As promised last week, my fabric stash!
This summer my mother-in-law gave me some beautiful fabrics. I was blown away when she told me that they were actually chicken feed sacks! Her Mom Mom, or grandmother, raised chickens on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and these were the bags that the food came in. She would empty the bags and then wash and iron them. My mother-in-law remembers being taught by her mother how to sew a basic hem stitch by making tea towels out of the bags. Upon finding the box of feed sacks in storage this summer, my mother-in-law remarked that it was like finding a part of her childhood.
In the mid-1920s, mills started producing sacks in printed fabrics. More than 40 mills made fabric for bags in thousands of different patterns. Instead of printing directly on the sack, factories affixed their logos to easily removable paper labels. A typical women’s dress took three feed sacks; bragging that you were a two-feed sack girl was the equivalent of mentioning today that you wear size 2. Wives and daughters instructed husbands and fathers to buy feed in sacks with particular patterns so they could complete dresses. In addition to overall florals, patterns included border prints (perfect for pillowcases and curtains) and children’s favorites, like cowboys and animals. If the pattern sold well, it might be reproduced as yardage. During the wartime era of the 1940s, feed sack sewing was deemed patriotic and prints with “V” for victory and Morse code appeared. Many “exotic” Mexican and tropical themed fabrics got their start as feed sacks and Mickey Mouse was popular in the 1950s. Plaids and stripes saw a more limited run and solid colors were available during the Depression.
Technological advances during World War II, however, meant that by 1948 more than half the items previously in cloth bags were sold in paper or plastic (cheaper to produce and considered more sanitary and rodent-proof). Cloth bags disappeared over the next 10 to 15 years, though some are still made for Amish and Mennonite communities, small mills, and the tourist industry.
From my research, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if the fabric is actually a feed sack or just vintage fabric. The best way to tell is to see if there are large holes in the edges of the fabric from the chain stitching. It get’s even easier to tell if the chain stitching is still in place. Most of my bags still have the chain stitching like the image below.
Aside from the feed sacks I have a stash of current fabrics. What I have is small compared to many, but I have few drawers full of fabric. Some I have project ideas for and others are waiting for the perfect pattern to come along. Below is an image of my favorite pieces of my current stash. Unfortunately, I do not know the names of the patterns and I have picked them up in at least four states so it is hard to pinpoint where they were even purchased!