By: Pat L. Nickols
Quilts that indicate the use of cotton sacks or bags were studied in the time period from the late 1800’s to the late 1960’s. These sacks were used throughout the country to hold grain, feed for animals and various household staples. Both plain sacks with printing showing their contents and paper labeled sacks printed with patterns similar to dress goods were included in this study.
In addition to gathering information from quilts (21), quilt tops (27), and quilt block (26), the sacks examined supplied a great deal of data as to the different types of sacks, varied contents, and locations of milling companies. In addition to feed and flour sacks, sugar, salt and tobacco sacks were found to be an often used source of fabric for quiltmakers.
Cotton sacks were produced earlier than had been previously thought. In 1858 J. Bemis founded the Bemis Company the first to produce a printed cotton bag that was machine sewn. More of this sack fabric was produced and used in the south than any other area of the country, a fact that replaces our previously held impression that the mid-west was the major producer and user of this type of fabric.
The greatest use of sack fabric appeared to be during the 1920-40’s due in part to the renewed wide spread interest in quilting, the published information available to the homemaker and the lean economic times. Sack fabric was found to be used earlier in the 1800’s and later in the 1900’s for quilts.