McCray, Linzee Kull: Feed sacks

MCCRAY, Linzee Kull (2016). Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, Calgary: Uppercase Publishing Inc. ISBN: Softback, 544 pp., fully illustrated in colour, bibliography. Price CAN$50 (c. €35)

I did not expect to get interested or even excited about printed feed sacks from the US, in fact I had never even heard of them until recently. But a few months ago we were given 35 examples for the TRC Collection and this gift roused an interest in the subject. This book has made me a convert. It is simply a fascinating story and the book helps to bring the whole history of this type of cloth to life (literally).

Cotton feed sacks were widely used for storing and carrying items, such as flour, grain, sugar and corn. During the 19th and early 20th centuries these items were sold in plain cotton sacks, which in turn were soon used in many US households for making items needed around the home. By the early 1920’s, manufacturers had realised that if the cloth was printed with attractive designs, then people would buy their products for their packaging. This led to the development of the decorative printed feed sack. Printing companies vied with each other to produce a wide range of designs that would appeal to feed sellers and, more importantly, their customers. These decorative versions of the feed sacks became very popular and were used for a wide range of items, including men's, women's and children’s clothing and household items, such as bedding (sheets, pillowcases, quilts), curtains, tablecloths, and clothes pin bags. In fact, they were used for just about anything. Their widespread use declined following the advent of paper and later plastic packaging.

The book can be used for just dipping in, looking for specific historical details, but also as  a source of inspiration for the making of household objects, especially quilts. It is worth noting that the cover of the book opens up into a full size sack with four different designs, so that the reader can fully understand the size and shape of these objects. A nice touch! The aim of the series speaks for itself: “Encylopedia of Inspiration” (this is volume F). There is deliberately no ‘logical’ order for the series, but apparently there will eventually be the full alphabet (see also below, Uppercase, S for Stitch∙Illo).

Recommendation: This book will be of interest to anyone looking into the history of women in the US, sustainability, the relationship between commerce and daily life, as well as to quilters, textile artists and indeed those interested in the history of textiles and of printed forms in particular. It is one of those books that should be in a serious textile library.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood

PS We are now seriously thinking of having an exhibition about printed feed sacks at the TRC Gallery in 2018!



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TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

Current exhibition: For a few sacks more ...., until 28th June

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The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
Financial donations to the TRC can be made via Paypal: