Feedsack Quilt Fabric

Highly collectible now, feedsack fabrics are vintage textiles that became an important source of material for the thrifty housewife during the Depression Era during the decades of the thirties and forties last century, although they were used until the sixties. Frugality was a virtue, and during the years of economic hardship, a necessity in many households. Waste not, want not and “use it up, wear it out, make do or do without” became a motto during those years and the WWII years afterwards.

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Dry goods such as flour or sugar, animal feed and grains, and crop seed had been packaged for transport in wooden barrels, crates and tins. There were several problems associated with this kind of container for shipment: the barrels broke during long trips and the tins gave certain foods an odd taste and could rust. Fabric sacks couldn’t be used because seams tore up because of the weight of the contents. This problem was solved when the sewing machine was invented. Farm wives had stored these goods in homemade linen and cotton sacks, and because of the sewing machine’s durable and stronger interlocking stitch capabilities, they could then be packaged for shipment in cloth bags. Cloth bags were durable, lightweight, took up less storage space than barrels or crates and soon, they were the material of choice to store dry goods for transport.

Plain Muslin Feedsacks

The first types of bag printed were made of coarse muslin, plain, with an ink-stamped logo. They started being plain feedsackmanufactured in the mid-nineteenth century. The leading company was Bemis Bag Company, of St. Louis, established in 1858. Others companies followed, such as the Chase Bag Company. In the heyday of feedsacks, up to 31 different companies produced these. These plain bags with logos had sizes that corresponded to the amount of product stored inside. Women soon realized that the fabric in those feedsack bags could be reused once the logo was removed. Washing and bleaching with homemade lye soap removed all or most of the logo’s ink. These lengths of fabric were used to make diapers and underclothes, nightgowns, or, in the case of the larger bags, quilt backs. Smaller bags could be pieced together for the same purpose. Six flour sacks sewn together was enough to piece a medium sized backing for a quilt, according to a reader who shared the information with the Progressive Farmer newspaper. If the logos couldn’t be removed by washing, the thrifty housewife figured that they could be embroidered over and used as quilt blocks. They became fashion in the early thirties.

Printed Feedsack Fabrics

Soon, bags made from printed fabrics replaced plain feedsack bags. By the thirties, these bags were being used for apronsevery sort of domestic use. They could be made into dresses, curtains, dishtowels, and of course, scraps found their way into the quilt scrap bag. As their popularity soared, companies started to print booklets that women could purchase; these booklets shared hints on how to remove logos, how to dye them, and instructions on how to make household linen and curious items such as yardstick holders, jelly strainers or broom covers. These booklets also suggested saving the string used to stitch the sides of the feedsack bags together and reusing them as thread to tie comforters, or cotton to crochet doilies. Most households had a ball of string in their kitchens, saved from flour and sugar sacks.

Feedsack print fabrics showcase geometric and floral or children’s prints in the pastel colors popular during the mickey feedsackperiod. Some of these bags started being manufactured for the specific purpose of being reused as pillowcases or dolls or aprons and had printed patterns on them. All that women had to do was rip the string out, cut the pattern pieces and stitch them or embroider them. Competition became the rule among bag manufacturers, who tried to offer the best prints in order to achieve customer loyalty. Women would buy matching bags to complete a project, such as a dress, which might require the material of three matching bags. Different goods were shipped in different quality cotton bags. Sugar and flour had finer, thinner cotton than larger bags destined for feed or seed storage. Cotton fabric manufacturers had to respond to paper maker businesses, which were trying to replace cotton as the material of choice by printing attractive and useful cottons. Popular characters from the time were printed on feedsack fabrics, such as Disney characters and Gone with the Wind fabrics became novelties that were sought by women. These have become highly collectible now.

Feedsacks Used in Quilts

Quilts of the era were made from the scraps left from all the sewing projects, most patterns popular at the time being vintage quiltscrap quilt patterns. Many of these feedsacks appear in Dresden Plate quilts, Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother Flower Garden and Sunbonnet Sue quilts. Waste not, want not, every scrap was used and the cheerful prints and colors probably lent a bit of happiness during a time of hardship. These prints became popular again during the end of the twentieth century and several fabric manufacturing companies started printing yardage with the colors and prints of this time period and are widely available as thirties reproductions for quilts.

Sturdy paper bags slowly replaced the fabric bags after WWII. Paper was cheaper and just as durable. A few companies still produce these bags and they are used in areas of the Midwest. Period bags can still be found in auction websites or antique stores and vendors. Condition and the type of print dictate the price of these bags in the market now.

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