Feed Sacks

Feed sacksLast Sunday,  I posted a photo of a vintage feed sack (with a football player on it) taken at The Pickwick Mill in Winona, Minnesota.

Several people left comments about their fond memories of feed sacks- collecting, trading and using them for quilts and clothes.

Feed sacksI thought you might like to see the rest of the photos…

Feed sacksThe designs are quite graphic and lovely.

Feed sacks

Feed sacks

Feed sacks

Feed sacks


Feed sacksPlease tell me…

Was the burlap sack just the outer layer with the floral feed sacks fabrics used for dresses and quilts an inner layer?

Or were the print feed sacks for a different product?

We’d love to hear more about feed sacks…

Please tell us YOUR feed sack story!



PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to share, pin, re-blog with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!




51 thoughts on “Feed Sacks

  1. I love feed sacks! Have always wondered the same thing…the 65 plus year old sun bonnet sue quilt I finished for a friend that was made by her grandmother was made from feed sack material…first made into clothes for a child then the “Sues” were made from them…I kind of took it these were flour sacks. They seemed soft enough but for some reason the thought makes me itch all over…LOL! 🙂 I have old flour sacks with cowboys on them cooking on a campfire for my curtains downstairs in one window…love them!

  2. I inherited sacks from my grandmother..some feed and others are flour sacks. Is there a place to post pictures of them? The cottage out back is really a single car garage. I call it cottage as it has my large drafting table, kitchenette and bathroom. I sew out there for final stages of quilting. The only window has feed sack curtains I made. Most of the ones i have are stylized flowers patterns. We also have some actual brown burlap (itchy!)feed sacks we “won” in an estate auction in Neillsville, WI. some years ago. Those have company names. Wenona, MN is one of our favorite towns. Marta, south GA

  3. Lori, the fabric feed sacks were for the finely milled products (sugar, flour, corn meal, etc) while the burlap and/or heavier fabrics were for whole grains or corn.

  4. I used to go with my Mother to the feed store to buy chicken feed. There we carefully choose our floral sack to be used for a “full” (gathered) skirt or a blouse. If we were planning a dress we had to buy 2 of the same fabric. The small white ones contained suga , flour or cornmeal and the burlap bags were for corn kernels or heavier grain for the pigs and cattle. Don’t know what they used to bag the oats for the horses because we didn’t have horses.

  5. While going thru fabric that I received after my mothers friend died I pulled out a toe sack Not sure of the spelling. It is huge and was used to pull behind you while you picked cotton. A treasure for sure.

    • OK, here goes. I am well beyond 65 yro & grew up on a farm in Southwest Virginia, thus “feed sacks” were everywhere because of chicken feed, livestock feed, (cows, horses, hogs, etc). Although our farm produced every grain imaginable the commercial products were purchased as a supplement.

      These large sacks of feed came in some of the most beautiful cotton sacks you can imagine, floral, pastoral, even stripes & polka dots.. They had no inner covering & more often than not whatever was inside was seen sticking out through the fibers. Companies apparently when sewing the grain sacks went to great lengths not to distort the sacks at the edges which allowed the use of the entire sack.

      Women in our community would find a particular pattern & pick & choose the next sacks ’till they had collected enough sacks for dresses, curtains, & even jackets for sleeveless dresses.

      And, the ladies would get together & swap with each other, share information re which feed store had which prints. The practice was so common that the feed salesmen going from store to store would share from a list which stores had particular patterns.

      I’m not sure how large the sacks were but most ladies needed 4 sacks for a dress with sleeves; it didn’t take long to collect the beautiful feed sacks if you had a traditional farm.

      I always thought the prettiest feed sacks came with the fowl feed when needed. The prints were muted & all over like an eruption of a field of flowers–I think this feed helped with their “craws” because it was larger grained.

      My grandmother was a seamstress & often made clothes from feed sacks for the family & others who hired her. Although most of the feed sacks were cotton some were “Creaton” (not sure of spelling) a very strong, sort of a sateen feeling, weighted, fabric that was used for our drapery’s. Horse feed came in those & the colours ranged from a pale, sea green to a light melon; they had grayish white flowers with green stems & leaves; beautiful when up. White feed sacks were so common they were used as utilitarian, lining drapery, jackets, etc.

