What’s It Worth: Vintage Feedsack Fabric

Upcycling is not a new concept on the farm, and as early as the 1800s farm women were stitching décor and clothing from feedsacks. Today, collectors are eager to bag these vintage feedsack fabrics.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics

What's It Worth: Feedsack Fabrics

Flour sack towel. A bright bunny applique is hand-stitched to a kitchen towel that dates to the 1940s or '50s. The dimensions (39 inches by 37 inches) and cotton fabric indicate it was made from half of a flour sack. It's worth about $10.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics: grandmother's flower garden feedsack pattern

Flower Garden Feedsack Quilt

Feedsack quilt. Made in the enormously popular Grandmother's Flower Garden pattern, this 1940s quilt features tiny hand-stitched hexagons made from colorful feedsack prints.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics: piece of feedsack quilt

Close-Up On Feedsack Quilt

Though a number of its print pieces show wear and tear from repeated washings, this heirloom feedsack quilt is in above-average condition and worth about $300.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics: sugar sack hand towel

Sugar Sack Towel

Sugar sack hand towel. The elaborate bell edging on this 1930s hand towel was crocheted by an expert needlewoman, probably as a wedding gift. The project was never completed—the daffodil design stamped on (faintly visible behind the spoon) was meant to be embroidered. This towel would sell for about $40.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics: colorful yo-yo quilt

Yo-Yo Quilt

Yo-yo quilt. The tiniest of scraps from other projects could be upcycled into a striking coverlet like this yo-you quilt, which got its name from the popular toy.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics: yo-yo quilt close-up

Yo-Yo Quilt Close-Up

It took about 600 yo-yos to make a quilt for a double bed; this coverlet, with 4,032 yo-yos, has more than I've ever seen and would be lovely to hang. It's worth about $350.

Vintage Feedsack Fabrics: twins in feedsack dresses

Feesack Dresses

Feedsack dresses. Young Barbara Eash (left) and twin sister Beverly wear floral-print dresses stitched by their aunt.

 

Upcycling is a very old concept. One of my favorite examples is thrifty farm women stitching decor and even clothing from feedsacks.

 

Flour, sugar and animal feed were once shipped mostly in hard-to-transport wooden barrels. But Elias Howe’s lock-stitching sewing machine finally made seams strong enough for bags to hold up to 100 pounds, so from the 1880s to the 1940s, cloth ruled.

 

That delighted resourceful farm wives! They’d carefully unravel and roll up the cotton thread that had stitched the bag shut, to reuse for crocheting. Then they’d cut apart the white sacks, bleach out inked labels and dye, stitch and embroider this free fabric into everything from petticoats to dish towels to diapers, depending partly on the weave.

 

Today, vintage feedsack fabric collectors prize the visible remains of a mill logo on a quilt backing or other item as proof of the object’s age. Not all logos were inked on; later manufacturers moved to glued-on paper labels that women soaked off.

 

Collectors also look for a line of holes from the chain-stitching across the top of the bag that sewed it shut, although this part of the bag was sometimes cut off in making a garment or household item. Manufacturers, seeing a promotional opportunity, began making the bags with vivid colors and designs printed on one side, sometimes with sewing patterns printed right on the bag. More than 40 mills produced fabrics in thousands of prints, some by popular designers.

 

Eager to save the 30 cents or so per yard that store fabric cost, especially during the Depression, women asked their men for specific feedsacks, sometimes sending them back to the store if they returned with the wrong print. Bags came in different sizes, but the average width was about 36 inches, with a length of 40 to 46 inches. It took two or three identical sacks to make a woman’s dress.

 

Lively prints—not just florals, but also patriotic, nursery, movie and even comic book motifs—were also stitched into toys, pillowcases, curtains, pajamas and tablecloths. Quilters, of course, were big fans.

 

From the 1920s on, demand spread beyond farm wives. In the 1940s, it was estimated that 3 million women and children, at all income levels, were wearing clothing fashioned from feedsacks.

 

The cloth bags fell from favor in the late ’40s, when new technology brought in paper and plastic containers, cheaper and more food-safe. Still, vintage designs have been reproduced for sale today in fabric stores. And feedsack collectors remain passionate about finding not just the sacks themselves, but examples of items women made from fabric once written off as waste.

 

—Barbara J. Eash (Country Woman Magazine’s Antiques Expert)

nonie 1 April 25, 2014 at 9:54 am

I was looking for information about some war feed sacks. Know where I could find this? I have some that I would be interested in selling.

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