Fremont County, Iowa

"Flour Sacks & Feed Sacks"
by Sherry Perkins

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of 16 April 2012

My grandmothers didn't have the luxury of buying fabric from a store back in the 1920's to 1950's. Trips to town were few, and money was scarce. They were like so many other farm wives of the day, who found their needed material from flour sacks, and feed sacks.

The women of that era bought flour in 50-pound sacks, and emptied it into the flour bin, of the oak kitchen cabinet. There were 25-pound sacks of flour also in printed fabrics. The larger sacks were white cotton with the logo of the flour company imprinted on the material. Grandma would save these cloth sacks and give them a good washing in bleach water to dim the imprint. Then she opened the seams and ironed them flat.

These sacks were then used to set colorful quilt blocks together, to make pillowcases, petticoats, and even diapers on occasion. When she cut them for dresser scarves, she hemmed them and embroidered around the edges.

The most desired sacks came from feed; chicken feed, hog feed, and feed for cows. Grandpa bought it from the local Feed Store to supplement the grain he grew. As with the flour sacks, the feed sacks were cotton, but they came in colorful, print designs. If one could get several of the same design, you could make a dress, an apron, dish towels, sunbonnets, or pieces for a quilt top. Sometimes the print sacks would be cut into long strips and made into a rag rug.

The feed sacks which Grandma used were the 25-pound size as she could lift and handle these better than the larger ones. It was a special event to buy the feed as she needed to select prints that she didn't have or find more of a certain print so she would have four or five sacks alike to make a house dress or maybe pajamas. The ladies of that time period also exchanged print sacks with one another. My grandma made aprons because a farm wife wore an apron every day over her dress to keep it clean. She might change aprons several times a day depending on what chores she was doing.

As I remember it, these sacks had a paper label on them that needed to pull off or soak off before they could be used. Some women would save the cotton thread that was used to hold the sack together. After unraveling the thread from the top of the sacks, they would roll it into a ball and then use it for crochet thread. These sacks made it possible for the women to have fabric available to them at a time when money was not plentiful. Having different prints on these sacks sold lots more bags of feed and flour for the companies who promoted the concept.

There are still some of these sacks available out there in the antique malls and in private collections. Our Fremont County historical museum has several treasured ones in their collection. That which was considered "free" in the old days, now can sell for $15 to $20 each. Seeing the designs and colors they used, makes us appreciate the many choices we have today. An item made of feed sacks is considered valuable today as it portrays a day in the life of these strong, resourceful women of rural America.

Return to View From the Attic Page

Return to Fremont County Home

Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau