It goes without saying, if you’re quilter, you have stash. The size and type of this stash varies from quilter to quilter. There are those quilters who purchase only the fabric needed for one project, make that quilt, and immediately throw out all but the largest pieces of the left-over fabric.
There are those quilters that have never met fabric they couldn’t use, and if the material was just really ugly, they simply cut it into smaller pieces. If there’s a fabric sale in their vicinity (read on-line or LQS), they’re there…purchasing bolts and precuts like there’s no tomorrow. They arrive back at their studio and add those to their stash without any real plans for any of it. These folks have floor-to-ceiling-come-to-Jesus size stashes.
And then there’s quilters like me. I shop my stash for upcoming projects and add to that as needed to make a quilt. I shop fabric sales (read LQS and online), and will purchase bolts of neutrals and cuts of fabric that are regularly used in applique – greens, browns, reds, blues, purples, and pinks. My stash is large-ish, but I’m working through it and can tell you what I have and what I need. I throw away the small scraps, keep the large, irregular sized pieces for applique, and cut up the rest in 2 ½-inch squares or strips, or 2 7/8-inch squares. I used these left overs for constructing charity quilts (more on my stash system later). All of this sounds terribly organized and thrifty…and it is … except for Feed Sacks. Those are my quilter’s kryptonite.
For those of you that don’t know exactly what Feed Sacks are or what the look like, dismiss from your mind the feed sacks of today that you may purchase your dog, cat, or chicken feed in. Now think about the 1930’s reproduction fabrics you see in LQS’s and on fabric websites. That gives you a general idea of the colors. Back in the 1920’s or so and onward up until about 1963, animal feed, flour, salt, tobacco, and some other grains were sold in cloth sacks. During that period of time (and especially during the Great Depression), no one let these sacks go to waste. Farmers used them to cover hay, tobacco and other crops that had been brought to the barn. Women would bleach the inked labels off and use the white fabric for curtains, underwear, table linens, and other items that they may need. Along the way, one bag distributor decided to begin making their bags out of printed material – and the feed sack economy went into full bloom. This was primarily during the 1930’s when pennies were hard to come by and nothing went to waste. Women found out they could make everything from nightgowns to evening wear out of these Feed Sacks. The pattern company Simplicity produced patterns designed primarily for use with these sacks.
And there were hundreds of quilts made from them.
Even now there are websites designed to highlight Feed Sack Quilts and clothing. In the past few years, fabric lines like Aunt Grace have come out with designs and colors to match the Feed Sacks produced and those are still great demand. You can still purchase the Simplicity patterns (although not from Simplicity) that promote garments made from them.
And they’re my favorite thing in the world to collect. Why? First, I love the colors. Since the Feed Sack boom was primarily during the Great Depression, manufacturers and designers made the print as bright and colorful as they could to help cheer up the consumer and make their wardrobe and home brighter than the economy. There are particular colors that were only available during this time – that Bubble Gum Pink and Minty Green come to mind. I have an entire fat quarter collection of the Aunt Grace fabric and love it, but to me you simply cannot get the same colors today as you could during that time. They make my heart sing and my day brighter.
The second reason I adore Feed Sacks is they represent one of the biggest tenants of quilting history: Making Do With What You Have. Not only were the bags used for nearly everything, but folks even saved the string that the bags were sewn together with. That string could be dyed or left plain and use for crocheting doilies and other household items. In a world where everyone seems to be rushing towards the next best thing and the latest posting on social media, this gladdens my soul. I think this is a principle I need to promote more in my own life.
Lastly, I like Feed Sacks because you can still purchase them. Unlike a great deal of original historical fabric, there still are quite a few original Feed Sacks out there and they are reasonably priced. So much so, that I can chase them down on eBay, spend less than $30 and come away with three to five Feed Sacks that are just lovely.
Some of my latest Feed Sack purchases
I don’t know if this was just a popular design or prevalent in this part of the country. I have two Feed Sack quilts with this fabric in them, both in a large and small version of the print. I’ve purchased two large Feed Sacks with this print.
I’ve purchased so many Feed Sacks from one particular eBay vendor that she included a ready-made label in my last order. Talk about a sweetheart!
This is Aunt Grace 1930’s reproduction fabric. The “bubble gum pink” is just about a dead ringer for the real thing.
And then last week I came across this:
I had a lot of fun reading this…and when I researched the patterns, I found those on a website, too. Not that I’m going to make clothing again at least anytime soon, but it was wonderful to know that this piece of history is still out there.
The patterns shown was a size 14! Pattern companies were way more realistic then. The booklet sold for 19 cents. The mailing label is still on the back.
This is one of two Feed Sack garments that I own. Both were found in the bottom of a box of sacks I purchased several years ago. There are no buttons or buttonholes on this sweet little dress, and it’s not hemmed. I wish it could talk and tell me why it’s remained unfinished. The detail with rick rack around the neck is precious.
So, what am I going to do with my bins of Feed Sacks? Make quilts of course…as soon as I’m brave enough to cut them up!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam