Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vintage Feedsack Fabric and Bags Charm Yesterday's Frugal Housewives and Today's Collectors

After the 1846 invention of the sewing machine, food products such as grain, seed, and animal feed were able to be stored and transported in bags rather than boxes and barrels. The original feedbags, also called feedsacks were initially made of heavy canvas, and were used to obtain flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt and feed from the mills.

Feedsacks Originally Plain and Simple
Feedbags remained popular from the late 1840s to the 1890s. They were reusable, with the farmer bringing an empty sack stamped with his mark or brand to the mill to be filled. Feedbags as they were known then, were initially printed on plain white cloth and in sizes that corresponded to barrel sizes.

Farm House
wives Transform Feedsaacks
After soaking the feedbags in lye or bleach to get rid of the labels, women who lived on farms would turn these feedsacks into usable item such as dish cloths, diapers, nightgowns and other household items.
Front and back covers of a WWII booklet issued by the National Cotton Council of America which sums up the homefront effort to conserve -- A Yard Saved Is a Yard Gained for Victory.
- Courtesy of Judy White

Printed Feedsack Patterns
Manufacturers decided to take advantage of this and started offering sacks in various prints and solid colors as a marketing tool to create loyalty. It would take three identical sacks to make a dress, for example, and the farmer just might be induced to buy more that way.

One comical tale, written about in "Feed Sack Quilt History: Feedsacks, Frugal and Fun", Judy Anne Johnson Breneman writes about a woman whose undergarments revealed the phrase “southern best.”
Magazines and pattern companies began to take notice of feedsack popularity and by the 1920s began to publish particular patterns to take advantage of the feedsack prints.

Feedsacks an Urban Myths
According to Janet McCaffrey of who contributed the photographs in this article, there is a popular urban myth claiming that 15,000 feedsack patterns have been printed over the years.

Peak Production Period Ends in 1960's
At the height of feed sack production there were dozens of mills in operation continuing production of these fabrics through the 1960’s. If you would like to see a lovely sampling of feedsack designs, take a look at The Feedsack Pattern Gallery on Janet’s website ( Pillows shown were made by Janet of
Read More:

See more about feedsck bags as well as other vintage sewing projects in my book "Hot cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes" (

Visit these sites:

Reading Suggestions Courtesy of www.
-- Fabulous Feedsack Quilts , 1999, published by editors of Traditional Quiltworks Magazine [Chitra]
Textile Bags, Identification & Value Guide by Anna Lue Cook, 1990, Books Americana
-- Periodicals and magazines featuring feedsack Covers for Hard Times by Merikay Waldvogel, 1990, Rutledge Hill Press

C. Dianne Zweig is the author of Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s and Hot Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes. She is also the Editor of an actively growing internet based resource community for people who buy, sell or collect antiques, collectibles and art. You can find Dianne’s fabulous retro and vintage kitchen, home and cottage collectibles at The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Hartford, CT, a 22,000 feet antique emporium with an in-house retro cafĂ©.

To read more articles by C. Dianne Zweig click on this link:
C. Dianne Zweig’s Blog Kitsch ‘n Stuff

Email me at

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Dianne is a member of:
The American Society of Journalists and Authors
The Authors Guild, Inc.


  1. Urban myth? On the contrary, there have now been isolated and recorded almost 20,000 different printed patterns, when you count separate colorways of each.

    On my blog The Rickrack Rag I have a feature called Feedsack Friday that's loaded with feedsack images and information.

    My site, Sharon's Antiques: Vintage Fabrics I feature hundreds of different feedsacks, and have sold many thousands over the past 11 years or so.

  2. Sharon, you beat me to it! I don't think I called it an urban myth - it was just a figure I heard somewhere and then I heard that figure was too low, as you mention.

    I love your Feedsack Friday feature and often check out your site for new feedsacks. I consider you the expert, not me! I just like them a lot :)

    And I was going to say that I also administer a group on Flickr called Feedsacks and members post pictures of their feedsacks. Feel free to join us or hust stop by to take a look.

  3. Thanks Sharon and Janet for your feedback (no pun intended).