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The Softer Side

Nancy Willett [ October 2005 ]

In the 1920ís feed sacks for grain were made from an ecru colored muslin material. The name of the company was either stamped on the material or was attached at the time the sack was sown with a paper banner. Once the bag was emptied they were returned back to the miller for refilling. Some of the sacks didnít make it back, due to the fact that the farmerís wife could wash and use the muslin for kitchen towels, pillowcases and quilt backings, etc. The muslin bag made especially nice tea towels, as the material was of good substantial quality and the edges could be embroidered or crossed stitched. Nothing was wasted, and I remember seeing pillows with the imprinted manufactures name on the backs of many beautifully satin and fringed creations.

The 100 pound bags could yield a good size piece of material, that would make many towels, and if bleached would make many under garments. My grandmother once told me that when her church was having a baptism in the local pond, that her cousin was the talk of town after being dunked and her beautiful white dress once wet, showed through to her slip which had the local seed storeís name on it! Her aunt had not wanted to waste any material, and thinking that it wouldnít show, had put the last piece of material on the back of the slip.

Somewhere along the way a particular miller got the idea that if he started using a printed cloth for his sacks, that just maybe the farmers would use more of his seed or grain. The printed bags were a big hit with the wives who quickly snatched up all that they could. As the prints became more desirable the more grain was being sold. (Who said women didnít have power back then.) I can imagine the husband that came home with two bags of the same print was the highlight of the day.

The printed material consisted of many brightly colored patterns, stripes, fruit, and animal prints. I was the lucky kid that had many summer outfits and pajamas made from the many prints. Aprons and day dresses and quilt squares were consistently made from the saved pieces of material and are much sought after by collectors.

If you are a vintage apron collector, itís quite possible that the material actually started its life as a flour, seed or grain bag. The use of the burlap bag brought a stop to the printed cotton bags around the mid 50ís. My husband, who once worked for Wirthmore Feeds in St Albans, states that he only handled printed bags on special orders and they were very limited at the time.

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