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Feedsacks: A Tradition of Recycling and Repurposing
| comments (8) Written on September 13, 2007 2:31 AM |
Several years ago, I was scrolling through the vintage fabric selection on Ebay when a particular auction caught my eye: pounds of colorful scraps of patterned fabric called feedsacks. I got lost in the kaleidescope of fabrics for sale and immediately placed my bid. That first box was my introduction into feedsacks and I have never turned back.
Although I had now become an official feedsack fan, I had no idea what the term actually meant so I did a little research and learned that the fabrics were actually from sacks of flour, sugar and animal feed. These feedsacks were recycled by generations of ingenious women who transformed this mundane consumer packaging into clothing, quilts, curtains and more.
I have always loved patterns and since feedsacks were popular for so long, a feedsack collection is akin to a catologue of pattern styles over many decades. From swirling Art Nouveau designs to more geometric deco motifs to the poodles and classic cars that populate 1950âs feedsacks, a feedsack collection is akin to a catologue of trends and design styles of the 20th century.
A brief feedsack history lesson: between 1840 and 1890, cotton feedsacks started to replace barrels as packaging for farm and food packaging. Initially these feedsacks were plain cotton except for the stamp of the logo of the company. Faced with a family to clothe, a home to make and very little money to spare, women of the time repurposed these cotton fabrics for their household needs. They often soaked the feedsacks in lye or bleach to get rid of the labels. This was difficult process and sometimes some of the label remained, resulting in some comical tales. In the article Feed Sack Quilt History: Feedsacks, Frugal and Fun , Judy Anne Johnson Breneman writes about a woman who was out walking with her beau and fell, revealing the words "southern best" on her undergarments!
By the 1920s, manufacturers caught on that women were re-using the feedsacks for their sewing projects and started printing patterns on the sacks. They also printed their labels on paper, making them easy for women to remove. By the thirties, feedsack mania hit an all time high: textile designers were hired by feedsack manufacturers, sacks were produced with pre-printed patterns for dolls, stuffed animals, appliquÃ© and quilt blocks, and feedsacks were sold and traded by women looking to get the perfect print.
According to Janet of Primrose Design , there is a popular urban myth claiming that 15,000 feedsack patterns have been printed over the last couple of centuries. One of Janet's pet projects over the year has been to document as many of these patterns as she could get her hands on. You can her collection of patterns on her website . No one seems to know if there were indeed 15,000 feedsack patterns but consider this: at the height of feedsack production, ther...