I’m Not Going to Market. Here’s Why

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.

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A double-page spread from Feed Sacks: A Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric (UPPERCASE is headquartered in Calgary, Canada—thus the “colourful” spelling.)

Sacks from the Minnesota State Fair
Sacks from the Minnesota State Fair

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.)

Feed sacks from the collection of Paul Pugsley
Feed sacks from the collection of Paul Pugsley
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A feed sack from the collection of Gloria Hall. We used the little paper rulers in each photo to ID the owner of the sack and to provide scale—many of the feed sack images are included at actual size.

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.

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The book includes lots of advertising and ephemera that evoke the feed sack era, like this flour mill letterhead.

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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.

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Pages of the feed sack book roll off the press

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.)

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I loved these manhole covers in Lincoln!
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Janine and me at Porridge Papers in Lincoln.

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.

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A page form the Charlene Brewer collection of feed sack swatch notebooks at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum (there are 12 notebooks)!
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Feed sacks from Paul Pugsley’s collection
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Janine photographing a feed sack at Gloria Hall’s home.

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!

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Do you have any feed sack memories? I’d love if you’d share them in the comments!

 

 

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66 thoughts on “I’m Not Going to Market. Here’s Why

  1. I also have always loved feed sacks and have a small collection of bags and fabric. I also collect vintage aprons and some of my favorites are made of feed sacks. I am an activity director at a nursing home and often take the aprons and feed sacks for a show and tell and it is so fun to hear all the ladies stories of their Mothers and Grandmothers using them as well as themselves. Can’t wait to see your book. Congratulations!

    1. After the fact, someone suggested I visit nursing homes to find people to interview, and your story proves that I should have! Thank you!

  2. I had many dresses made of feed sacks while growing up in the Midwest. My mother was a great seamstress and usually added interesting trims to the patterns.

    Now, I have friends making shopping bags out of colorful bird seed bags and etc.

    Looking forward to your book. Having helped with creation of books, know the time they take!

    1. I love that women took the time, when they had so little, to embellish their feed sack creations! Thanks for sharing your memory.

  3. I have collected feed sacks for years, and have only made one quilt with then, mainly because I can hardly bear to cut into them. I wore feed sack dresses that my Grandma made for me when I was young, and have loved them ever since. She would take me with her to a man who raised chickens, and allow me to pick out the ones I liked. Special memory. She is the Grandma who taught me how to sew, some 70 years ago.

    1. That is a special memory, Karen, and a special Grandma, who taught you a skill that’s stuck with you (and I’m guessing brought you pleasure) for so long. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I remember standing with my mother at the back of a truck while it was being unloaded at a little grocery store and her picking out a sack because of the print so she could use it to make a dress or bloomers for me. She made all my clothes, maybe not socks. 🙂

  5. I love that story, Sandra! (And in Texas I met a woman who told me she knew someone who saved feed sack string and knitted socks with it—I can’t imagine how those stayed up around the wearer’s ankles!)

  6. Eight years ago my cousin who was an heirloom children sewing teacher but not a quilter asked me to make her a quilt from her other grandmother’s feed sacks. Right after I took the feedsacks home (to another state) she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I went into high gear to make her quilt. It turned out beautiful!! My favorite of all my quilts. She actually lived until this past July and the feedsack quilt will be returning to me. Ever since making the quilt I have fallen in love with feedsacks. My collection is growing exponentially. The fabrics connect me with the past as my grandmother and mother were both seamstresses extraordinaire. Anxiously awaiting your book!

    1. Linda, I’m sure your cousin so appreciated the quilt and the memories it held, and it’s wonderful that now you’ll have the opportunity to do so, too. And enjoy your feed sack collection. I promised myself when I started the book that I wouldn’t buy any more, but I’m finding that a hard rule to follow! Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. This book sounds wonderful! I always love seeing the colorful patterns of the feed sacks, so it’s great you captured so many of the patterns. My family has a wedding ring quilt made of muslin and feed-sack fabric that my great grandmother started for my grandmother. It was supposed to be a wedding gift, but neither woman finished it. My mom did additional work on it, and someday I may get around to actually finishing it 🙂

    1. Well, if you DO finish it you’ll have a quilt with quite a legacy. And I hope you enjoy the book because we certainly include lots and lots of different patterns. I’m always just amazed at how many there are.

  8. I had a friend that got me hooked on feed sacks. I worked for an auctioneer for several years and could pick up pristine unwashed feed sacks for a dollar a piece! I have accumulated scraps and one jacket made from feed sacks. The jacket was in a garage and quite dirty, but I had to have it. I no longer work for the auctioneer and have not added to my stash, but I sure treasure the ones I have.

    1. Oh, my. Working for an auctioneer sounds dangerous. If it were me, not much would come home in my paycheck! And sacks for $1 apiece is amazing! Enjoy your collection.

  9. Oh! I can hardly wait to read your book! My mother made summer tops for my Grandma from feed sacks bought for feeding our farm animals. Recently I made a flannel backed baby quilt for our first grandson and included squares from these fabrics with the 30’s style quilt prints. Although the feed sacks are a bit coarser in texture, they blended well.

    1. What a lovely family connection is in that quilt, Carolyn! Someday you can tell him all about those special pieces (and those fabrics do seem to soften with time).

  10. Congratulations on your book. I’m very excited to read all about feed sacks. I remember sugar and flower sacks as a young child. Wishing more books in your future too.

    1. Thanks so much, Mary. I’ll admit that both times I’ve written a book I say “NEVER AGAIN!” But I’ve learned that, like childbirth, the memory of the painful parts passes and I get intrigued by a new topic and want to try again…so we’ll see what’s next!

  11. A co-worker gave me 25 – 30 feed sacks he found in his mother’s things after she passed away. He couldn’t believe his frugal mother bought so much fabric and never used it. He was impressed when I explained what they were but he didn’t want them. I offered to make a quilt for his daughter with them, but he refused because “colors didn’t fit” and were too old-fashioned. Since I have no connection to feed sacks, they are like civil war prints – they make beautiful quilts but I don’t collect them. I kept them for a while then gave them to two fellow guild members who love and collect feed sacks.

  12. My Dad used to tease my Mother that her petticoats had”Martha White”( a flour company) on the back! When I was old enough to ask, he explained that during the depression, no part of a flour sack was wasted. If there were flowers, that part was used for a dress or blouse and the rest including the brand name could be used for petticoats or underwear! For them it was a tease, but my Dad told me even in cities, families would use flour and sugar bags for clothing, cloths and aprons.

    1. Love this story and I heard versions of it multiple times while writing the book. Those labels on sacks were hard to remove and often hidden in clothing that wouldn’t be seen.

    1. Most were unnamed, but we found out about a very few—their stories are in the book. (Very different from today when we know all the fabric designers names, isn’t it?)

  13. I also am in awe of feed sacks! I have collected a few unopened sacks. It’s the history and thinking about where each has been that is so intriguing! Well, the prints too 🙂 This book will be awesome. I hope you will update us when it’s available!

    1. I do think the book will be awesome—so many great images to enjoy—but thanks for saying so! You will be able to order it from UPPERCASE in mid-November at the links listed in the story.

    1. You can find them in antique and thrift stores, at auctions, on ebay and etsy. ID-ing feed sacks is complicated—there are lots of good books on feed sacks that talk about this (and a section in mine, too).

  14. I don’t get feed sacks here in the city, but my Mom saved quite a few rice sacks from when my parents bought 50-pound sacks of rice for the family. We stored the sack of rice in a huge baking powder tin (tall as a stool) from a restaurant. The rice sacks are off-white with huge black lettering, some with Chinese characters. I plan to make fabric bins out of them, trimmed and lined with fabric from my stash.

    1. I love that you’re using your family’s rice sacks, Wendy—they’ll have such special meaning for you. I have a great story in my book about brothers who wore rice sack shirts, and we have images of rice sacks, too.

  15. When I got into quilting seriously I started collecting feed sacks. A friend and I would each buy a couple a month and then split them so our collections would have more variety. I have used 2 or 3 in quilts but mostly they have sat in bins. I think I will get them out and use them this year than everyone can energy their energy and story. Congratulations on the book!

    1. Thanks, Mary Ann, and I love your idea for getting more variety in your feed sack stash. I interviewed a number of people who make quilts from feed sacks they’ve saved, and they are beautiful! Good luck with yours.

  16. I have a small feedsack collection and like another reader, can hardly bring myself to cut it up! I remember my Mother making many items from feedsack. In 1959, she made me a pink floral feedsack dress to be baptized in. We had to pin it together between the legs to keep it from bubbling up as I went into the water..hahaha! I wish I still had that dress!! Looking forward to the book!

    1. Such a great story, Bonnie! I know what you mean about cutting into them—I’ve saved a stack for a long time—but doing this book has convinced me to use them…at least the duplicates and scraps!

  17. Congratulations! This looks like an absolutely awesome book….gonna go on my wish list! We’ve found many feedsack items in the vintage linens and crocheted creations we’ve cherished from my mom-in-law’s house. So ingenious, creative. Can’t wait to see the book!

  18. In the 1990s I wrote an on-going column for the Feedsack Club’s newsletter, Switches and Swatches, called Feedsack Memories. Interviewing women who have childhood and early married memories of using feedsacks was a pleasure. I started using feedsack fabric during the 1970s and 1980s to make country craft items. The “look” was perfect. Now I only piece quilts from them.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about interviewing women with feed sack memories being a pleasure, Barbara. I’d expected to hear more complaining about having to wear feed sack clothing, but nearly everyone’s feelings about them were positive (in hindsight, anyway). I wish I’d known about your newsletter—would have loved to read it.

