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The Original Sack Dress

Today when you go to the feed store to buy feed for your livestock you can get it three
different ways, in bulk, delivered by truck directly to your storage bin; in 50 lb paper
sacks, or some feed mills still put their feed in 100 lb burlap bags.

Whenever I was growing up they did not have such a thing as paper feed sacks and the
only bulk feed was the grain that you threshed yourself and it was usually bagged at the
thresher. Just about all feed purchased at the feed store came in 100 lb sacks, but you did
have a choice. Some mills bagged their feed in burlap bags, or tow sacks as we called
them, and some mills put their feed in printed cotton muslin sacks. They usually came in
floral prints.

Whenever dad went to the feed store to get feed he would check to see what kind of sack
the feed was in. If the feed he was buying that day was in a printed cotton sack, he would
go back out to the car and get mother so she could pick out the design she liked. Out of a
stack of twelve or fifteen bags there would probably be four or five different print patterns.

I am sure the employees at the feed store really liked it when mother picked out two or
three sacks out of the middle of the stack that she wanted, but they never did complain.
They went right ahead and set the top sacks aside and got the sacks that mother wanted.

One sack would make me a short sleeved shirt or mother a sleeveless blouse. Two sacks
of the same pattern would make her a very plain, simple dress, or get three sacks of the
same pattern for a nicer dress. You could get a pattern for fifteen to twenty five cents
and a spool of thread for a nickel and have you a new dress for twenty to thirty cents.
You had to buy the feed anyway, so the material was free.

Most families at that time had an old Singer or New Home treadle sewing machine. The
machine was on a stand with a platform, or treadle; thus the name, on the bottom that
you worked back and forth with your feet and this spun a flywheel via a pushrod from
the treadle to the flywheel, and this in turn ran the sewing machine by means of a
belt from the flywheel to a pully on the sewing machine. No electricity was required.

Another thing that I remember mother doing was to take four of the sacks, they did not
have to match, and sew them together for quilt tops. I say use them for quilt tops, but
they were sometimes used for both sides of the quilts. If mother had any tops she had
pieced together in blocks she would put them on top and the feed sacks on the back.

If we had any quilts that were getting worn she would recover them or she would get
some cotton batting and make a new quilt. Usually in the winter time she would have a
quilting frame hanging in one corner of the front room where the heater was so she could
do her quilting when it was too cold to get outside to do anything. With the old open
house that we had and just one wood heater a good warm quilt was very welcome.

We still have some of these quilts that mother made that are over 50 years old.

So now you know where the sack dress originated. When you were trying to get by on
the farm, you had to keep feed for the stock or they would starve to death and you would
lose your investment in them. By using the floral print sacks for making clothes and quilt
covers the farmers could afford to keep their stock fed, and the family clothed and warm.
It was just a matter of making do with what was available.

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