The Fascinating History of the Feed Sack Dress

Life as a farmer in 1920's America was hard work. Farm families were used to being frugal and making do with everything that they had, wasting nothing that could be reused or recycled. New clothes were not high on the list of priorities, so the creative and thrifty farm women started using the cloth from feed sacks to fix their clothes and make new ones for their growing families. These cotton feed sacks were also used to create towels, underwear, curtains, quilts and other household accessories.

When the manufacturers saw that women were using their sacks to make clothing, they stepped up their game and started printing different colourful designs on the sacks. 

Here are some examples of the patterns used;

They also started using paper labels or ink that washed out.

As the depression hit and intensified in the 1930's, feed sack dresses became something not just done by impoverished families, but a way of life for all. Manufacturers made a point to cater to all tastes, offering different patterns for women's dresses, men's shirts as well as clothes for girls and boys.

By the 1940's, designs were used as a competitive gain between manufacturers, with the women often going along with the men to pick up the foods and ensure they chose specific brands with the best patterns. Some sacks even had extra cotton, or cut out patterns for making toys. 

This image from the Life Magazine Archives shows a worker holding a Sunbonnet Sue Flour bag with a printed pattern for a stuffed toy rabbit.

Competitions were held for Women to show off their creative dressmaking skills and for manufacturers to show their best designs. Women would also get together and trade fabrics for their quilt making patterns - it's good to know that some things never change!

However, when the war came, cotton starting being rationed to make uniforms for soldiers and so feed sacks were packed in cheaper paper bags, thus bringing this beautifully creative trend to an end. 

The spirit of the feed sack dress lives on however in beautiful fabrics produced today using reproduction prints from this era, a style that is commonly known today as Nostalgia.

Here are some examples of Nostalgia fabric collections that we have in the shop;

You can browse Nostalgia and Retro style fabrics here.

We hope you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of history. If you have any insights into this era please let us know in the comments. We would also love to see any projects you have made using this style of fabrics so why not share them on our Facebook page and spread some inspiration!

Happy Creating x 



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