      Hope this is a bit enlightening, I enjoyed walking through “memory lane.”

      • Loved hearing your story down memory lane. Back in the day everyone had to be so frutal, and make use out of everything.

      • Barbara,
        Thank you so much for enlightening us! It is fascinating to know the history. What a brilliant marketing effort by the mills…get the ladies involved!

        The fabric would seem so much more fun because of the “hunt” involved.
        Do you still have any of the fabrics? any quilts made from the fabrics?

        Thank you for sharing!

  6. The calico printed ones were different than the advertising ones. The ones with advertising my grandmothers bleached till the advertising was gone and sewed them into dish towels, and even made bed sheets from some of them. The calico ones were
    made into clothing, curtains, as well as quilts. My brother-in-law used to work at a
    creamery and feed store and he said the worst day was when the ladies came in and wanted to have a certain print and you had to repile sacks and sacks in order for them to get the number of sacks with a certain print that they wanted. Around here, flour
    and sugar as well as animal feeds came in cloth and burlap sacks, prior to paper.
    And they were always single layer. Bay State Milling of Winona, MN as well as
    Archer Daniels of the Twin Cities were suppliers as well as many other small mills.
    Even five pound bags of sugar were in cloth sacks back in the “good old days”. I
    found some while going through my husband’s grandparents home after they passed,
    getting “stuff” ready for the dreaded auction.

  7. Rosemary B here
    You have a nice collection.
    Isn’t life grand?
    I love these bits of the past. I love saving special things.
    Have you ever watched American Pickers?
    I will never ever have a barn filled to the roof with fabric and cute old sewing machines, and other various special wonderful related items.
    I do have a small squirrel sized collection though. I do not have feed sacks. These are indeed treasures.
    I do not know anything about these, but then I do not know about a lot of stuff.
    Then there are the things that I do not know, that I do not know about. The unknown unknowns….

  8. I remember my mother buying the feed for the chickens in the printed bags. My Dad would always have her come along when they purchased it, because he was afraid he wouldn’t get the right fabric, or mom was looking for a match to some she had. I had skirts and pajamas made from it. It still shows up in our resale shop, on occasion. Wonderful memories. Carolyn

  9. Even in the 50s, the all over printed feed sacks were available. I remember my mom buying flour that way. There are still mills that sell flour this way. In Cortez CO, there is a local mill that sells nearly everything in their own printed feed sacks. It’s interesting to me that the photos you posted showed a “Rose” flour sack. That is one of the logos for Cortez Milling. I’ll have to look in to that since your photo advertises Arizona. I have a stack of the CM bags, but not sure what I will ever do with them.

  10. The Pickwick Mill is one of the most picturesque settings a body could see!! We’re hoping the restaurant next door will open its doors once again. That area has some of my fave (motorcycle) riding roads and is just 25 miles from our home! Beautiful feed sacks! Even though I grew up in the Metro, I have many memories of such!

    • The Winona area is gorgeous! I was on a long drive from the Galena area and needed to stretch my legs. The Pickwick Mill was a fabulous surprise! Gorgeous inside–I took a lot of photos that I will share next week. I doubt many people know about the mill–but it’s a hidden treasure worth the stop if you are in the area–Luck you, just a short ride!

  11. My mom made all our “play” clothes out of feed sacks. My husband’s mom made all his shirts out of feed sacks. We were both allowed to go to the feed store & pick out our favorite prints — this was early 50’s. The outside of the sack was the actual fabric. I have very fond memories of my feed sack clothes.

  12. I too remember going to the feed store to pick out prints when it was our turn for a new dress. The feed sacks were also used to make aprons, and the flour sacks made dish towels. The sugar sacks were used for quilts. In the 70’s I inherited a quilt top pieced from sugar and feed sacks from my godmother. I quilted it and my daughter used it every day until she left for college. Unfortunately, it was used and washed for years, until the pictures and wording faded from the sacks.

  13. Darlene Zimmerman, who is also a Midwestern girl and you may actually know her yourself might be a great source to get answers for some of your questions. She might be a great one to have as an interviewee/guest on your blog too!! She is a 30’s feedsack guru!! I know she has done some quilting classes and a trunk show or two at the Alma, Wisconsin Burlington Hotel Quilt Shop in the last few years. I know I have truly enjoyed my interactions with her and she is so pleasant and helpful.

