As an Antiques Dealer, one of my favorite things to source and sell is Feed Sack Fabric. And while my love of sourcing Vintage Feed Sack textiles has evolved over time, I’ve learned a great deal about their history and how these whimsically colorful textiles have found a new life in this modern era. I also have Vintage Feed Sacks for Sale, which I’ll discuss as well, in this Blog Post.
Feed Sack Fabric History
A quirky, or possibly irritating aspect of my personality, is my penchant for including old fashioned colloquial phrases in my everyday conversation. Examples include:
“I wouldn’t know him from Adam’s House Cat.”
“Like a duck on a June Bug” to describe anyone exhibiting overly eager behavior.
“This isn’t my First Rodeo”
And…..”Waste Not, Want Not”, which applies perfectly to the subject of Feed Sack Fabric History.
At some point in the late 1800’s, Dry Goods sellers of flour, sugar, grain and seed began to offer their goods in rough fabric bags, leaving the wooden barrel behind. Early on, manufacturers constructed them out of rough fabrics like burlap, but over time softer materials, specifically cotton, came into fashion. By about 1910, they began to use softer fabric, making it ideal for thrifty homemakers to fashion curtains, sheets, and sometimes clothing.
Women put a lot of effort into hiding the fact that they were using cotton sacks by soaking off died company logos, and adding sewing notions like buttons and rick-rack to their creations.
In the 1930’s, the Great Depression began to have a widespread impact on North Americans, and more and more women had to save as much money as possible when it came to household expenses. Feed sacks began to be more widely utilized to make clothing, rags, towels, quilting pieces, etc. The companies manufacturing these goods took notice of this increasingly popular trend, and responded by making their sacks easier to creatively recycle by manufacturing out of garment quality cotton, printed with cute patterns, or stamped their logos onto the sacks using easily removable ink and instructions on how to soak the logo off.
The actual construction of these feed sacks was altered for easy recyclability as well. Often, feed sacks were assembled using a chain stitch across the bottom, so that the stitching could be removed easily and quickly. Some companies even printed little patterns on their sacks, for things like dolls and doll clothes. As the 1930’s progressed, this wide utilization of feed sacks was no longer considered an embarrassing mark of poverty, but a sign of resourcefulness during a time of hardship. Women all across the U.S and Canada sewed dresses for themselves, clothes for their children, blankets and quilts, dolls, and more using these sacks- in turn, some pattern companies even began producing patterns specifically designed to be used with feed sacks.
Waste Not, Want Not.
During World War II, the production of cotton feed sacks was largely converted to paper bags to conserve cotton for the war effort. After the war, feed sack industry leaders took measures to revitalize interest in feed sack sewing by partnering with Simplicity and McCalls to promote purchase of feed sacks through specialty patterns. They also sponsored fashion shows and design competitions, and hired renowned textile designers to make sure their feed sacks were printed with the most fashionable and preferred prints. In this way, rural housewives and farm wives were having an influence on high end fashion! By the early 1950’s, though, the use of cotton feed sacks for garments declined once again, in part due to changing farming practices and the affordability of the previously mentioned paper bags. The cotton feed sack was almost entirely gone from the shelves by the early 1960’s.
Note: In this Blog Post found on Helen’s Closet, there is an excellent Bibliography if you would like to research Feed Sack Fabric more deeply.
Vintage Feed Sack
I’ve always been interested in textiles. From embroidery, to needlepoint to quilts, handiwork and needle arts have held a longstanding fascination for me. But as an antiques dealer, i often encounter pieces that escape my ability to find a reasonable modern-day use. And while my heart begs me to save ALL the old things, my brain reminds me my purpose is a viable business.
Even still, I’m weak, and I know it!
In 2020, my husband and I were on a buying trip in Ohio. In the shadowy back of a dealer’s booth, my eye caught a bright pile of something, and I had to investigate. What I discovered was a pile of Vintage Feed Sacks. A textile completely new to me, I was immediately enamored with the bright colors and whimsical patterns. I purchased a few, with absolutely zero idea of Feed Sack Fabric History, or what I would do with my new purchases.
Back home, an idea came to me. What if I used my newly acquired vintage feed sack as a finishing textile for my needlepoint projects? For those of you not familiar, most needlepoint canvases must be “finished” into their final form, be it a pillow, a Christmas Stocking, an eyeglasses case, etc.
When my projects returned from the finisher, I was delighted, and enthusiastically shared my pieces with my needlepointing friends.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, I search high and low for the perfect vintage feed sack textiles to offer to the needlepointing community. Dare I say, “like a Duck on a June Bug?”.
Many stitchers appreciate the opportunity to preserve American Textile History, when choosing to finish their needlepoint project with a vintage feed sack textile. I offer 8″x8″ swatches for sale on my website.
Vintage Feed Sacks for Sale
As a gal who like to always take projects to the next level, I was not satisfied simply offering swatches of Vintage Feed Sacks for Sale. I wanted to find another way to celebrate this unique aspect of American Textile History!
In 2023, I unveiled my first Curious Cowgirl Needlepoint Canvas Designs, and of course began this new aspect of my business celebrating Feed Sack Family History in the form of needlepoint canvases.
Currently available only to the trade, meaning brick-and-mortar needlepoint shops, I have spotlighted the tiniest detail of Vintage Feed Sacks on the stitch-painted canvases, while offering coordinating textile swatches for finishing.
Click here to see all my canvas designs currently available. And do let me know in the comments how YOU came to love Feed Sack Fabric History as much as I do!
Tags: Feed Sack Cloth | Needlepoint | Needlepoint Canvas | vintage textiles