What an almost forgotten heirloom taught me about my Midwestern Swedish roots
Unfinished stories are all around us. What happens when we start pulling threads?
As I’ve been thinking about quilts and family history this winter, my curiosity has taken me deep down the rabbit hole into feedsack fabric, also known as chicken linen, a ubiquitous fabric of the 1930s and 1940s.
Here’s part 2 of this story about the almost forgotten family quilt. Read part one if you haven’t already!
In 1947, 750 million yards of cotton fabric went to produce bags for flour, sugar, every kind of bean, meal and animal feed you can imagine.
Many millions of those yards were decorated in bright, colorful, intricate and often expertly designed patterns. This so-called feedsack or feedbag cotton, or chicken linen, born in frugality, became an important source of materials, patterns and sewing inspiration for people across the county from the late 1920s to the 1960s, when clothing became cheaper to buy than to make.
Linzee Kull McCray compiled a wonderful book and visual guide to this motley slice of American history called “Feed Sacks: The Colorful History of a Frugal Fabric,” which came out in 2019.
It’s a little hard to believe that the hexagons in that old family quilt I finished are made with this feedsack fabric, but the more I thought about it, the more I was in awe of the women like my great-grandma who could transform this crude form of packaging into clothing and household goods.