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Feedsack Dresses and Fabric

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

My mother wearing her feedsack dress.

My mother wearing her feedsack dress.

Depression Era Clothing Made from Feedsacks

My 85 year old mom tells about wearing dresses made from feed sack material in the 1930s. People think that sounds terribly quaint, but it was quite common during the Great Depression.

People bought chicken feed or flour in large bags of 50 to 100 pounds. These bags, made of cotton, became popular for sewing projects when the feed sacks went from plain white material to flowered, checked and plaids.

The feedsack material was used to make dish towels, curtains, and quilts.

The photo shows my mom, Gail Lee Martin with her sister and two cousins. They're wearing their feed sack dresses, made by their mothers. My mother is wearing a ribbon in her hair. Her sister Melba McGhee is in the light colored dress. (left to right) Twyla Yeager, Melba and Gail McGhee, and Lucile Vining.

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Feedsack Dress or Not?

This family photo dates back to the early 1940s. Even though the Great Depression was over, thrifty farm families sewed their own clothing and still used the colorful, printed fabric from feedsacks for dresses, curtains and in their quilt making.

Since the patterns of these textiles were very much like what was seen in the stores, it is sometimes hard to tell if a dress from that era was homemade or from a shop. In looking at this photo, I'm undecided if this is a feedsack dress or not.

(photo from the McGhee family album)

This Photo Shows How Colorful a Vintage Feedsack Dress Is

Isn't this style of dress a delight and here it is 80 years later. (photo used with permission of Dreemco on Etsy)  Someone preserved this dress all these years and  now it's for sale on Etsy.

Isn't this style of dress a delight and here it is 80 years later. (photo used with permission of Dreemco on Etsy) Someone preserved this dress all these years and now it's for sale on Etsy.

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My Mother and My Aunt Examine a Quilt with Feedsack Material

The colored sections of the quilt are made with printed 1930s fabrics.

The colored sections of the quilt are made with printed 1930s fabrics.

Quilts Made of Feedsack Material

Look at the wonderful colors and patterns in these vintage quilts made of feedsack material. This cotton fabric stayed nice and bright if the quilts were not washed too often.

It's possible to find 70 year old quilts that haven't faded at all. Some were safely stored away over the years and barely used.

More about Feedsack Quilts

  • Patchwork History Quilt Tells Family Stories
    Heirloom family history quilts are part of my family's tradition. Some suggestions for you to get started on a family history quilt and some show and tell from my family's collection.

Singer Sewing Machine and Feed Sack Material - Photo by Gail Lee Martin

Singer Sewing Machine and Feed Sack Material - Photo by Gail Lee Martin

Singer Sewing Machine and Feed Sack Material - Photo by Gail Lee Martin

Other Ways to Use Feedsack Material - Books available from Amazon

The general term is feed sack material, but sugar and flour and cornmeal came in cotton sacks also. Other fabric sacks might hold potatoes, rice or salt. Some of these might not have the pretty patterns of a feedsack but would have a brand name or product name stamped on it. Those could be bleached out to leave a plain fabric to use for sewing.

Feed Sack Art

Etsy - A Good Place to Find Vintage Feedsack Material

This shows the wide variety of patterns and colors that the feedsacks came in. Woodstone Studio has batches of them already cut into squares to delight quilters.

This shows the wide variety of patterns and colors that the feedsacks came in. Woodstone Studio has batches of them already cut into squares to delight quilters.

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More About Feed Sacks - Hand-picked websites with more information

  • The Blushing Rose
    We are the largest purveyor of feedsacks on the internet, carrying over 1,500 plus on our website.
  • Feedsack Quilts and Clothing - a Frugal Fabric
    The charming story of how feed sacks as well as flour and sugar bags made sewing & quilting on a low budget fun from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Girls Have Fun At The Vermont State Fair 1941 Posters by makemystyle
  • Feedsacks and Feedbags
    Feedsacks were cloth bags used to package goods, then reused for a number of household items including quilts.
  • Read the First Chapter of The Feedsack Dress by Carolyn Mulford
    When Gail wears a pretty feedsack dress the first day of ninth grade in 1949, the mean queen makes nasty comments about poor country kids. Every time Gail wears her homemade dress, something awful happens. Her refusal to buckle and her defense of the
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My Aunt's Memories of the Dresses

My aunt, Carol Garriott, shared her memories of these:

I fondly remember my feed sack dresses! I got to go along when Mother & Daddy were buying feed for the chickens and cows, so I could pick out the print and colors I liked. Mother would save lace collars, rick rack, and other adornments from clothes that were faded or worn out, to use on the new clothing.

She kept patterns in a cardboard box with pieces of cardboard between the various styles. I was so proud when I went to school with a new dress! I especially liked the princess style. Aunt Carol (January 10, 2011)

(photo from the McGhee family album)

My Flint Hills Childhood (available from Blurb.com)

My Flint Hills Childhood by Gail Lee Martin contains a section about her memories of wearing feedsack dresses.

My Flint Hills Childhood by Gail Lee Martin contains a section about her memories of wearing feedsack dresses.

Other Feed Sack Stories - Available on Amazon

Video of a Fabric Historian Talking about 1930s Feedsacks

I found this pretty interesting It's about 9 minutes long.

I Found Another Lover of Feedsacks

While attending the Davenport Quilt show in central Florida, I met Pat Reid's daughter. She had a booth at the show featuring her mother's books and some feedsack fabrics for sale. I believe she does vintage feedsack trunk show and history presentations.

See the book cover below and just after that is her contact information.

