The Feed Sack Match Game

One of my favorite things about the kind of writing I do is meeting new people and hearing their stories. It happens during the interview process, but I also hear fabulous stories from folks who come up to me after I give a talk, or who contact me because of something I’ve written.

The latter happened recently, when I got an email from Pamela Shadle Flores, who works at the University of North Texas (UNT). She’s from a family of ranchers and farmers who lived in the Texas panhandle during the dust bowl and she’d always wondered whether the quilt she inherited (above) was sewn from feed sacks. Pamela learned about the feed sacks book from an interview I’d done in the with the UNT Libraries about using their Portal to Texas History in my research.

To her delight (and mine), she was able to match two fabrics in the quilt to those in the book. I asked if she’d send me photos and whether I could share them, and she agreed to both. It appears that many, if not all of the bow-ties are feed sack—they stand out so nicely against the solid fabrics.

I especially loved that she told me her husband and two teenagers were as excited as she was by the discovery. Teenagers are hard to impress! Thanks so much, Pamela, for sharing your story and these images.

Feed Sacks for the Holidays

Christmas and Chanukah are less than a week away, and like everyone else, I’m in the throes of preparation for family and guests to arrive. Menu-planning is at the top of the list, along with holiday decorating, because to be honest, I haven’t done much more than plop our Christmas tree in its holder in the living room—no lights, no ornaments, not yet.

But it’ll all come together, it always does. And however it turns out is fine, because both my daughters will be back in the nest soon (along with Maggie’s fiancé EJ and dog Lily) and that is what really matters. Such a treat!

Before the holidays take over, I wanted to share the video Janine made for the feed sack book—it provides a little peek into the book’s contents for a quick browse.
Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric from uppercasemag on Vimeo.

The book has also gotten two lovely reviews—one by Rita of Red Pepper Quilts (how does she do all the incredible sewing she does and find time to blog, too?) and another lovely one by Patricia of Okan Arts (Patricia has promised to unveil the wonders of yukata and share her expertise with me). Thank you!

QuiltCon, Here I Come!

I’m back from the better part of a week in Minnesota with my aunt, and getting ready to head out again, this time for Texas. (And while I dearly love my aunt, at this time of the year I am definitely looking forward to going south, rather than north!)

UPPERCASE issue #24: Note in the right-hand column, 1×1-inch squares of actual feed sacks grace the covers

I’ll be covering QuiltCon for UPPERCASE magazine, which I’m quite pleased to have been asked to do. I’ve written for UPPERCASE over the years and for issue #24 I got to write about feed sacks, one of my favorite topics.

The real thrill of writing this piece was getting to talk with people who remember wearing feed sack clothing—I found their names through the comments on the Etsy feed sack post I wrote in 2011. The interviews were delightful, and I loved that neither Joyce, who grew up on an Iowa farm, or Nancy, who lived in Ohio, ever felt deprived because their clothes were feed sacks. On the contrary, they loved them. When UPPERCASE #24 arrived at her home, Nancy even sent me the photo below of a feed sack quilt that included scraps of a sack she’d picked out for a dress. It had simple mathematical equations on it, and she remembered thinking when she chose it that it could come in handy when she was in school.

At any rate, if you’ll be at QuiltCon, I hope you’ll join me for what they’re calling “a demonstration” on Friday at noon in Exhibit Hall B. In addition to giving away 10 copies of UPPERCASE #24, the one with actual feed sack squares affixed to the cover, I’ll be talking about feed sacks. (Also, Janine is offering a special QuiltCon discount for an UPPERCASE subscription.

Belated Blogging

Guess it’s time to catch up! I have been busy with this and that, including a bit of traveling and a bit of sewing. It seems to have taken a toll on blogging. So here are some highlights.

I was super-fortunate to have both daughters home for my birthday. But did I get a photo of us all together? No. I feel quite sad about that, as it’s a rare event for us all to be in the same spot at the same time. But suffice it to say we had a wonderful long weekend that among other things, included lots of good food (like this lovely birthday cake from Deluxe, our neighborhood bakery.)

On July 4th we took our annual trek to the Hanson’s Grove Antique Sale in Solon. I just couldn’t resist this feed sack quilt. My birthday money must have been burning a hole in my pocket, because it cost just $10 more than the sum total I’d received.

I hemmed and hawed about whether to get it and wasn’t sure I should, but about an hour after I handed over the money and was still fretting a little, a woman told me she’d been standing behind me, ready to pounce on the quilt if I’d decided against it. That made me feel a bit better.

Here are some more photos of the day. We got there early and compared to last year, it was much cooler. A lovely way to start Independence Day.

Feed Sacks, redux

Feed sack crazy quilt

At the same time as the Kalona Quilt Show is Michael Zahs’ feed sack show at the Ainsworth Opera House. I learned about feed sacks just last year, and they proved to be the perfect topic for an Etsy post. Mike told me that in some homes every piece of fabric was once a feed sack, and that sack manufacturers realized the value of making their sacks of decorative fabrics—it took three sacks to make a typical dress and women often encouraged their husbands to buy more feed, in order to complete a frock.

Here are a few photos from this year’s show. Mike had some new purchases he was especially pleased to share, including the feed sack crazy quilt (top photo) he had hanging by the entrance. Feast your eyes on a few of the this year’s offerings.

Tablecloth with feed sack appliqué, plus blocks and pieces for Grandmother’s flower garden stacked in a shoe box
Dresser scarf crocheted from the strings that held feed sacks shut
Bias-tape cardinals adorn a feed sack towel—one of my favorites
Feed sack fan quilt
Examples of embroidery patterns stamped on feed sacks
Beacon feed sack circa 1948
One small part of the display
Back of a paper-pieced feed sack quilt with the paper still intact
A few of the Zahs’ feed sacks

I’m off to Quilt Market in Kansas City this week and the next post or two will be from there. Looking forward to all the eye candy and an opportunity to see some of my Market buddies, to boot. Cheers!

Antique quilts from Kalona

I managed to fill the last couple of weeks with a big ol’ project that put blogging, sewing, knitting, etc. on hold. However, one of my regular assignments was due at the same time as the big one and required that I go to the annual Kalona Quilt Show, so not only did I get a break, but I got to look at quilts.

Norwegian Girl 1930-40s. We thought some of them looked a bit demonic

Delectable Mountain

My friend Holly and I went out one evening after a meeting and because I was shooting photos for a magazine story, Brenda Herrington, one of the organizers of the show, the owner of the Kalona Antique Company, and a long-time friend, let me go up top and shoot some photos of the whole thing. Compared to many sales, the Kalona show has a “rustic” feel, as quilts are strung in somewhat haphazard rows from clotheslines tightly strung above the gymnasium floor. As they sell, they’re taken down and another quilt takes its place, so attending more than once means you’ll see something new each time. Every single quilt, old and new, is hand-quilted.

Amazing hand quilting. This quilt was purchased for Kalona’s Quilt Museum

While all the quilts are lovely, the old quilts truly are my favorite. They ranged in price from several thousand dollars for Amish crib quilts (people are willing to pay so much because they can use them as art on a wall, as opposed to bigger quilts) to a couple of quilts for less than $200.

Holly’s quilt and her kitty, Primo

As happened last year, I managed to buy a quilt, even without Marilyn Woodin there to encourage me. Holly got the best one, a postage stamp Irish chain done in sweet feedsack tones that are punched up with a red border and keystones. She sent me this picture of her kitty, Primo, enjoying it the very next morning.

My starry quilt—1930s-40s feed sacks

Mine is quite different from the graphic, dark-toned one I got last year. But it’s orangey shades go well with the walls in the room where I write. I’m planning to use it in the summertime and the other in winter. (Last year’s was stitched in the 1880s, this year’s in the 1930s-40s.)

