People commonly think of sewing with feed sack fabric as a Depression-era practice. In fact, thrifty stitchers had been doing this since the late 1800s. Necessities such as flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and animal feed came in cotton sacks. Early cotton sack recyclers had to either ignore product markings or incorporate them into their projects. In time, manufacturers and magazines began giving instructions on how to remove these markings. Eventually detachable labels were used. By the 1920s, sacks were available in bright colors and prints. By the late 1930s, artists specifically designed sack fabric. Some sacks were even designed as specific sewing projects. After World War II, paper sacks were more widely used and fabric became less expensive for the average consumer. The use of feed sack fabric in sewing projects declined. The fabric sack industry, however, continued to promote their products. Blended fiber sacks were made into the 1960s.
Mary Dietsch Skadden pieced the top of the above quilt using many feedsack fabrics. Although it is believed Skadden pieced the top in the 1920s through 1930s, the use of some larger floral patterns may mean that this quilt was also worked on through the mid 1940s. The cream colored background on the top of this quilt appears to be made of flour, sugar, or feed sacks, and some of the labels are still faintly visible. The words “FINE,” “HOLLY’S,” “GOLD,” “AF,” “GREA,” and “RAND” appear in blue lettering. This quilt was finished in 1978 by Darlene M. Swartz Miltner, the quiltmaker’s grandson’s wife.
All of the items featured above in this blog are part of the the Nebraska History Museum (NHM) exhibit Beauty in Hard Times: Depression Era Quilts in Nebraska,a portion of which is now available for online viewing. This exhibit explores societal and economical influences on Nebraska quiltmaking during the Great Depression through quilts, artifacts, photos and other materials and features sixty quilts from twelve Nebraska museums in four rotations of fifteen each. Rotation two is currently on display at the NHM and rotation one can be viewed online here.
–Deb Arenz, Senior Museum Curator