Patricia Reid's Book - Feedsack 2'' Swatch Books

To get this book, contact patssacks@gmail.com or call 321-5120

To get this book, contact patssacks@gmail.com or call 321-5120

Vintage Photo

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Zelma Ironing a Blouse Made of Feedsack Material Photographic Print
Kirkland, Wallace

Buy at AllPosters.com

More Sites about Feedsack Material

Historical Fiction Book for Teens

More Memories of Ways Feedsacks Were Used

Vintage Sewing Machines

The old sewing machines usually had ornate decorations on them and would make a great conversation piece for your sewing room. Besides most of them are still in workable condition. Check at yard sales, estate sales and on eBay.

Let Me Know That You Stopped By! - Share your memories of vintage feedsacks

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on February 18, 2017:

Oh, it's so fun seeing all these old feedsack dresses and patterns, and the old Singer sewing machines. I think I recognize a couple of the prints. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into making this page. What a treasure it is.

Nancy Hellams aka OhMe on April 12, 2015:

My grandparents had a little general store and his name was stamped on the flour and seed sacks. I have an old quilt that was made from them. Sure enjoyed this visit

Diana Burrell-Shipton from Hubbard, Ohio, USA on February 26, 2015:

What lovely stories !

I so enjoy hearing about memories like this and really wish more folks today appreciated the old ways of saving and "making do".

poetryman6969 on January 31, 2015:

I have heard of this. It's amazing how much they did with so little in the olden days. Now we just throw everything away.

Pats sacks on November 14, 2014:

My mother Pat Reid's passion was the documentation of feedsacks and the making of beautiful feedsack quilts. Her book of over 18,000 2" squares showing all the different colors and patterns of feedsacks were printed in, shows just what a treasure this cloth is.

burntchestnut on May 07, 2014:

It was clever and thoughtful for feed companies to pack their feed into bags that could be used for something else.

grannysage on July 05, 2013:

I don't remember my mother or grandmother using feedsacks, but then they were from fishing families, not farmers. But my mother re-used everything and I loved finding pieces of my old dresses in the quilts she made.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on July 05, 2013:

@Frischy: I've seen people add a table top to a sewing machine base. Makes a nice side table or a plant stand.

Frischy from Kentucky, USA on July 05, 2013:

I inherited my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine. It still worked, but then it was lost in a flood. I still have the base and some buttons she had saved in one of the drawers.

shewins on May 15, 2013:

The feedsack fabric is so beautiful, you'd have to be mad to throw it away. I love the old sewing machines, I'm a bit of a collector myself. I have several singer treadle machines in various states of repair, and also one in a wooden case very similar to that last photo. The machine I use is a Singer Featherweight from the 1960s. I enjoyed this article very much.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on May 08, 2013:

The patterns are quite attractive. Thanks for sharing your memories.

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on April 14, 2013:

I like this lense sewing is one of my favorite hobbies. Feedsack dresses were an important part of our history, home sewing has progressed through the centuries.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on May 05, 2012:

I love the design on the fabric of feedsacks. My mom also wore feedsack dresses. Nice look back here!

Mickie Gee on April 20, 2012:

Wanted to give you a "High Five" for featuring the Singer Sewing Machine. My grandmother had a treadle Singer that I used to play with when I was a small child. Thank you for the memories.

JJNW from USA on November 27, 2011:

SO cool. I think we need these bags today! Thanks for sharing.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 08, 2011:

There really were not many things that were wasted in the early days. Food crates became furniture. Unfortunately how times have changed and what a throw away society we have become. I love your photos.

LaureJ on May 07, 2011:

I hope this isn't too far off topic, but did you know people today are making eco-friendlyshopping totes from modern chicken feed bags? The totes are kind of the modern day version of feed-bag clothes, and very durable and cute.

Mona from Iowa on April 26, 2011:

I have a feedsack quilt my Grandma made. It's a treasure that she thought I was crazy to want. :)

cuteordeath on April 26, 2011:

Shows how much I knew about 30s fashion... This is great, I love it!

Angela F from Seattle, WA on January 31, 2011:

My grandmother wore them as long as I can remember. They may have had humble beginnings, but they are cherished memories to me!

anonymous on January 10, 2011:

Love this page! Good job covering the feedsack world. They sell flour here in AZ in cloth sacks.

Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on September 23, 2010:

My mom and Grandma made aprons and dresses out of feed sack material. Some of the sacks were really pretty. Loved this lens!!

Thankis for visiting my grandparents' economy lessons lens.

eclecticeducati1 on September 17, 2010:

Mom mother said she used to have feed sack dresses. She was born right after WWII. Her family was kinda poor and lived on a farm. She also had to use an outhouse when she was little. Great lens. Blessed by an Angel.

Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on April 30, 2010:

Fascinating - I didn't know about feedsack dresses, actually I had no idea the feedsacks came in different patterns!

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on April 30, 2010:

I have always admired the ingenuity of our ancestors who did so much with so little. This is an excellent example of how people make do with what they have on hand.

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on April 30, 2010:

Very interesting. Those feedsacks were actually quite interesting and in various patterns too! Thanks for an interesting topic!

LoKackl on April 29, 2010:

Some of those pictures look very familiar! My mom and her sisters are shown in photos similar to yours. Perhaps too much false pride prevented sharing the feedsack connection. ;-) SquidAngel Blessed.

anonymous on April 24, 2010:

Hadn't thought about feedsack dresses for a long time.

Interesting lens.

julieannbrady on January 12, 2010:

Yes, I am sure my mom had a few of these as she was born right at the start of The Great Depression. Interesting topic.

ElizabethJeanAl on December 28, 2009:

I didn't grow up in the 30's but as a child I had a lot of play clothes made from feedsacks. Recycling is not a new concept. The working poor have always used and reused whatever they could. It was a way of life.

Awesome lens

Lizzy

poutine on December 21, 2009:

I remember my grandma and mom telling me this kind of stories also.

They also sewn pillow cases out of those feedsacks.