Thursday, 11 February 2010

Pay attention now! ;-)

Your history lesson for today...


During the years between 1840 and 1890, in the USA, cotton feedsacks started to replace barrels, boxes and tins as food packaging for foodstuffs such as flour, sugar, salt and grain .

In 1846, a Mr Hurd, of New York, invented a stitching machine, that could stitch a really strong seam into sacks.
Thus the sacks were strong enough to take the weight of the food.

At first, feedsacks came in plain unbleached cotton and were printed with the suppliers mill name or logo.

Women of the time repurposed these cotton sacks, for their household needs. Money was little, families had to be clothed and other household items had to be made. The women often soaked the feedsacks in bleach, to get rid of the labels.

By the 1920s, manufacturers realised that women were re-using the feedsacks for their sewing projects and so they started printing patterns on the sacks. They also printed their labels on paper, making them easy for women to remove.


By the 1930s, feedsacks really were 'in'! ;-)


The feedsack manufacturers realised that, in the sacks themselves, they had a wonderful sales tool!

By the late 1930s, there was big competition to produce the most attractive prints.

Designers were hired to design these prints.(What a fabby job!)

This turned out to be a great marketing ploy as women picked out flour, sugar, beans, rice, cornmeal and even the feed and fertilizer for the family farm based on which fabrics they fancied. Some sacks had lovely border prints for pillowcases . Some manufacturers even made printed patterns for dolls, stuffed animals, appliqué and quilt blocks etc.

(Here's a 'full feedsack' below, which has not been cut or repurposed..this arrived at my place this week!)


Here are some more which have been cut open but not used...

Designs were varied and could be floral, patterned or even everyday scenes etc... and the thrifty and imaginative woman could make colourful, family clothes and many other household items to boot.

This really was ab fab for these thrifty women, who up until then had not had much access to a variety of pretty fabrics!

And so the sacks now had a dual purpose:

Not only would the sacks transport the goods but they could be put to such good use!

(Recycling at its very best eh?!!)

Feedsacks continued to grab the attention of women during the Depression and World War II.
Indeed it was the Depression which created a real demand for bags, as frugal housewives discovered they could reuse and recycle them. Empty bags were turned into boys underpants, children’s clothing, aprons, dresses and everything else imaginable!!

Women even traded feedsacks with each other in order to get a variety of swapping just like us bloggers do at times!

But, alas all good things come to an end. ;-(

In the 1950s, cheaper paper sacks became available, and thus the gradual decline for these bright, beautiful and functional fabrics began. Shame eh?


(Well they have been for a while!)

Patchwork and quilting has taken a new interest in fabrics of the past, and feed sacks are back in fashion.

(And of course there are the 'reproductions'..but in my opinion you can't beat the real thing with its history!)

You can still find original gorgeous prints, in a wealth of colours and designs... and even though the fabrics are often worn and well washed, they are soft to touch, and, if occasionally they are a little worn, shabby and frayed, we do not mind as it only adds to their story...and us vintage lovers adore worn, shabby and frayed , don't we?

(Big cheers now please!)
My own collection of feedsacks is small ...but growing!
There are some fabulous designs and if I can use these in my crafting then I am well pleased as that's a little piece of history included in my work.
One can only guess from whence my feedsacks have come and in whose hands they have been before mine...but I know they have travelled a few miles to get to me!
And no doubt they would have a fine tale to tell... if they could only talk!
And that is your history lesson for today!
Hope you enjoyed it!


Karen said...

Wow Sal what a brilliant story - thanks for sharing! Something I did not know - they say you learn something new everyday :)

I love the pretty patterns on these fabrics, such a shame we cannot buy our rice and dried goods in them today, much nicer than a plastic type bag!!!

VintageVicki said...

Agree with Karen - that would make shopping so much more interesting ;)

Thankyou for the history lesson - something I knew nothing about.

Josie said...

great post! I'd heard of feedsacks but didn't know the history
Josie x
ps) there is a giveaway on my blog

summerfete said...

Thanks Sal. Who knew??!!

If only they used feedsacks today instead of plastic!


