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Feedsack Dresses and Fabric

Updated on March 9, 2015
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

My mother wearing her feedsack dress.
My mother wearing her feedsack dress. | Source

Depression Era Clothing Made from Feedsacks

My 85 year old mom tells about wearing dresses made from feed sack material in the 1930s. People think that sounds terribly quaint, but it was quite common during the Great Depression.

People bought chicken feed or flour in large bags of 50 to 100 pounds. These bags, made of cotton, became popular for sewing projects when the feed sacks went from plain white material to flowered, checked and plaids.

The feedsack material was used to make dish towels, curtains, and quilts.

The photo shows my mom, Gail Lee Martin with her sister and two cousins. They're wearing their feed sack dresses, made by their mothers. My mother is wearing a ribbon in her hair. Her sister Melba McGhee is in the light colored dress. (left to right) Twyla Yeager, Melba and Gail McGhee, and Lucile Vining.

Feedsack Dress or Not?

This family photo dates back to the early 1940s. Even though the Great Depression was over, thrifty farm families sewed their own clothing and still used the colorful, printed fabric from feedsacks for dresses, curtains and in their quilt making.

Since the patterns of these textiles were very much like what was seen in the stores, it is sometimes hard to tell if a dress from that era was homemade or from a shop. In looking at this photo, I'm undecided if this is a feedsack dress or not.

(photo from the McGhee family album)

This Photo Shows How Colorful a Vintage Feedsack Dress Is

Isn't this style of dress a delight and here it is 80 years later. (photo used with permission of Dreemco on Etsy)  Someone preserved this dress all these years and  now it's for sale on Etsy.
Isn't this style of dress a delight and here it is 80 years later. (photo used with permission of Dreemco on Etsy) Someone preserved this dress all these years and now it's for sale on Etsy. | Source
Source

The owner of Dreemco said, "I'm obsessed with feedsack material. I collect it whenever I can find it to make blouses for myself. I also specifically seek out feedsack clothing for the shop.

My Mother and My Aunt Examine a Quilt with Feedsack Material

The colored sections of the quilt are made with printed 1930s fabrics.
The colored sections of the quilt are made with printed 1930s fabrics. | Source

Quilts Made of Feedsack Material

Look at the wonderful colors and patterns in these vintage quilts made of feedsack material. This cotton fabric stayed nice and bright if the quilts were not washed too often.

It's possible to find 70 year old quilts that haven't faded at all. Some were safely stored away over the years and barely used.

Singer Sewing Machine and Feed Sack Material - Photo by Gail Lee Martin

Singer Sewing Machine and Feed Sack Material - Photo by Gail Lee Martin
Singer Sewing Machine and Feed Sack Material - Photo by Gail Lee Martin

Other Ways to Use Feedsack Material - Books available from Amazon

The general term is feed sack material, but sugar and flour and cornmeal came in cotton sacks also. Other fabric sacks might hold potatoes, rice or salt. Some of these might not have the pretty patterns of a feedsack but would have a brand name or product name stamped on it. Those could be bleached out to leave a plain fabric to use for sewing.

Feed Sack Art

Linda Dennis Presents Barnyard Animals, Feed Sack Art
Linda Dennis Presents Barnyard Animals, Feed Sack Art

Need some more ideas for what to do with your collection of vintage or reproduction feedsack material?

 

Etsy - A Good Place to Find Vintage Feedsack Material

This shows the wide variety of patterns and colors that the feedsacks came in. Woodstone Studio has batches of them already cut into squares to delight quilters.
This shows the wide variety of patterns and colors that the feedsacks came in. Woodstone Studio has batches of them already cut into squares to delight quilters. | Source
Vintage Feed Sacks: Fabric from the Farm (Schiffer Books)
Vintage Feed Sacks: Fabric from the Farm (Schiffer Books)

Lots of photos, plus memories of how these fabrics were use. This has a price guide and suggestions for getting started collecting.

 

My Aunt's Memories of the Dresses

My aunt, Carol Garriott, shared her memories of these:

I fondly remember my feed sack dresses! I got to go along when Mother & Daddy were buying feed for the chickens and cows, so I could pick out the print and colors I liked. Mother would save lace collars, rick rack, and other adornments from clothes that were faded or worn out, to use on the new clothing.

She kept patterns in a cardboard box with pieces of cardboard between the various styles. I was so proud when I went to school with a new dress! I especially liked the princess style. Aunt Carol (January 10, 2011)

(photo from the McGhee family album)

My Flint Hills Childhood (available from Blurb.com)

My Flint Hills Childhood by Gail Lee Martin contains a section about her memories of wearing feedsack dresses.
My Flint Hills Childhood by Gail Lee Martin contains a section about her memories of wearing feedsack dresses. | Source

Video of a Fabric Historian Talking about 1930s Feedsacks

I found this pretty interesting It's about 9 minutes long.

I Found Another Lover of Feedsacks

While attending the Davenport Quilt show in central Florida, I met Pat Reid's daughter. She had a booth at the show featuring her mother's books and some feedsack fabrics for sale. I believe she does vintage feedsack trunk show and history presentations.

See the book cover below and just after that is her contact information.

