old washcloths and towels,cut-up worn sheets (John has the boniest heels--they cut right through bottom sheets and I can't figure out how to patch them so they're a) heel-proof and b) don't irritate his feet--iron-on ones curl up! Old tee-shirts, old bits of this-and-that cloths, all find a home there. I don't have one of those wet-mops, but do use an old towel or washcloth on a Swiffer to mop. Works fine, less for a landfill! One of my elderly clients 2 yrs ago had the biggest rag-bag I've ever seen, as big as a pillowcase, mostly her husband's old shorts and work-pants. Question: can you name any literary ragpickers? I can!

Andrea Kamens said...

We have a rag place in the bottom cabinet in the butler's pantry. We keep looking, but so far, no butler! I do love my Swiffer though. The rags are cleaning cloths of all sorts and the kids raid them for sewing projects. We have one very expensive American Girl Doll who sometimes dresses in rags. My teens are into cos-play (creating costumes to dress up as characters from TV shows and comic books that they are fans of) so they use the fabric. I fantasize about learning to quilt.


Boy did this bring back memories. Yep we had a rag bag and that's what it was called. I don't remember exactly what was in it but I remember mother always washing the rags in her wringer washer - after she'd washed all the clothes.
I do have a plastic bag under my sink with a few tossed out hand towels. You bring me so many moments of joy with your stories and photos. Hugs, Barb

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

I've always had a rag bag. I don't care for the flannel pillowcases that come with flannel sheets - so one of them is the rag bag. Seems we never run out of things to recycle into the rag bag. I shudder when I think of the trees destroyed just to make paper towels when rags are so handy - and usually clean better.

Marilyn said...

When my mother (who had grown up in the 20s in a very poor family) didn't like the clothes I picked out to wear when I was a teenager, she would sometimes observe "Why, in that get-up you look just like the rag-picker's daughter!"

Rob Hunt said...

Food for thought I use rags but not as much as I could thanks for making me think. Have a great day!

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