Repurposing Vintage Flour & Feed Sacks

Transform it TuesdayLong before it was cool, my grandparents were into recycling just about everything that came into their home and farm. That’s just the way people lived years ago. Only they didn’t put their recycling into a tub to be hauled off. They actually figured out new ways to use things!

I inherited a bag full of old fabric that came from their flour sacks and feed sacks. That bag has been stashed away in my “someday I’m going to make something out of these” box for about twenty years. A few months ago I pulled out the bag and cut up some of the fabric for tea towels. The plan was to embroider designs on them. Repurposing Vintage Flour and Feed SacksThis weekend I decided to start doing some embroidery. I was having a hard time deciding what kind of design to embroider when I glanced at the sketches I made for a post last week on drawing. If you missed that post, I drew sketches of designs that are on some of the dishes in my china cabinet. Perfect! Old dish patterns and vintage flour sacks make a good combination. So I used my light table and a water erasable marker to trace the designs to my tea towels. (I could have accomplished the same thing by taping my design and fabric to a window.)

Design transfer

Putting the embroidery hoop on the fabric helped to keep the fabric stretched tight while tracing the design.

Embroidery on vintage flour sack tea towelI did not enjoy history in school, but now I am fascinated by it. What was the history of flour and feed sacks? So I looked it up.

Before fabric was used for sacks, things like flour, sugar, and animal feed were sold in barrels and wooden boxes. With the invention of the sewing machine, fabric bags could be produced that would hold the products and be less bulky to transport and store. Since people did not want to waste precious resources, they reused the sacks as bags, or remade the fabric into clothing, aprons, towels, quilts and other household items. The women bleached out the logos and other print on the sacks before repurposing them. Pretty soon the manufacturers of the sacks decided to take advantage of the fact that women were remaking their sacks into other things and began printing them with cute flowers and other designs. That way if someone wanted to make a dress, they would need three sacks of the same print. Smart marketing! By the 1950’s most of the items previously sold in fabric sacks were being packaged in paper or plastic sacks. If you are interested in reading more, check out this interesting article on the Etsy blog, and this one on Collector’s Weekly.

Except for the sack fabric with the pink lines on them, the rest of the fabric I got had been bleached out, except for one piece. I could barely make out the ink stamped on it. It said:
Cattle Fattener
Manufactured by
Schreiber Mills, Inc
St. Joseph, MO
Feed Sack Print

Tea Towel EmbroideryTea Towel EmbroideryTea Towel EmbroideryI still have lots of towels for my girls and I to embroider. I may need to sketch out some more designs from my old dishes! Emboidered Tea Towels From Flour Sacks


Repurposing Vintage Flour & Feed Sacks — 6 Comments

  1. Way to go Jan. I keep finding feed sacks that I inherited also, have hemmed a lot of them for church kitchen, and have given several to Pat, especially ones that Grandma had started embroidering. I didn’t know you liked tea towels too. I learned to sew making my own clothes out of printed feed sacks, on a treadle sewing machine. Great memories! Embroidering is the same, but I’m happy the sewing machines have improved.

  2. I have found a huge box of vintage flour sacks my grandmother left to my mother. Most of them are in mint condition. What to do with them? I’m open to any ideas.

  3. HI
    I was looking for a Schreiber Mills feed sack and came across this. Schreiber Mills was my fathers company. I really enjoyed seeing what you did with it! Thanks for sharing.