It seems as though right now everyone’s headed to Market. While I love attending and seeing what’s new and meeting up with Market buddies, this time around I’m staying behind. Carrie and Lissa thought you might be interested to learn why, and graciously offered to let me share with you my latest project: I’m finishing up a book titled Feed Sacks: A Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric.
I’ve been intrigued by feed sacks since learning about them in 2010. I admire the resourceful women who used them and love that manufacturers took the plain cloth bags that held feed, seed, flour, and sugar and made them more desirable by stitching them from dress print fabrics. I love the stories of wives sending their husbands to the feed store with a fabric swatch in hand and the instruction “Get two more just like this!” And of course, I love those fabrics—the literally thousands of prints employed by the many bag companies to create bags for all kinds of products. (Though sacks were used for feed, seed, fertilizer, flour, sugar, salt, and more, for ease of reading and writing the term “feed sack” is used throughout the book.)
I’m an innately curious person and my response to being interested in a topic is to read and write about it. Over the years I wrote articles about feed sacks for magazines and blogs and admired other feed sack books. In 2011 I even talked with UPPERCASE magazine publisher Janine Vangool about doing a book, but the time wasn’t right. Then finally, in 2015, it was. And so began months of reading, writing, interviewing, photographing, and finally, for Janine, designing and printing.
The book will be out in the next month or two and I couldn’t be more proud or excited. Janine is kind of a crazy woman—and I mean this in the best possible way—who, when she gets excited about something really goes all out, and thus was the case with this book. It’s going to be 544 pages (!) of lush images, interesting tidbits, and first-person interviews from people who not only sewed and wore feed sack clothing but made swings and costumes from them, and tied packages and crocheted doilies with the string saved from the bags. Moda’s own Cheryl Freydberg even talks a bit about feed sacks as inspiration for contemporary fabrics.
Probably one of the best parts of creating this book was meeting up with Janine in Lincoln, Nebraska, for six days this past summer. We did an event at Porridge Papers and worked late into the night, coordinating writing, design and photography. (The feed sack book is the first in her Encyclopedia of Inspiration series—you can read about the series here—and the feed sack book will also be available individually later this year.)
We also photographed feed sacks—we shot some at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum and we shot photos of the collections of Gloria Hall and Paul Pugsley, feed sack collectors extraordinaire. Gloria and Paul were exceptionally welcoming and willing to share their collections and knowledge, and we spent two eight-hour days interviewing them and taking photos of their feed sacks and feed sack ephemera, much of which will appear in the book and some of which I’ve included in this post.
While the feed sack era is long gone, the love of feed sacks is still strong and lots of designers today use feed sacks as inspiration for their fabrics. If you’re like me, you probably love the original sacks and the designs they inspire. The book includes loads of feed sack images and should provide hours of paging pleasure. But it also serves to pay homage to generations of women who cooked, cleaned, raised children, took care of a garden and chickens, sewed clothing and curtains for their families, and still managed to pull feed sack scraps from their bags and create unforgettable quilts. I stand in awe!
Do you have any feed sack memories? I’d love if you’d share them in the comments!