Yvonne Hollebeck: The Fabulous Feedsack Era
Perhaps it’s a fascination with fabric and quilting, my interest in American history, or possibly the current economy and learning of thrifty methods our elders used to save money, however, after doing a lot of research, I have devised a program called, “The Fabulous Feedsack Era,” which has become a popular presentation on the South Dakota and Nebraska Humanities Roster. Feed and flour sacks at one time, especially during the Great Depression, were the “fabric of choice;” at a time when there was little fabric availability and little money to purchase any if it was.
Printed cotton sacks were one of the most ingenious sales ploys of all time. Prior to World War I, commodities such as flour and grain were sold and transported by the barrel. A barrel of flour weighed 196 pounds. About the time of WWI, cotton sacks were introduced and were much easier to handle. The largest sacks contained approximately 100 pounds (98 to be exact, or one-half of a barrel weight). Because these sacks became the new norm, all feed and flour mills began using them. Immediately, folks saw many sources for the empty sacks, and yes, the string used to sew them shut was also saved with many uses, as explained in my recent article. One day, an employee of a feed company told his employer, “If those sacks were printed, I’ll bet people would purchase them before they’d buy the plain ones.” The employer complied and sure enough, the printed sacks were a boon! Soon every mill began using printed sacks.
Three one-hundred pound sacks of the same print were the usual requirement for an average woman’s dress. The sacks were used for clothing for all ages and genders and not a scrap was wasted, as the tiny leftovers were sewn into patchwork quilts to keep the family warm. Although some sacks were still plain with only a logo dye-stamped on them, especially flour sacks, those were used to make underwear and the plain portions used in lieu of muslin in sewing projects. It was often joked about the little girl that had “Gooch’s Best” on her bottom, but I’m sure this is no joke to the many that had to wear flour sack underwear.
Not only were dresses made from these colorful sacks, but millions of aprons, and all sorts of useful items for the home. Rarely do you see a photo during the feedsack era that you will not see aprons made from the bags. Again, thrift entered in, as aprons were worn to protect the clothing, inasmuch as many women had only one or two dresses and had to take care of them as best they could.
My granddad’s feed came from Omaha on the Chicago & Northwestern Freight train. There was thirty ton per car load. When the car load he ordered arrived in Gordon, the car was side-tracked and he had two days to empty the contents, which had to be done by hand as there were no fork lifts in those days. It was a tedious job. The feed was hauled to his store in a wagon or truck, unloaded (again by hand) and stacked in his store. He often told, as did every feed store operator, that invariably some woman would come in and want a sack on the bottom because it was of a print she needed. Although “The Fabulous Feedsack Era” is the title of my program, I’m sure my granddad would disagree with the word, “fabulous.”
*The Fabulous Feedsack Era program will be presented in Belle Fourche,
April 2. 10 am, at the Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche. Public welcome.
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