Patricia Reid's Book - Feedsack 2'' Swatch Books

To get this book, contact patssacks@gmail.com or call 321-5120
To get this book, contact patssacks@gmail.com or call 321-5120 | Source

Vintage Photo

Source

Historical Fiction Book for Teens

Vintage Sewing Machines

Source

The old sewing machines usually had ornate decorations on them and would make a great conversation piece for your sewing room. Besides most of them are still in workable condition. Check at yard sales, estate sales and on eBay.

Let Me Know That You Stopped By! - Share your memories of vintage feedsacks

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 6 months ago from San Francisco

      Oh, it's so fun seeing all these old feedsack dresses and patterns, and the old Singer sewing machines. I think I recognize a couple of the prints. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into making this page. What a treasure it is.

    • profile image

      Nancy Hellams aka OhMe 2 years ago

      My grandparents had a little general store and his name was stamped on the flour and seed sacks. I have an old quilt that was made from them. Sure enjoyed this visit

    • GiftsByDiana profile image

      Diana Burrell-Shipton 2 years ago from Hubbard, Ohio, USA

      What lovely stories !

      I so enjoy hearing about memories like this and really wish more folks today appreciated the old ways of saving and "making do".

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      I have heard of this. It's amazing how much they did with so little in the olden days. Now we just throw everything away.

    • profile image

      Pats sacks 2 years ago

      My mother Pat Reid's passion was the documentation of feedsacks and the making of beautiful feedsack quilts. Her book of over 18,000 2" squares showing all the different colors and patterns of feedsacks were printed in, shows just what a treasure this cloth is.

    • profile image

      burntchestnut 3 years ago

      It was clever and thoughtful for feed companies to pack their feed into bags that could be used for something else.

    • profile image

      grannysage 4 years ago

      I don't remember my mother or grandmother using feedsacks, but then they were from fishing families, not farmers. But my mother re-used everything and I loved finding pieces of my old dresses in the quilts she made.

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      @Frischy: I've seen people add a table top to a sewing machine base. Makes a nice side table or a plant stand.

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 4 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I inherited my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine. It still worked, but then it was lost in a flood. I still have the base and some buttons she had saved in one of the drawers.

    • shewins profile image

      shewins 4 years ago

      The feedsack fabric is so beautiful, you'd have to be mad to throw it away. I love the old sewing machines, I'm a bit of a collector myself. I have several singer treadle machines in various states of repair, and also one in a wooden case very similar to that last photo. The machine I use is a Singer Featherweight from the 1960s. I enjoyed this article very much.

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      The patterns are quite attractive. Thanks for sharing your memories.

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      I like this lense sewing is one of my favorite hobbies. Feedsack dresses were an important part of our history, home sewing has progressed through the centuries.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I love the design on the fabric of feedsacks. My mom also wore feedsack dresses. Nice look back here!

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 5 years ago

      Wanted to give you a "High Five" for featuring the Singer Sewing Machine. My grandmother had a treadle Singer that I used to play with when I was a small child. Thank you for the memories.

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 5 years ago from USA

      SO cool. I think we need these bags today! Thanks for sharing.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      There really were not many things that were wasted in the early days. Food crates became furniture. Unfortunately how times have changed and what a throw away society we have become. I love your photos.

    • profile image

      LaureJ 6 years ago

      I hope this isn't too far off topic, but did you know people today are making eco-friendlyshopping totes from modern chicken feed bags? The totes are kind of the modern day version of feed-bag clothes, and very durable and cute.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      I have a feedsack quilt my Grandma made. It's a treasure that she thought I was crazy to want. :)

    • cuteordeath profile image

      cuteordeath 6 years ago

      Shows how much I knew about 30s fashion... This is great, I love it!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      My grandmother wore them as long as I can remember. They may have had humble beginnings, but they are cherished memories to me!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love this page! Good job covering the feedsack world. They sell flour here in AZ in cloth sacks.

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 6 years ago from Washington KS

      My mom and Grandma made aprons and dresses out of feed sack material. Some of the sacks were really pretty. Loved this lens!!

      Thankis for visiting my grandparents' economy lessons lens.

    • eclecticeducati1 profile image

      eclecticeducati1 6 years ago

      Mom mother said she used to have feed sack dresses. She was born right after WWII. Her family was kinda poor and lived on a farm. She also had to use an outhouse when she was little. Great lens. Blessed by an Angel.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Fascinating - I didn't know about feedsack dresses, actually I had no idea the feedsacks came in different patterns!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      I have always admired the ingenuity of our ancestors who did so much with so little. This is an excellent example of how people make do with what they have on hand.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Very interesting. Those feedsacks were actually quite interesting and in various patterns too! Thanks for an interesting topic!

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 7 years ago

      Some of those pictures look very familiar! My mom and her sisters are shown in photos similar to yours. Perhaps too much false pride prevented sharing the feedsack connection. ;-) SquidAngel Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hadn't thought about feedsack dresses for a long time.

      Interesting lens.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      Yes, I am sure my mom had a few of these as she was born right at the start of The Great Depression. Interesting topic.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 7 years ago

      I didn't grow up in the 30's but as a child I had a lot of play clothes made from feedsacks. Recycling is not a new concept. The working poor have always used and reused whatever they could. It was a way of life.

      Awesome lens

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      I remember my grandma and mom telling me this kind of stories also.

      They also sewn pillow cases out of those feedsacks.