One of my favorite hobbies is collecting vintage fabric, especially feedsacks, for my quilting and crafting projects. The colors and designs of this cotton cloth are charming, unique and speak of another era in times when life was simpler and the charms of ordinary days were plenty.
Especially popular in the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s, original feedsacks are becoming harder to find these days, so I often buy halves, quarters, or even scraps to make up my quilts. The cloth is so precious that nothing goes to waste. I cut the pieces which remain from my projects into squares which I share with others! When I'm fortunate enough to find a full sack, I usually add it to my collection but do not cut into it. I prefer to stay green and use the smaller pieces as was done is the days of long ago!
Originally feed for farm animals was sold in large barrels but, when that changed to colorful cotton sacks, farm wives began salvaging the sacks for their sewing projects. When feedsack and flour sack manufacturers became aware that women were cutting up the sacks and using the floral designs to make everything from aprons, clothing for their children, and quilts to pillowcases and kitchen dish towels, they held contests for the most beautiful and unusual designs.
Often these designs were so favored that women stored them away for a “rainy day” when they would have time to sew them into special quilts and other keepsakes. However, as time passed, these treasured fabrics often stayed unused in dresser drawers or old trunks. Today, these same fabric feedsacks can sometimes be found at estate sales, flea markets and antique shops. Here are a few examples of beautiful feedsack designs:A Brief History:
The wooden barrels used for grain and feed were not the best because they had the potential to leak and were also bulky, heavy, and hard to transport. Manufacturers were anxious to find another method but considered the cloth bags used by the farmer as "junk cloth" because the hand sewn seams could not hold up in heavy use. This changed in 1846 with the invention of the stitching machine, which made it possible to sew double locking seams strong enough to hold the contents of a bag.”
Feedsacks were initially made of heavy canvas, and were used to obtain flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt and feed from the mills. They were reusable, with the farmer bringing an empty sack stamped with his mark or brand to the mill to be filled. This changed when the North East mills began weaving inexpensive cotton fabric in the late 1800's. Feedsacks (or feedbags) were initially printed on plain white cloth and in sizes that corresponded to barrel sizes. For example, a one-barrel bag held 196 pounds of flour. A 1/8 barrel bag only held 24 pounds. The brand name of the flour was simply printed on the side of the bag.
After WWII, technological innovations provided more sanitary and effective packaging made of heavy paper and plastic containers. It was cost effective, too, writes Driessen. “A cotton bag cost 32 cents to make, as opposed to 10 cents for the paper bag. By 1948 this new industry cornered more than half of the bag market and the cloth bag fell out of use. But not entirely! Some Amish and Mennonite communities demand, and receive, their goods in feedsacks.”
Reference: Driessen, Kris. Quilt History.