|Day laborers picking cotton near Clarksdale, Miss. Delta, 1939|
By 1900 the cotton industry in America was booming (thanks to all those slaves) and the bulky,expensive wooden barrels that used to hold dry goods like grain, sugar, salt and seed were replaced with fabric bags or “feedsacks.” At first, these sacks were sewn out of unprinted, unbleached muslin (as they are now), and really not much to look at, but as the depression took hold, many hard-up housewives started using the fabric from the sacks to sew everything from girls' dresses to boys' shirts and even underpants, as well as aprons and other necessities.
|White feed sack dresses c.1930|
|1920s Feedsack Quilt|
|Jack Whinery and his family, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940|
Of course after the depression came the war and its associated fabric shortages, and printed feedsacks continued The recycling of bags became a necessity, encouraged by the government -"A Yard Saved Is a Yard Gained for Victory." Women often sold their surplus bags to others as a way of picking up cash to aid in running the home. Once a dress or other garment was worn out, parts could still be salvaged and turned into smaller items or used for quilting.
|At the Vermont State Fair 1941|
|Front and back covers of a WWII booklet issued by the National Cotton Council of America|
After the war, the bags were not only a sign of domestic thrift; they also gave rural women a sense of fashion. National sewing contests were organized as a way for women to show off their skills, and manufacturers to show off their designs, and women would meet for sack-and-snack-club fabric swaps.
Reproduction feedsack fabric is available today. The thread count is too high to really capture the basic feel of the real deal, but the patterns are glorious. The best indicator of real feedsack fabric is a line of holes from the chain stitching that once held the sack together - and not always in a straight line. You can find original feedsack fabric on Etsy and Ebay, but usually only in small quantities - perfect for quilting. A blouse would be nice though, maybe with a different fabric for each part. Very 'make do and mend'!
I wish my flour and chicken feed came in colourful fabric sacks -I don't think I'd ever buy fabric again!
What would you make with feedsack?