From feed sacks to frocks!


"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Right time, right place, fulfilling a need and getting a life of it's own, becoming both an iconographic symbol of it's time and the fabric of life for generations.

The invention of the 'Stitching Machine':

The first sewing machines became available around 1845 and an interlocking chain stitch was perfect for a good strong seam.

The development of Man made fibres:

Rayon and acetate derived from plant cellulose in the late 1880's and the subsequent slump in the cotton market, between 1914 and 1929, contributed to an abundance of cheap cotton, along with the strong reliable stitching from the "Stitching machines" led to feed sacks gradually replacing wooden barrels as food containers.

Interestingly the sacks were initially printed with the same logo's that had adorned the top of the barrels, the original recyclable shopping bag - nothing is new!

Pretty soon thrifty homemakers were using these feed sacks to make children’s clothing, aprons and other household necessities, and while it took some time for the manufacturers to "cotton on" - sorry, I could not resist the pun - to this popularity, they eventually saw a golden opportunity for promotion of their product.

By 1925 they'd started to use colourful prints suitable for shirts, dresses and children's clothes, an in the 30's the manufacturers were employing artists to come up with the most desireable designs, including preprinted patterns for toys, border prints for bed linen and blocks for patchwork quilts. It worked so well that people bought particular brands of flour, sugar and even chicken feed for specific designs.

Feedsack remnants available on ebay!

Pretty soon magazines and commercial pattern companies started producing sewing patterns for clothing specifically made from feed sacks. One feed sack could have easily make a child’s dress or a shirt, and three or four identical sacks were needed to make a woman’s dress.

And part of me wishes I'd been there creating those designs!


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Moira Carter — Illustrator — Chester moirarae1@btinternet.com