Quilty Pleasures – Feed Sack Cloth

Many years ago I discovered feed sack cloth and was just completely in love with the history and the fabrics. Maybe you are familiar with them and, then again, maybe not! Either way I thought it would be fun to take a look at this unique and fun fabric.

As far as I can see, through a little research, feed sack cloth is an American thing. In the early 1800s products, such as grain feed and food items, were shipped in barrels. Around 1840 cotton (canvas) sacks were introduced as a means of shipping containers for such such items. One individual states, “’Cotton had been king until the period of 1914 to 1929 when the price dropped out of the cotton market partially because synthetic fabrics like rayon became popular for dresses and undergarments. With the drop in the price of cotton even more companies began using cotton sacking as packaging. ‘”

feed sack cloth by Julie Rodgers
Feed Sack Cloth

The feed producers began to realize that women were using these feed bags to make clothing and other household fabric items. At first they simply made the bags in solid colors but then realized they could really address the needs and desires of the women by making them with prints. This occurred during the middle of the 1920s. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought with it a wide variety of prints that many women relied on to make their clothing and quilts. I am sure it helped the business of certain grain companies to create appealing prints so that a husband would be inclined to buy the brand their wife liked?

When I look at feed sack cloth I am almost taken aback at how whimsical and even gaudy the prints can be! They are just so fun and like nothing else. There is also a very wonderful textural quality to them as they are not tightly woven like cotton quilting prints today, nor are they woven with find cotton threads. That being said, here are some more examples of feed sack prints. These are all taken from Laurel Leaf Farm’s website, where you can purchase feed sack cloth. You can get a real good feel for the colors and patterns that were available. Apparently there were maybe as many as 20,000 different prints!

feed sack cloth by Julie Rodgers

When it comes to finding feed sack cloth you can go with reproductions but they just do not feel or look the same. I have read, however, that there are some good imitations out there, even from the same time period, but I have not seen them. It is suggested that if you really want to ensure it is authentic then buying the whole sack, still sewn together, if you can find them. If you find half of a sack you could look for the holes from the bag’s stitching which would likely still be there. You can purchase from a reputable seller as well. You can find them on Etsy, Ebay, in antique stores and various sellers, here and there, on the internet, such as Laurel Leaf Farm. I assume estate sales would be a good place to find some as well. They are not always inexpensive but you can sometimes find small collections of squares that you could incorporate into a quilt.

Now let’s talk a little about quilts. Obviously many women would have used the fabric to make quilts and the quilt patterns were numerous. Here are some pictures of quilts made with feed sacks from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Quilty Pleasures - Feed Sack Cloth
Crazy quilt 1930s

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the history of feed sack cloth. It is such an intriguing fabric and I am sad that feed sacks are no longer made with such fabric. The feed sack fabric period essentially lasted from the 1930s to the 1950s. Once paper packaging came into play it was far less expensive to put grain and feed into paper packaging. I have goats and chickens and would love it if their feed came in fabric bags! I do, however, buy a somewhat local flour in cloth bags but sadly the fabric dye is inconsistently color fast and often becomes far lighter once washed. They come in different sizes too which is fun. Here is a picture of the Blue Bird cloth bag! Not my picture. I stole it from The Journal. (The flour comes out of Cortez, Colorado and I hear they sell empty bags online.)