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The Feed Sack Dress

note: Photographs of orginal feed sack material at bottom of page.

Our ancestors knew how to use everything and not be wasteful. Many people made trips to the feed store to buy feed for their livestock. I remember my mother telling stories about trips to the feed store when she was a child. She grew up in the Black Creek community of Scott County, Tennessee during the Great Depression in the 1930's. My mom is deceased and I value the stories I remember her telling of her childhood.
The feed store back then sold their feed in 100 lb. sacks. The feed usually came in burlap sacks or printed cotton muslin sacks. The printed cotton muslin sacks usually came in floral prints with four or five different print patterns. My Grandparents like most families during this time did not waste anything. They were very creative in finding a 'use' for most items. Many women during this time would use the cotton muslin sacks to make clothes. The "Sack Dress" as it was called was the most popular garment to make. The woman of the house would usually go with her husband to the feed store when it was time to buy feed for the animals. This would give her a chance to see the printed cotton sacks and pick which print pattern she would want on that particular trip to the feed store.
Dress patterns would usually sell from fifteen to twenty-five cents. Many women would create their own dress pattern. A spool of thread would cost around five cents. The material was free since you had to buy the feed anyway. Many items were sold in sacks back then and all the cloth sacks were used in one way or another. Some of the other goods sold in cloth sacks were flour, meal, sugar, salt, coffee, etc. If my figuring is correct a lady could have a new dress for around thirty cents! Three floral printed sacks would make a nice 'going to visit' dress. It would take two feed sacks of the same print to make a plain and simple dress. These dresses would be for adult women. Dresses for little girls of course would take less material. Sometimes they would take four or five of these feed sacks and sew them together to make a quilt top. Small left over scrapes of material would also be used to patch up worn places on old quilts. Other items made using the seed sack material were blouses, boy shirts, pillow cases, aprons, table and dresser scarfs, kitchen towels, etc.
Some families from my Grandparent's day would usually have an old Singer sewing machine. My Granny Gibson also owned one of these Singer's. These sewing machines were powered by a large pedal at the bottom of the machine. You would work the pedal back and forth with your feet. The faster you pedaled the faster you could sew. No electricity was required. We still have Granny Gibson's old Singer sewing machine and it still sews as good as it did many years ago. I might add in today's world it is a very beautiful antique and looks very well in any room. My mom's parents Bruce and Ethel Willoughby did not get electricity in their home until the early 1950's. The Singer sewing machine was used very often since most of the clothes for the family were home made. Many of you may have wondered where the "sack dress" originated. I am very proud of my ancestors and the people from Scott County, Tennessee not so very long ago. How they managed and survived through very difficult times using their talent and creativity of "making do" with what was available.

Dan Gibson, author
Copyright 2003

back to: Our Ancestor's Way of Life
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