  14. Lori,
    Adding to this thread.
    I enjoy your blog more than any other–it is always the first I read each day. Thank you for allowing all “in-put” from us. What a joy ladies. Thank you ever so much-this has made my day.

  15. Well I’m no expert, but I sure do have a lovely collection myself….just because they fascinate me.

    I wonder why companies don’t get smart and begin to use fabric sacks again….they are reusable and people would definitely buy them before they’d buy plastic. I know cotton is expensive…..but so is a lot of things people buy and the cost isn’t just upfront….it is what we pay over a lifetime to have, say plastics.

    Ever feel like you were the on in charge? Giggles


  16. The last weekend of Sept., our community threshing bee and antique show featured Yvonne Hollenbeck’s poetry and quilt trunk show. She is from south central South Dakota and is, herself, a very accomplished (hand) quilter. She shows quilts from 5 generations of her and her husband’s families, the oldest dating back to the 1870s.

    Of course when she got into the 1930s-40s-50s era, the feed sack fabrics started showing up. As she tells it, the pretty dressmaker fabric sacks were mostly from the chick starter and grower ration feeds. The labels were of paper and sewn on the sack so as to be easily removed. The top opening of the sack was the salvage edge. One of the family grandfathers operated a dry goods/feed store and she recalls his stories of women coming in and picking their sacks of feed based on the fabric pattern and, sure enough, the one they wanted was on the bottom of the pile! Keep in mind, this was before the days of fork-lifts and stacking pallets. The sacks each held 100 pounds of feed and the store keeper or clerks had to manually move the sacks to get to the desired pattern. And then do it all over again when the next woman came in ;).

    Flour sacks were white with the labels printed directly on the fabric. These sacks would be washed (and re-washed) with strong soap, hot water, and bleach until the label dye disappeared. They were mostly used for dish towels, but could certainly function as undergarments, lining, white fabric for quilt patterns, etc.

    Yvonne travels throughout the region with her presentations. Some of the stories of the women whose quilts she exhibits are at once heart-wrenching and heart-warming. The hardships these women endured while keeping a household running with the absolute essentials of cooking and baking on a coal/wood stove, cleaning and laundry with no modern electric appliances, and sewing by hand, or simple treadle machine … and yet they infused beauty and art into these essentials with pretty patchwork and meticulous detail and workmanship. I daresay, many of us would be hard-pressed to match their fortitude, much less face each day with faith, hope, love, and optimism.

    We owe a debt of gratitude to these women who helped settle our land. May they rest in peace.

  17. I remember as a little girl my mother going to the feed store to get feed for the chickens and turkeys we kept in the back yard. She always picked pretty flower print sacks. Mom wasn’t much of a seamstress so the sacks were left as is, after washing they became our pillow slips. I remember sleeping on the pretty soft flowered cloth. They gave me good dreams.

  18. What a trip down memory lane. I made my first wearable dress from feed sack material when I was eight. It was a turquoise floral print. Because there was not enough fabric I trimmed it with white pique. I learned to sew when I was five years old on my mom’s Wheeler and Wilson treadle machine. I made doll clothes and sewed all the scraps together. My wardrobe clear into high school was feed sacks and I made them all. I can’t believe that a dress could be made of $.75 and a $.10 zipper. I have a few feed sacks that I have found over the years and I will guarantee that they cost more than $.25. We lived in the city and you could buy the extra sacks for $.l0 up to a quarter.

  19. Wow, what a great read! I am from Australia and I have not seen anything like the sacks you have been talking about and was amazed by Lori’s photos. I have often read of these sacks and just didn’t understand how they could be so special – now I know!! Thank you all for a great educational trip and for sharing such precious memories. I am 65 and I believe our generation has been blessed as the ‘lucky ones’ when we were kids, no tv until I was 11 (joys of being in a small country town ), no drugs and pretty dress materials when mum made us our new dresses.
    I really admire the women of earlier years and their inventiveness and how they made so many wonderful things from such utilitarian articles.
    Thank you all again for sharing, you have made my day!!