KC'sCourt! said...

Thank you for the history lesson. I did know about feed sacks and the bleaching of them but didn't realise they were printed with flowers, I knew sometimes they were printed gingham because there is a needlework stitch that was stitched on the sacks it is called "Chicken Scratch Square Pattern" a bit like cross stitch.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I did enjoy it sal, I found it fascinating. Those feed merchants knew how easy it was to coax women to buy more didn#t they? And I thought Tesco double points was a new idea.
However - those patterns are a delight, which is more than can be said for double points.

Surfer Rosa said...

What a fabulous post. I'd seen 'feedsacks' mentioned in various places but I couldn't mentally link the beautiful pictures I was seeing with bags of grain ... and now it all makes sense. Thank you x
I've just emptied a bag of potatoes for tea - the bag is just the right size for, say, a pair of boxer shorts - unforunately it's clear plastic!

All things nice... said...

I never liked history and even in University I hated it, don't know why I took it on! But your history lesson was so interesting. I never knew that food came in such lovely packaging, pity they don't do that now, at least we have got rid of those dreadful plastic bags in the shops which I hate! That's one improvement but nothing compared to those wonderful patterned feed sacks. I love them :) Thank you so much for sharing this with us all, I have learned something new today :)

All things nice...

Floss said...

Thanks so much for this lesson, Sal. I've seen feedsack websited but never realised the reason for the diversity of the designs before. How wonderful! I also envisaged the 'sacks' being made out of coarse fabric, but now I see that they were for smaller quantities and thus made of finer fabric. Fascinating.

MelMel said...


I really enjoyed your post today, some great info and the fabric is

LoloDesigns said...

That was really interesting to read, never knew anything about them, I'm so not well educated:o)

Thanks for improving my education, I just love all this stuff. xx

galant said...

What a great social history, Sal. Thanks so much for telling me something I'd never heard of. But then, I'm not a crafter, and I'm not up on American history, but now I know a little more than I did yesterday!
Margaret P

silverpebble said...

Absolutely FASCINATING. Sal you've taught me something today - thankyou! I wonder though, are they very expensive - I'm off to find out.

Lalabibaby said...

What a very interesting snippet Sal .... I'd never heard of feed sacks until now ..... fancy putting grains etc in such pretty bags. Thanks for sharing x

Ellie said...

and ... some of the squares in your DevonBears "Vroom Vroom" quilt are feedsack scraps!! xx Loved your post today.

frayedattheedge said...

Some years ago whenI was in Houston at the big quilt show, there was a trader selling feed sacks, but they were very expensive!!

Simone said...

I loved the history lesson! I wish we were given feedsacks in supermarkets instead of plastic bags!!!

landcuckoo said...

I didn't know that about feed sacks, thanks Sal.
Looking forward to seeing what you make with the fabrics you featured yesterday.
Take care
Sarah x

maria said...

It's a fantastic story. It's fascinating to think of the history behind your feedsack fabrics.

sarah-jane down the lane said...

Feedsack joy! Simply gorgeous Sal, I love them, love them,

Sarah x

Midsummer Stitches said...

Oh so nice!! What an interesting story too, thankyou

Menopausal musing said...

What a brilliant post Sal: if only I could reach out and pick up and fiddle with that lovely collection. Lucky you!

Guenievre said...

Intéressante histoire !
Et jolis tissus fleuris !

a mermaids purse said...

i loved the history lesson on the patterned food sacks...i never knew that and its lovely to think blogging land and all the swapsies has some how led from that-really great ;0) lovely blog as always ;0)xxxx

Pomona said...

I just wish things still came in feedsacks - plastic trays and packets just don't have the same creative potential, do they?!

Pomona x

Sophie - Chez Sophie said...

Truly inspiring, what a great peice of history. Thanks for sharing it with us all.
Love it.
Luv Sophie xxx

Jude said...

Just popped in from 20 Minuters....and had a history lesson!
Thank you so much I found it extremely interesting having heard some other quilters tack about feed sacks!!
Where are you buying them from?
I'll definitely be back.
Take care