Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Flour/Feed Sack Fabric a Brief History

The Flour or Feed Sack dress is something that I had heard of a few times, but had never given much thought to until recently. Once I made up my mind to make one for Megan for Challenge #1 in the 2014 Historical Sew Fortnightly I wanted to research as much as possible. Now my imagination is filled with the images of wives and daughters pestering their husbands and fathers to purchase the right fabric sack with the flour/maza/grain needed for the family.

I own horses so I have an idea of how big a 50lb sack of feed is, it's difficult for me to imagine a time when a family would buy that much and more flour for their home though. I also kind of wish I could buy my horses grain in cotton fabric bags. It would be sticky, but so worth it!

The use of cotton for flour and feed sacks actually goes back much further than I thought. I had imagined Great Depression/WWII. But in my research I found that the practice of using feed sack cotton for clothing dates back to the 1800's. Basically as soon as mills began producing the cotton at a less expensive rate than either barrels or canvas it was used. It was in the mid 1920's that the feed sack companies realized that they had a market for printed cotton sacks rather than just the white. Prior to that the bags were white with the company label printed in vegetable ink so it could be washed out. My mother says that in cases where the label couldn't be removed it was used for underwear. Which leads my mind to a cute corset idea...

During and after WWII the use of cotton feed sacks was considered patriotic. There were shortages of just about everything including fabric. So advertisements like these below were meant to gain attention.

Feed sack fabric did carry a stigma in some ways and in some places as well. It represented rural life often from the south, people who were too poor to be able to buy pre-made clothing or buy bolt fabric. And as with many of these things it is now in high demand. Collectors buy the fabric, the dresses, towels, and quilts that were made with flour sack fabric. There are gowns in museums that may be silk on the outside, but the lining is made of flour sacks. It's all quite interesting. I don't think I'll become a collector or a quilter but it is going to be a fun project to make my own daughter a dress with it's own history to honor the women who made due with what was available to them AND really drove changes within an industry to meet their demands.

My fabric actually arrived last night so I am hoping to start the project over the holiday. Must be careful not to finish it too early because of the timeline for the challenges. 

No comments:

Post a Comment