For A Few Sacks More

For a few sacks more

For a few sacks more.... How feedsacks clothed and warmed Americans during the Depression, and later.

This was the name of an exhibition set up and hosted by the Textile Research Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, between January and July 2018. The idea for the exhibition came as a result of a donation to the TRC in 2017 of 35 feedsacks made of printed cotton cloth. These and items collected since then reflect a story of resilience, female ingenuity, thriftiness, sustainability, art and design, national awareness, as well as economic and commercial insight for nearly fifty years, from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. It is an amazing story, and one that is now barely known outside of the USA.

The decorative versions of the feedsacks became very popular and were used for a wide range of items, including men, women 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. The exhibition includes examples of actual feedsacks, as well as clothing, toys, curtains and bags, made from them. In addition, there are numerous bed quilts made from feed sack materials, which reflect the creative use of the sacks and cloth scraps.

The exhibition was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Small Grant Program of the USA Embassy, The Hague.

The actual exhibition is available for loan by other museums and institutions. Click here for more details about the package.

  • Author: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood
  • Design: Joost Koopman
  • Publisher: TRC Leiden.
  • Year of publication: 2018.

1. Introduction

When Marilyn Monroe donned a burlap potato sack in 1952, she was making various statements about herself, her wardrobe and her ability to wear anything glamorously. But she was following…

2. The Early History of Decorative Feedsacks

Cloth sacks for feed started to be produced in the mid-19th century, following the development of industrial sewing machines that were capable of producing strong seams that did not burst…

3. Feedsacks and the Great Depression

The 29th October of 1929 witnessed the Wall Street Crash. It was followed by a series of droughts and harvest failures that resulted in the ‘Great Depression’, which was to…

4. Feedsacks during and after WWII

The Second World War (1939-1945) saw the rationing of various items in North America. Feedsacks were exempt from rationing in order to persuade people to move from the more robust…

5. Feedsacks in the 1950’s

The popularity of the feedsack textiles continued well into the late 1940’s, but their use was slowly coming to an end. Cloth feedsacks were replaced by paper versions, which were…

6. Feedsacks in the 1960’s and later

By the 1960’s, the increased diversity and cheapness of paper and plastics for commodity packaging meant that feedsacks were no longer widely used. Slowly most of the sacks vanished from…

7. Feedsack Designs

It has been estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 different designs were created and used to decorate feedsacks between the 1930’s and 1960’s. The scale of production, both in terms…

8. Feedsack Garments

One of the most important and widespread uses of the feedsack cloth was the making of garments for men, women and children, although the vast majority of surviving garments seem…

9. Feedsack dolls, toys and household items

Various feedsack manufacturers produced a range of cloth toys from the 1930’s onwards. The toys were printed on both sides of the cotton bag and could be cut out, sewn…

10. Feedsack Quilts

One of the iconic uses of feedsacks is the making of quilts used on beds. A bed quilt is basically made up of three or more layers of cloth. The…

11. Flour sack underwear: An anonymous poem

There is an anonymous poem about undergarments being made from feedsacks. The writer obviously had some very vivid and personal recollections: When I was a maiden so fair Mama made…

12. Further information

Further reading: Jones, Lu Ann and Sunae Park (1993). “From feed bags to fashion” Textile History, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 91-104. Nixon, Gloria (2015). Rag Darlings: Dolls from the…