  19. I have a large collection of feed sacks and I have made 3 quilts using feed sacks. One has over 120 different prints in it. I buy scraps to make my quilts and keep the whole ones. I have it in my will for my large collection to be sold and the money divided up for my 3 grandkids. They are not to be sold by boxes but individually. Like another post I saw earlier i used to go with my grandmother to the neighbors who had chicken houses and she would pick out the patterns she wanted. Great memories.

    1. Your quilts sound lovely and I love that you’ve planned for your feed sacks (and grandchildren)!

  20. The fabric with the lavender background and yellow flowers that is on the top of one of the stacks of fabric in the last photo brings back happy memories. My grandmother made an apron for herself out of that exact same design!

    1. I love hearing that, Margo! I’m always amazed at what strong memories pieces of fabric can hold. I know when I’ve seen a scrap of a dress my mother made me when I was a child, it evokes recognition even decades later. Guess that might not be true for everyone, but certainly for those of us who love fabric. Thanks for sharing your memory of your grandmother.

  21. I was raised in Port Arthur, Tx. During the 1940’s my grandparents owned and operated an old fashioned grocery store in which they sold feed. My mom was a great seamstress and made most of my and my older sisters dresses out of those feed sacks. She used a lot of the feed sacks for drain cloths for washed dishes. When my mother sold her home in the 1990’s, she gave me a box of unused feed sacks and then my Aunt gave me a few more. I have treasured them not wanting to cut them up, but lately I have been thinking I need to do something with them. I am looking forward to getting your book and hopefully then I will have some ideas as to what to do with my treasures.

    1. Love these memories, Vonda! My book probably won’t give you new ideas—it’s not a project book—but maybe reminding you what people used to do with them will give you a nudge. We have many pages included from old pamphlets and newspapers, which encouraged women to sew all kinds of things from feed sacks.

    1. The book will be available from UPPERCASE. Currently the book is only available as part of a set—the first three volumes of the Encyclopedia of Inspiration—and you might enjoy all three of those books. But the feed sack book will be available on its own sometime next month. http://uppercasemagazine.com/feedsacks

  22. When my Grandma passed away, I was the lucky grandchild that got her house. When I was going through the upstairs, sorting through seventy years of accumulation, I found a little dress in one of the old dressers. It is made from feedsacks, and is cute as can be.

  23. My grandma made me dresses and pillowcases from her chicken feedsacks. She also had wonderful aprons she made from them. From the flour sacks she made tea towels, Grandpa’s underwear and his nightshirts. I used to iron my dresses from the bag of starched laundry in the plastic bag in the refrigerator.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Miriam. In doing research for the book I found that the pretty print sacks were more often used for “public” clothing, while the plain sacks were often used for petticoats, underwear, and other “behind-the-scenes” clothing. Sounds like that was true in your family, too!

  24. On the west coast, we have a Japanese dollar store called Daiso. One of the traditional Japanese goods they sell are very large , somewhat loosely woven, printed hankerchiefs. MANY of the floral and juvenile patterns are remnicent of feed sacks, and I’ve been Cole ting these to make a quilt top. I mention it in case other California’s or Washingtonian are interested in this oddball fabric coincidence!

    1. I grew up in CA and my folks still live there—I will be on the look out for these handkerchiefs on my next visit. What a great idea!

  25. Considering the amount of plastic waste produced and its horrible impact on our environment, feedsacks would be a wonderful and sustainable packaging material even today, I’d buy all my staple goods in feedsacks if available (fabric love )!

    1. It’d be great, but I’m pretty sure the days when that would be cost-effective are over. I have seen people re-using the polypropylene bags that feed comes in today—there are all kinds of instructions on the internet for using them to make tote bags, tarps, etc.

  26. Would’t it be wonderful to have a new line of fabric that comes out of this! Love your post and will have to purchase this book too! So interesting! I have a few feed sack materials and I, too, don’t want to cut into them – at least yet. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Susan. And maybe when just the right thing comes along you’ll be ready to use those sacks.

  27. I have my grandmother’s stash of feed sacks from her childhood. There is one particular purple floral that my daughter loves but Grandma hated because Great-Grandma J. “color coded” all the girls’ underwear and that pattern was Grandma’s. She wore the same pattern for YEARS!! Not only were those women resourceful, they also were organized!

  28. Now THAT is a funny story and one I’ve never heard before. Variety is the spice of life…I can imagine the same underwear would get a little boring after awhile!

  29. I have quite a collection of my own feedsacks! I also love them, collect them and share when I do my own 1930’s truck show to area guilds. Each story is wonderful and I look forward to your book to add to my collection of 1930’s quilt history!!

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