  20. I’ve had such a wonderful time reading all the flour sack stories, especially about the shop owners having to move 100 lb. sacks just so women could get the print they wanted 🙂
    My mom grew up in Northern Minn. and often talked about her mom making the girls’ dresses from flour sacks. I still have some that were used for drying dishes when she was a child and I still use them today. They’re the best.
    A former boyfriend traveled for his job and would always bring me a gift from his journeys. Imagine my surprise when he said “I have something real special for you”. He then presented me with a shorts/blouse outfit made from flour sacks! Guess he’d been paying close attention to my mom’s story about flour sack clothing, but did the name of the flour co. HAVE to be written right across my butt? 🙂 Boyfriend is gone, but I still have that flour sack shorts/blouse set as it reminds me of my mom’s childhood.
    Thanks for posting the flour sack photos – have never seen that type before.
    Speaking of wood burning stoves…..when we visited the homestead I asked my mom how they knew the temp of the wood burning stove as they made such wonderful breads. She answered quite simply “you just stuck your hand in there and KNEW what temp it was”.
    Does anyone have photos of the floral print sacks?

  21. Here in Fredericksburg TX. the new fad is to sew bags from the current feed sacks. These are the one made from plastic strips woven together (hope you know what I’m referring to). They are very easy to clean! The prettiest ones have very nice pictures on them..ie: horses for horse feed, big bucks for deer corn etc. One of my quilting friends spent the whole weekend at a retreat making purses! She would take 2 identical bags and cut the front pocket out of the second bag matching the pictures perfectly, so the image was not distorted! They make great carry-all bags because they are so strong.

  22. This is an article from one of my relatives who is an expert quilter and expert on feed sacks. She wrote this for our family newsletter. By Doris Rhodes I have enjoyed a different hobby for a number of years. I got interested in Depression Feed Sacks when I was quilting. A box of fabrics was given to me and in the box I recognized many fabrics as “Feed Sacks”. I clearly remember 1930’s and 40’s when as a child we got flour, chicken feed and more in printed sacs. It was the depression and the sacks were washed and made into dresses, shirts, tea towels, curtains and on and on. I began collecting and researching feed sack history and personal stories. One reoccurring story is little girl’s pants with Pillsbury’s Best in print on the seat of the pants. One man said that was why he married his wife 50 some years ago. I’ve become the local “Bag” lady. We Americans treasured printed flowered sacks and made quilts, curtains, aprons and other items of them. Late in life I began to travel overseas to major quilt shows in Brisbane, Australia as well as to Perth, Darwin, Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney and several towns in Queensland. After meeting these quilters I was often asked about quilting in Anchorage and I end the conversation with “I am interested in Feed Sacks.” I’ll trade or buy any you will exchange. I’d’ get home and the mail would bring sacks-all of them with words—not the printed ones we had in the U.S. I now have feed sacks from trips to France, many U.S. states, Canadian provinces, Hawaii, Russia, Korea and on and on. Two fat boxes of sacks-a huge book of 350 examples of U.S. Prints (none are alike) arrived . The U.S. ones came from one ad in Quilter’s newsletter and the fabrics came in for over a year. I learned about sack history and sewing threads. I have several Bemis sacks that I remember seeing on Grandma’s back porch. The wash pan had a Bemis sack that was on an endless rolling pin hanger that we pulled to a dry place to dry our clean hands. The prize accumulation of the hobby are photos I took on a trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto where the Hoover Institute is located. Those sacks are from 1914 to World War I when the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, headed a “Save Belgium” effort under President Wilson. The U.S. sent sacks of flour, corn and other items (Canada joined us) to London. From there the food was sent to Rotterdam with Kaiser Wilhelm’s permission. The sacks are marked “for non-combatants only. We literally saved the Belgian civilian population. They washed these lettered sacks and painted and embroidered them. They made them into book covers, children’s dresses, aprons and other items. They sewed in hand made Belgian lace borders and inserts. The work is beautiful. Those sacks were mailed to Herbert Hoover who later became U.S President. I was allowed to photo the treasured sacks. I now give lectures and film presentations of Feed Sacks and have progressed to Alaskan Sacks I find in Museums and photograph sacks of gold, water, copper ore, coal, laundry and coffee. The prize I found in Wasilla Museum was a white feed sack wedding dress made in the 1930’s at a coal mine out of Palmer, Alaska. All letters were bleached white. Feed sacks are fun to research and now I have several hundred from all over the world and many photos of sacks that held wool, tea, sugar, potatoes and more.

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