rags mean money

Fibers have always been one of the most precious maker materials in the home. Whether fabric started off as yardage or as a garment, it was made up and remade and reused until the frayed remains were added to the scraps sold to the rag man, who in turn sorted it and sold the cotton and linen to the paper makers; the wool scraps would be reinvented into other materials including ‘shoddy’ fabric and agricultural fertilizer. (‘shoddy’ is a fabric made of reclaimed wool.)

Both the 1838 Workwoman’s Guide and Eliza Leslie in her 1840 House Book emphasize the importance of saving scraps in bags. With smaller bags in convenient places, then combined with larger bags in a central location; sometimes sorted by color and fabric depending on the price per pound for each. Standard rag bags were usually simple affairs unless in hanging in a prominent location where embellishment would have been mandatory.

The 1873 article from American Agriculturist would seem unnecessary, but post Civil War America saw a lot of people setting up housekeeping for the first time, folks who may never have learned simple household procedure or economical life hacks.

By the 1880s, in order to increase production, a higher percentage of wood pulp was introduced into paper making. (it is the acidic lignin in the wood that turns paper yellow) The price for scrap fabric tanked, and housewives took to recycling scrap fabric inside the home in more creative ways . . .