Sewing with Cotton Bags, 1937

Who better to tell a housewife how to sew with cotton bags than a group representing the makers of them, the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association?  This booklet dates from 1937, but I’ve seen similar ones from as recent as the late 1950s, just as paper bags were replacing the cloth sacks.  Generically known today as feedsacks, these bags are a hot commodity, selling for at least $10 each, and the best ones selling for $50 and even more.  Wouldn’t those thrifty homemakers from the 1930s be shocked to learn that what they got free with a purchase of flour or sugar are going for such prices!

Sewing with Cotton Bags is thirty-two pages of ideas of what to do with all those bags.  It was revised in 1937, but some of the styles are several years older, left over from an earlier edition.  The drawing above shows a woman who is more likely from 1932 than 1937.

The pleated sleeve shown above left was a common sports sleeve, and I’ve seen it as early as 1932.  I love how the booklet declares them to be “stylish” which is much better word in this case than “fashionable”!

The “Simple Sports Ensemble” on the left was a standard of any active woman’s wardrobe from the early 1930s through the 1940s.  This one is probably from 1935 or so, due to the long skirt and the sleeves that are not gathered.  The tennis dress appears to be from around the same time.

Wide legged pajamas were a 1930s standard.  That set on the left was designed for sleeping, but many women took them to the beach as cover ups.

Cotton sacks were not just for clothes.  You could also use them to make your summer cottage more charming.

They also worked well as a table cover.  I can imagine all the great junk that was stored out of sight, behind the feedsacks.

The patterns shown in the booklet could be ordered for ten cents each, or three for twenty-five cents.  Most are for aprons and clothes for small children, but some, like the blouses, were really quite nice, and yes, even stylish.


Filed under Sewing

25 responses to “Sewing with Cotton Bags, 1937

  1. The little jacket with pleated sleeves is so cute!


  2. Gail Lind

    According to my late mother, when I was a toddler, sugar came in cloth sacks. Rather than waste good material, she made my bloomers out of sugar sacks. She said I ran around with the word “sugar” on my bottom. I doubt if the bloomers were as stylish as the patterns in your post, but I wish one pair had survived .


  3. Wouldn’t it be lovely if some of those patterns were still available?
    Thank you for sharing this delightful booklet, Lizzie!


  4. My grandmother made dresses for me from feed sacks. That was late 1940s-early 1950s. As a child, I just assumed she was using sacks she had saved from chicken feed. I had no idea their use was this extensive. Thanks for an interesting post.


  5. I just finished a One Hour Dress, and it occured to me for a hot minute that I could…. use my double, uncut flour sack with the airships on it.
    And then I slapped myself and made it from rayon challis. Why waste that beautiful fabric on that dress? As authentic as that would be..No Way!


  6. What a great find! I’ve been intrigued by feed sacks for a long time as I’m fortunate to have lots of scraps that were my grandmother’s from the 1930s onward.

    From what I can recall, cotton was used to package animal feed and other household commodities from the 1860s, and this packaging would often have been made over by thrifty consumers into something new.

    But it was only during the Depression that sack manufacturers fully cottoned on (sorry!) to the marketing potential and began to print pretty patterns on them; a buyer might well go the extra mile to find a pleasing feed sack pattern that matched the last one – which would make a bigger sewing project possible – or even buy two sackfuls at once (if they could afford it) when they found a pattern they liked.

    My grandmother had five young daughters to dress through the 1930s and made good use of these sacks – and the scraps were used for patchwork quilts, of course.


  7. I’ve known about feedsack dresses, but didn’t know about all these other items made from them! That sportswear set with the skirt reminds me a bit of the pink gym suit I recently listed in my shop.

    I’m not a tennis player, but that tennis dress looks cool and comfortable . . . I could *probably* play low key badminton in it.


  8. My G Granny and grandmother used them as well. I found several when clearing out the houses..i thought the cloth was so great! I wonder ..what they thought of them…nothing went to waste!?!


  9. Well, I’m a little confused by these patterns, which give the impression of being made from long swaths of fabric. Wouldn’t they have to be more elaborately pieced? Those bags, especially sugar bags, weren’t all that big.


  10. What a great booklet! Thanks for sharing it.

    One of my favorite ‘discoveries’ lately was of a pocket inside 1920s plus fours made from a Jack Frost sugar bag. I love the way the manufacturers’ efforts to sell more through desirable packaging meshed with the sewing talents and thrifts of woman at the time.

    If I found just one of the fabulous styles pictured in the booklet, made of feedsack fabric to boot, I think I’d die of happiness!


  11. Ruth

    Just catching up on some of your articles (I love to save them and read them in groups). I love cotton sack fabrics, and had several dresses as a little girl in the late 50’s or early 60’s. My grandmother had chickens then and was still getting their feed in cotton sacks in Oklahoma City. When I was a young mother of four living in Tehachapi in the late 80’s I could still get sacks of sugar in cotton fabric at the local grocery store. I suspect they possibly came from Mexico as many of the customers were from there and were seasonal workers, and the store carried a large stock of ethnic goods. I still have some of the fabric somewhere!


  12. Pingback: Feed sack dresses – The Generalist Academy

  13. Hi – I am finishing a book about clothing during WWII – Clothing Goes to War – and have referenced this pamphlet. I have looked carefully through my copy and do not see any date. Are you sure it is 1937? Thanks, Nan Turner


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