I saw this picture of feed sacks on Twitter yesterday and all I could think of was the great poverty of the Great Depression but at the same time there is a romance to the idea that women could make something beautiful from something so mundane from an old sack of sugar or flour.
In truth, feed sacks were used for sewing well before the depressions and for several years after. The evolution of the feed sack is a story of ingenuity and clever marketing.
For centuries, countless items were transported in bulky, wooden barrels and boxes, awkward and heavy to carry and store. Beginning in the mid-1850s, a plethora of cotton made bags cheap to produce and improvements in sewing machine design enabled bags to be stitched tightly shut. Barrels fell by the wayside as goods were shipped in bags, including flour, sugar, seed, animal feed, fertilizer, hams and sausages, and even ballots.
Women looked at these sacks and began to use them for everything: diapers, dish towels and also became popular for clothing items. Manufacturers saw what was happening and they began to print their cloth bags in a variety of patterns and colours.
When World War 11 rolled around fabric was in very short supply due to it being needed for military uniforms it was said that over 3.5 million women and their families were wearing garments made out of feed bags. It was simply a part of life in those days.
Magazines and pattern companies began to take notice of feed sack popularity and published patterns to take advantage of the feed sack prints. Matching fabric and even matching wrapping paper was available, too. Directions were given for using the strings from feed sacks in knitting and crocheting.
Gradually in the 50s cheaper paper bags came on the market and production of the cloth feed sack declined. I remember in the 60s they tried to bring back feed bag clothing back, but it was in style for about 5 minutes. Today, only the Amish use cotton sacks for their dry goods.
If you are looking for vintage feed sacks now they go for a pretty penny at local auctions and on Ebay they can go up to $65 or more. I am sure someone is shaking their head somewhere.:)