In the mid-19th century, heavy canvas or linen feedsacks (sometimes spelled as “feed sacks”) replaced many barrels and tins for the storage and transport of flour, animal feed, and other bulk goods. The invention of the lockstitch sewing machine, patented by Elias Howe in 1846, made these bags practical for repeated use—the farmer’s name was often stamped on his bag so it could be filled back up. By the late 1800s, textile mills were producing strong, inexpensive cotton, which quickly usurped canvas as the preferred material for feedsacks.

Farmer’s wives took advantage of this new source of essentially free fabric by turning the empty cotton sacks into everything from dishrags to dresses. Some feed companies, alerted to this reuse of their bags, began to print their sacks in gaily colored patterns—since it usually took more than one bag to make a dress, the idea was to give the farmer an incentive to keep buying their products.

One of the many interesting attributes of late-19th and early-20th century feedsacks are the odd weights that were stamped on them. The weight of 196 pounds came from barrels, 98 pounds from half barrels, and so on. Sizes weren’t standardized—100, 50, 25, 10, 5, and 2—until 1943.

Nor were all feedsacks created equal. Those designed to hold sugar, flour, and salt, for example, had the tightest weave. At the other end of the spectrum was a fabric called osnaberg, which had a low thread count and was used primarily to bag animal feed.

At the outset of World War II, there were dozens of U.S. textile mills producing feedsack material, from Bemis Brothers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Percy Kent of Buffalo, New York. Particularly collectible are feedsacks with prints depicting Disney characters or scenes from “Gone with the Wind,” as well as sacks that had patterns on them to help a busy homemaker turn them into an apron or doll.

In fact, by 1942, an estimated three-million Americans wore at least one article of clothing made out of a feedsack, but by the end of the decade, cloths bags gave way to less-expensive paper.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

LACMA Luxury Textiles

LACMA Luxury Textiles

Textile collectors shouldn't miss this microsite from the LA County Museum of Art, a great reference on European an… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Big Lot Of Pretty Vintage Feed Sack Cloth Fabric 7 Pounds Craft Quilting Sewing Vintage Plain White ( 12 ) Feed Sacks11 Vintage Feedsacks Cotton Fabric Flowers, Polka Dots Some Holes & Stains 1930sAntique Heavy French Grain Sack Table Runner 15" X 53" Red Blue StripeVtg Antique Light Red Stripe Washed French Hemp Linen Fabric Feed Sack Grain BagVintage Pink Print Feed Sack Fabric( 20 ) Sugar Sacks, Vintage Advertising, Full Sacks + Opened, Franklin Sugar +Antique Style - Hand Embroidered & Beaded Crazy Quilt Block Ooak Vintage Feed Sack: White Dots On Pretty Tuquoise BackgroundVintage Large Lot Feedsack Feed Bag Feedbag Quilt Fabric ScrapsVintage Italy Italia Sugar Bag Sack Saccarifera Lombarda Milano MolinellaPink Background With Strawberries Feed Sack. Very UnusualVintage Full Feed Sack Red & White Floral Against Dots And Check 43" X 37"Vintage Full Feed Sack Fancy Tulips/floral Red, Yellow, Blue 40" X 37"Vintage Feed/flour Sack Solid Colored Lime Squeeze 40" X 35"Novelty Feed Sack: Western Barn Dance ThemeVintage Bright Red Blue Lime Green Yellow Flower Design Feed SackVintage Feedsack Feed Sack Unique Flowers White Purple Black On Lemon Yellow Cloth Sweet Heart Sugar Sack Wc Duncan Co. Jefferson Texas Vintage Feed Sack: Blue Flowers On RedVintage Bright Blue Pink Green Flowers Design Feed Sack FabricVintage Bright Blue Red Plum Green White Flowers Design Feed Sack FabricVintage Whole Feed Sack- Gray Hearts & Pink Bows Pattern Fs#38Vtg Feed Sack Quilt Very Sweet!Vintage Feed Sack Feedsack Fabric Lime Green Blue And White Plaid***wow!!Vtg Feed Sack Quilt Fabric Pink W White Flowers UnusedVintage Feed Sack Feedsack Geometric Design Dark Blue Red White On Light BlueVintage Bright Navy Blue Plum Purple Lime Flowers Design Feed Sack Actual BagVintage Feedsack Feed Sack Tiny Flowers Red Pink Yellow White Brown On GreenVintage Bright Lavender White Flowers Design Feed Sack FabricVintage Novelty Feed Sack Blue Teddy Bears Bear Flowers Banjo MusicLot Of Vintage Cotton Fabric Scraps Pieces Quilting Feed Sack- 1lb. 4 Oz. Early Flour Sack Feedsack Cotton Blue/ Orange Yellow Flowers Orignal Stitch SeamVintage Feed Sack Feedsack Pink Blue Green Flowers On White Still A SackVintage Feed Sack Feedsack Funky White Motif On Pink BackgroundWhimsical Vintage Novelty Feed Sack Frog Frogs Lily Pad Pads Red Green FabricVintage Feedsack Big White Flowers Pink Stems Leaves On BlueVtg 38x43 Orange Green Yellow Geometric Flowers Feed Sack Fabric Quilt Craft Sew2 Antique Mazorca Lehmann& Brown 50 Lbs Grain Sack Lauhoff Grain Co Danville IllVintage Feed Sack Fun Patten Crisscross Hearts Brown Green Orange Tan FunVintage Abstract Modern Funky Feed Sack Yellow White On Gray Still A SackVintage Full Feed Sack: Small White Geometric Designs On Lavendar BackgroundVintage Bright Blue Red Lime Green Yellow Paisley Daisy Flower Design Feed SackVintage Bright Blue Pink Green Flowers Design Feed Sack Fabric ApronVintage Novelty Feedsack Feed Flour Sack Red White Blue Birds Horses FlowersLot Of 735 Vintage Cotton Fabric Some Feed Sack 3 1/2" X 3 1/2" Charm Squares Vintage Feed Sack Quilt Fabric Fun Novelty Tulips Daisies UnusedVintage Full Feed Sack: White Flowers On TurquoiseVintage Bright Copper Brown White Flower Design Feed Sack BagVintage Fabric 5 Yards Feed Sack CottonVintage Feed Sack: Bouquets Of Flowers On White And Pink BackgroundVintage Bright Pink White Star Flowers Design Feed SackRoyal River, A, Cloth Feed Sack, 18 X 42, Seamless, Sewing, Quilt, Vintage, (t)Vintage Bright Vivid Red Blue Yellow Paisley Design Feed Sack Fabric Actual BagLot Of 3 Opened Feedsacks Blue With Framed Floral BasketsVintage Feedsack Feed Flour Sack Stylized Green Yellow Brown HeartsVintage Opened Feed Sack Fabricteal/red Flowers On GrayVintage Feedsack Feed Flour Sack Red And White StripesVintage 30s 40s All Cotton Yellow + Brown Small Floral Novelty Print Feedsack Vintage Opened Feed Sack Fabric Border Print