A long time ago when there was a quilt show in Ascot (which is now at Sandown), I helped on a stand run by Country Crafts selling fabric etc. Opposite the stand Jennie Rayment also was selling her wares. I fell in love with some American vintage fabric squares she had, she described them as Feed Sacks. They were washed and worn and the prints were from the 1920s and 1930s. That night in my hotel room I cut them up into small squares and by the time the show had finished I had made a small nine patch quilt top. I teamed up the fabric with a soft quilters calico. The top came to life after I hand quilted it. It is still one of my favourites and is now over twenty five years old.
Now what were these fabrics? Feed Sacks! Today a quick look on google will take you right to the heart of the story.
In 1924 Asa T Bales patented an idea of making sacks that animal feed, and dry goods, sugar, flour, etc were sold in and afterward could be made useful in other ways. “One of the objects of this invention is to provide a sack, the cloth of which is adapted to be used for dress goods after the product has been removed or consumed.”
These early sacks were made from red gingham and were known as Gingham Girl. The advertising print on the sacks could be washed away. Just imagine buying our tea bags in a fabric sack – it would be in heaven. The idea caught on and became incredibly popular all over the USA. In the 1930’s Percy Kent introduced pastel colours and Bemis Co use this slogan in its advertisement for their bags “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without”.
Later these bags featured ‘back prints’ which included patterns for toys, aprons, dollies, collar and cuff sets and tea towels. Local communities often had competitions at their summer fairs entitled 'Best Use of a Feed Sack' lots of quilts were made, curtains, children's bonnets and clothes. The sacks came in all shapes and sizes and Percy Kent even made a cloth of the United Nations depicting significant battles of World War Two.
You can always spot a Feed Sack because the fabric is of a more open weave and of a poorer quality than dress fabric. The sacks were sewn up with thick cotton thread with a chain stitch which left large holes in the seam. The threads themselves were often put to good use as well and used for knitting and crochet. The advertising print needed a lot of washing to remove so sometimes evidence of residual print was also a good clue.
I was lucky to buy my Feed Sacks from Jenny but nowadays you can still find them to buy on the net and if you happen to travel to the USA you will find them in antique shops, boot sales and junk shops. There are lots of Feed Sack collectors and some have get together to share memories and stories and swap Feed Sacks.