This Memorial Day weekend I’m thinking of my mother. There’s a reason. It started when I was going through things in the basement and I re-discovered my mother’s collection of feedsacks. For years I’ve been talking about making a quilt from them, and now the time has arrived!
Mom grew up on a Kansas farm during the 1930s, and like most rural folks at that time, her family was frugal. After all, it was the Great Depression. Part of their practicality included making clothing from feedsacks. Grandpa must have bought a lot of feed, because Mom’s supply of feedsack quilts seemed endless. Now, more than eighty years later, I still have quite a few. When I grew up in the 1960s, Mom was still making things from them–aprons, laundry bags, pajamas, and more. As I survey the surviving feedsacks, memories wash over me as I recall her wearing a dress from this piece or an apron from that.
It turns out that feedsacks have an interesting history. Animal feed didn’t always come in colorful cloth sacks. That practice started in the late nineteenth century when textile mills started producing strong yet inexpensive cotton. Prior to that, feed came in heavy canvas or linen sacks. The frugal farmer’s wife knew a good thing when she saw it, and soon started turning them into everything from dish towels to curtains. When feed companies realized the popularity of their bags among rural women, they began selling feed in colorful printed sacks, but the trick was that a woman needed more than one bag to make a dress. That guaranteed a loyal customer base, right? Mom used to tell stories of going to town to make sure Grandpa got enough of a certain fabric so she could make a new dress. As you can see on the image above, she loved the floral prints.
While sewing squares together, I became aware that some pieces of the fabric has a tighter weave than the others. As I learned from a little research, farm women also bought sugar, flour, and salt in cloth sacks, and those had to be denser than ones holding animal feed. Among Mom’s stash, I found a flour sack that she never managed to turn into a stuffed bunny rabbit. I’m going to leave it as is, a nice testimony to how farmers bought feed and food in the 1930s, but I am going to make the quilt!