Monday, July 18, 2011

Sweet As Sugar Vintage Apron & Feed Sack History

Grain, flour and sugar sacks have been put to use for years by thrifty women. They've been incorporated into quilts, used for embroidery samplers, and made into dishcloths, aprons, laundry bags, curtains, tablecloths, diapers, or dresses. I bought an antique sugar sack about a year ago with the intention of making an apron or a tote bag. While cleaning my sewing room this weekend, I was suddenly inspired to sew something. I may have been trying to avoid further cleaning. Anyway, I enjoyed a nice relaxing hour stitching up this vintage apron.

Feed sacks were originally made of heavy canvas for flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt and feed from the mill. They were reusable, with the farmer bringing an empty sack stamped with his mark or brand to the mill to be filled. How's that for recycling? This changed when mills began weaving inexpensive cotton fabric in the late 1800's. The bags were initially printed on plain white cloth and the brand name of the product was printed on the side of the bag. Sacks for flour, sugar and salt were a finer weave.

Granny Rose's feed sack quilt
Manufacturers soon recognized the appeal to women, so they began to use colors and pretty prints. It was a great marketing idea to sell more product, because it took three identical flour sacks to make a woman's dress. There were themes and collections of coordinating, animals, Mickey Mouse, Gone With The Wind, Buck Rogers, nursery rhymes and more. Magazines published patterns for dresses, quilts, pajamas, dolls, and even crochet instructions for the strings that held the bags together.

In 1942, it is estimated that three million women and children were wearing print feed sack garments. Not long after WWII, the change to paper and plastic bags began, since they were less expensive than fabric.  After years of being frugal, women wanted store-bought clothing instead of homemade.  However, well into the 1950's farm women continued to use old feed sack scraps for quilts.   

Useful Notion:  Browse yard sales and thrift stores for discarded vintage quilts.  Watch online for old feed sacks or even reproductions to make home decor and kitchen accessories.  

"The only place where housework comes before needlework is in the dictionary."  ~Mary Kurtz