by Linda LaRoque
Life on the prairie for women in the 1800s was hard. Fabric was scarce so every available piece of cloth was used until it fell apart. When the backs of skirts wore out, the panel was either turned around, or the piece was removed leaving a less full skirt. Sometimes the garment was cut down to make a garment for one of the children. Material was never thrown away, but recycled until it could only be used for cleaning rags.
The first feed sacks were made of heavy white canvas printed with the name of the flour or other product. The farmer could bring empty bags back to be refilled. When mills in America began producing inexpensive cotton fabrics in the later 1800s, these cheaper fabrics were used. The cloth was softer and more useful. Not as durable, they weren’t refillable so women used them for quilt pieces and to make dish towels, curtains, pillowcases, sheets, and other items for the home. The manufacturer’s name was stamped on the sack in vegetable dye so the homemaker could remove it, often a difficult chore, and return it to pristine whiteness. Humorous stories about garments made with the stamp remaining abound—for example underwear.
The Woman - August 1953 Cover: Olga Nicholas, photographed by Dirone Studios, wears a feed-bag formal and matching stole, McCall's pattern #9121. Jewelry by Trifari.
Women often gathered to trade pieces so they’d have enough for a dress or the quilt they were piecing. Imagine how valuable they were to homemakers during the depression. It was hard enough to manage to provide food, fabric was an extravagance. Special was the husband and father who selected several sacks of matching material so his girls could have a new dress.
My mother-in-law said in the late 1920s she chopped cotton all day long, from sunup to sundown, and earned a quarter, just enough to buy two and a half yards of fabric to make a dress. A feed sack holding fifty pounds of flour measured 34 x 38 inches, a yard of fabric. So, depending on the size of the pattern and the style, it would take approximately 3 sacks to make a dress.
My cousins and I loved the feed sack dresses our Aunt Jewell made for us. Grandma Riley saved the sacks until there was enough for a dress. There was one in particular I’ll never forget. It was a floral pattern with muted oranges and yellow, like a watercolor. The skirt was full and of course I wore a petticoat or two underneath. I have a picture but it isn’t in color and not sharp enough to post. A friend with several sisters grew up on a farm. They often went with their father to the feed store so they could pick out the pattern they wanted. She said it never failed, the one they wanted was always on the bottom.
For further reading, check out this link.
How about you? Did you ever wear feed sack dresses? If so, tell us about your favorite one. Feed sacks are in vogue again. Maybe you’re a crafter and enjoy making items to show off their unique characteristics.
Don’t forget to leave a comment today to be entered into my drawing. I’ll be selecting two winners.
Thank you Jacquie for having me on your site this week. I’d like invite RTW readers to enter the contest I’m having on my blog to celebrate the release of A Love of His Own. I’m giving away a Brighton heart box of chocolates charm. If you read the story when it comes out May 16th, you’ll recognize the significance of the charm.
Thank you, Linda!
And TWO chances to win a Free Book
right here at RTW
At the end of the week, on April 27th, Linda will give away two PDF copies of her books—two winners. Just leave a comment to be entered in the drawing. The winners can view her website and pick which book they’d like.
Small print: Please leave your email address or we'll have to draw another winner. Drawing will be held April 27th, 9pm Pacific Time.