Iowa-made Log Cabin 1880-1910

 Last year Marilyn told me that the quilt I bought was the perfect one to start my antique quilt collection. I told her I didn’t intend to start such a collection, but I may have been wrong. Brenda assured me that it’s not a collection until there are three. So I’m safe, unless I decide that bed also needs quilts for both fall and spring.

Love the border on this Dresden Plate

Feeding My Obsession

Can you believe that one on top of the box? Totally wild!

Since last April, when I attended the feed sack show in Ainsworth, I’ve been under the spell of feed sacks. In every antique and thrift store, at any quilt show, wherever vintage textiles are found, I poke through stacks of fabric in search of them. Typically they’re very, very pricey, and given that I’m not sure what I’d do with them, I’ve never splurged.

Sweet little floral

Earlier this summer, no doubt when I should have been doing some work, I was noodling about online and decided to check Craigslist. Lo and behold, there was an ad for feed sacks, nearly vintage itself at several months old. I figured they’d be long gone, but wrote for more information. Amazingly, they were still to be had, but for a price that was a bit rich for my blood. Turns out here were about 23 (including several duplicates) of them, plus some scraps. I offered to buy them all for a lower price and the owner countered. I told her that I would pass, but if she’d ever consider my offer to let me know. Sure enough, she did and they arrived today!

So graphic! I’ve got two

It turns out that the feed sacks belonged to a octogenarian quilter from a small Iowa town. Her daughter was selling them for her. I felt a bit guilty having bargained for them, although the ad had been placed months before, so I guess she was glad for the sale. My real worry is that her daughter said that her mom wanted to know what I would do with them and asked that I send a photo of anything I made. Yikes! That feels like such responsibility…I can barely imaging cutting into them. But I promised when I did use them, I’d share the results. And she obviously used them, as there are many small bits in addition to the complete sacks.

A bold take on florals—flower in a flower

With feed sacks, I expect the sweet little florals, but am always amazed by how contemporary many of the designs are. In my Etsy story I mentioned that it took three feed sacks to make a dress, but the only bag I have three of would make anyone look (as my mother used to say) like the broad side of a barn.

Apparently owl imagery isn’t new

For now, I’ll just be folding and re-folding and admiring my feed sack stack. Heaven!

My favorites!
Yup, I’ve got three of these…


Okay, so perhaps destiny is a bit grandiose…but when I was in Virginia my mom was packing up her suitcase and pulled out the shoe bags she’s used for my entire life and what were they made from? Feed sacks!

It turns out that decades ago my mother went to my aunt’s farm in Minnesota and picked the sacks out especially to make these. I took a close look and sure enough, there were the former stitching holes Mike Zahs told me were a sure sign that the fabric had once been a feed sack.

Apparently feed sacks have been tucked away in my brain all these years. And now I’m a little obsessed. In my family, when someone has something you really like, you tell them “I get it when you die!” I told my mom I definitely get these when she’s gone.

There’s a great outdoor antique sale every 4th of July in nearby Solon. This year I’ll have my eye out for feed sacks, for sure!

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend, everyone!

Feed Sacks, Continued

Thought those of you who read the Etsy feed sack post might enjoy a few more photos: The exhibit was sensational and Mike Zahs knows so much…I kept encouraging him to write it down, because it will be a shame if his extensive knowledge is lost. He’s obsessive, in the best possible way, and one thing I really loved was that he so admires the women who used every last bit to make sure their families were clothed and comfortable. He’s even got a doily crocheted from the strings used to hold feed sacks closed.

Enjoy, and plan a visit to Ainsworth the last weekend of 2012!

This piece contains 561 squares of 134 different sacks.
Feed sack from the 1950s with sailor doll. Sew, stuff, and enjoy.
The Corn of Tomorrow, Today
Border prints above. Some of Zah’s 31 new feed sacks below.

One crate full from Zah’s collection. He has nearly 50 crates.
Three colorways of a single feed sack pattern
A book of feed sack sewing ideas
A fantastic spider web quilt made with solid and striped sacks
Ainsworth Opera House: tables set for lunch and dinner meal served as a fundraiser