feed sacks :: the colourful history of a frugal fabric :: Okan Arts
feed sacks :: the colourful history of a frugal fabric

feed sacks :: the colourful history of a frugal fabric

By Patricia Belyea

SEATTLE WA  Let me explain what I received in my mailbox last week. First there was an unassuming white corrugated box. Inside was a chunky book packaged in a petite feed sack with a paper belly band and an effusive thank-you note.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCrayThe next layer was a dust cover. By refolding the dust jacket, I could dress my book in four different feed sack designs. Very unexpected and interactive!
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCrayFeed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCrayThe treasure inside was Feed Sacks, The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, written by Linzee Kull McCray. A pageant of history, stories, photos, and fabric swatches, the book captured my curiosity. As a yukata cotton aficionado, I completely understand how one textile can be so irresistible.

A compelling writer, McCray revealed “It was not until 2010 that feed sacks surfaced in my life. Historian and collector Michael Zahs spoke about them at my quilt guild meeting, and I was smitten and wrote about them every chance I got.” McCray then began her descent into Feed Sack Wonderland with the purchase of a box of vintage feed sacks on Craigslist.

Partnering with publisher Janine Vangool of UPPERCASE, these two textile lovers shone a light on every aspect of printed feed sack glory. Janine added her editorial savvy and design ingenuity to make the book a total delight.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray

When you think about the early days of American and Canadian history, feed and flour were bought in barrels. The invention of the sewing machine, the availability of cheap cotton, and the ease of transporting sacks transformed the industry.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray The book takes you back to early textile mills weaving the cotton, the die-cutting desk of designer Claude Holsapple (you’ll want to read about him), printing plants, and sewing rooms.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray

I especially liked learning about Hutchinson Bag Company in Kansas that still manufactures feed and food sacks today. Now known as Hubco, the company made the contemporary flour sack wrapping my book.

Called feed sacks, only 12% of cotton sacks were filled with animal feed.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCrayAnd 52% were filled with flour used by domestic consumers. As marketing sophistication grew, graphics with flour mill names and logos were replaced with appealing patterns. The sacks were promoted as fabric for kitchen curtains, day dresses (requiring three to four sacks), aprons, children’s clothes, and more.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCrayFeed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray

A favorite section talked about quilts made with flour sacks including double-wedding ring, crazy, and star quilts!
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray
The last third of this 544-page tome displays feed sack swatches from five major collectors—Gloria Hall, her grandson Paul Pugsley, Charlene Brewer, Janine Vangool, and Sharon Forth. Each has a story about their fascination with this frugal fabric.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCrayFeed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray

I have my own story: growing up in a family of six kids, my mother baked bread twice a week—four loaves of white, four loaves of brown. Our flour came in heavy cotton bags printed with oversized ginghams. I remember our summer attire— pop-tops paired with elastic-waisted shorts, sewn by Mom out of flour sacks.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray

The realm of flour sacks ended in 1964 with the low cost of paper bags and the decline of home sewers. Whether you were around in those days or not, how have you been touched by modest feed sacks?

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There’s much more to enjoy about feed sacks! To purchase Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric +click here

Feed Sacks is volume ‘F’ in the UPPERCASE Encyclopedia of Inspiration. Readers who supported the project during the pre-order stage received a contemporary dress print sack as a special package for their book. Volumes ‘B’ and ‘S’, Botanica and Stitch•illo will be published in 2017.
Feed Sacks by Linzee Kull McCray

Janine made a flip-through video [1:38] of the book. Take a peek:
Feed Sack Video by Janine Vangool

Press photo of Linzee by Paul McCray. Book photography © UPPERCASE Magazine.

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19 comments to “feed sacks :: the colourful history of a frugal fabric”

  1. Janet Wright says:

    I always love reading your newsletter. I learn a lot about things that are fascinating. My grandma used feed sacks–because she couldn’t afford anything else. This might be a book I need to purchase for our library. We have a large textile section—because we have so many textile artists and sewists here. Janet

  2. Linda Jackson says:

    I grew up in feed sack clothes. When I got old enough to care, going with Mom to pick out the chicken feed sacks so I could choose the fabric for my clothes is a childhood memory. The fabric then was a little heavy, nubby, and cheap. Don’t remember too many pretty prints for the chicken feed. Switched to Sears catalogue 15c fabric as soon as I could talk mom into it.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Linda—What a special memory. The contemporary fabric the book was wrapped in was none too soft so I don’t think they were ever made too finely. PB

  3. Kae Eagling says:

    Sounds like a fun book!

  4. Linda Fleming says:

    Thanks for the informative post! Having grown up in the UK, I never came across feed sacks!
    I’m going to suggest our local library purchase the book for their collection.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Linda—It might just be a NA phenomenon—the sacks printed for consumer usage. I’ll see if Linzee knows more. PB

      • Patricia Belyea says:

        Linda—Linzee let me know: As far as I’ve been able to discern the dress print sacks were only made in the US. They were used in other places—I’ve seen them with labels of Canadian mills and labels written in Spanish. But the dress print bags themselves seem to have been a US phenomenon. Since that time, of course, sacks have traveled around the world for sale, trade, or as gifts to quilters.

  5. Pat Pease says:

    I’ve been enjoying Feed Sacks since it arrived last week. The history of these fabrics is fascinating, and I think anyone who loves fabric would enjoy this book. I don’t have many old fabrics in my collection, but was pleased to see the few that I do, were in the book.
    I’ve been an UPPERCASE subscriber for several years and always look forward to finding my copy in the mail.

  6. Suzanne Dowsett says:

    A friend passed on this interesting item about the book on feed sack fabrics and I was reminded of something my mother told me. She said you could always tell when there had been a new shipment at the local feed store when she was a child because all the kids came to school in new clothes made from the same few designs. As we lived in a small rural town in the Mississippi Delta, that must have been the majority of the children in the school system on some occasions.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Suzanne—I lived in Ottawa, Canada’s capital as a kid. Most families ate store-bought bread so I didn’t bump into any kids with outfits matching my summer set. I remember that as a high school student, I was embarrassed that my daily sandwiches were on homemade bread. What idiots we can be! PB

  7. Ann says:

    Whoa, what a beautiful book! I was given a quilt top sewn by my great aunt. It had been stored in an attic and chewed thru in an area of it by a varmint probably trying to stay warm! So, I brought it to my local quilting guild and they told me that it was a feed sack, wedding ring quilt. They were so helpful and said they had access to old sacks so I could do repairs to it! Now, I just need to make the time to do so.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Ann—How lucky for you. Wedding ring quilts are big productions so it would be great if you could save yours with the insertion of replacement fabrics. PB

  8. marty says:

    one earliest dress of mine was made from “only” a flour sack. Have long wished I still had it.

  9. Helen Wergeland says:

    This is a special memory for me and thank you for sharing. My Mother and Father were from Kansas and traveled West during the first depression. I remember the pattern feed sacks and my Mother and Grams would use the sacks for many homemade articles. Mother always purchased feed/ flour in the large sack and both Grams and Mom always made all our clothes. Again thanks for sharing the history of the feed sacks.

  10. […] As I was trying to figure out the true definition of Feed Sack vs. Flour Sack vs. Grain Sack, I came across an adorable book that I need to add to my “I Want” list: “Feedsacks: The Colorful History of a Frugal Fabric”, written by Linzee Kull McCray, published by UpperCase. It is filled to the brim with beautiful pictures of these historical bags. Get a sneak peak on this blog post {“Feedsacks: The Colorful History of a Frugal Fabric”. […]

  11. Kristi says:

    I acquired an hand pieced quilt top that I feel is feed sack cloth. How can I find out if it is? Is there a catalog of prints? Could I email you some pictures to see if you recognize any if the fabric? Thanks for any help.