Feedsacks, Flour Sacks, or Grain Sacks? Is There A Difference?
Through the years I’ve heard the terms Feed Sack, Flour Sack and Grain Sack used to describe the vintage bags dry goods and animal feed used to come in. These words were used for everything from the canvas bags with advertising logos on them to the charming printed cottons my favorite old quilts were made from. As I’ve been planning some projects to enjoy my own personal collection that’s grown through the years, I asked myself, “Is there a difference between these terms?” I decided to do a little searching today and find out once and for all! Here’s the answer to the question, Feedsacks, Flour Sacks, or Grain Sacks? Is there a difference?
Feedsacks, Floursacks, or Grainsacks? Is there a Difference?
What’s the Difference Between Feedsacks, Flour Sacks, and Grain Sacks?
To me, there was always a difference between the Feed Sack that featured advertising graphics and the Flour Sack that was a printed cotton, usually a floral, polka dot, or a plaid. But after reading up, I learned the difference is not so much in the name, but rather the era in which they were made.
The difference is not so much in the name, rather, the era in which they were made.
When Fabric Replaced Barrels for Packaging
From 1840 to the 1920’s, simple muslin or canvas bags containing dried goods and feed replaced the former barrels for packaging and shipping to the consumer. Textile Mills created the bags with advertising, and farm wives would meticulously remove them with special recipes (lard, Kerosene, Fels, Naphtha, Bleach), in order to use the precious fabric commodity for household purposes.
I can’t imagine wanting to get rid of the charming graphics!
Everything from flour, sugar, feed, seeds, rice and fertilizer were all packaged in these strong fabric bags. Housewives could quickly accumulate enough bags to sew kitchen curtains, bedsheets or clothes for their families. The standard 100 lb feedsack is about 37″ x 43″ when laid flat.
When Marketers Got Involved, They Upped the Fashion Appeal of the Bags: Enter the Calico Prints!
In the 1920’s, companies realized women were creating home textiles from their bags. As good marketers, they came up with the idea to make the packages more appealing by using printed fabrics. They guessed they would sell more because a certain number of bags were needed to sew a dress or a bed covering. Housewives indeed bought more of the calico-type patterns and would even swap back and forth to get enough of the design they wanted. The companies also came up with patterns and projects women could make from their bags, increasing the desirability even more.
By 1941 there were 31 textile mills manufacturing these utilitarian bags. One such company, The Bemis Company was located in Minnesota, which probably explains why I see their bags more commonly in my area. The advertisement feed/grain/flour sacks I’m featuring here all have the textile mill’s logo on one side and the company that’s making the contents’ logo on the other. The food companies have bright colored logos to attract the consumer’s attention and the textile mill’s logo is just in black.
Years ago, while at a farmhouse purchasing items for my former store, a good-sized pile of these Advertising Feedsacks were sitting out. My business partner and I had reached our limit of spending for the store, but I couldn’t go home without some of the stack. I bought them for $5 each, and I honestly wish I would have bought them all now. Isn’t that just the way it goes? I only remember what I left behind, I never regret buying something that I know is hard to come by.
I’ve picked up a couple more through the years, but they were never as nice or as plentiful as that day.
It looks like most of my collection sell for anywhere form $20-$50 online now. I love that many of mine feature Minneapolis companies, since I’ve lived here all my life and like to decorate with hometown history.
For More History on Feed sacks, Grain Sacks, and Flour Sacks
As I was trying to figure out the true definition of Feed Sack vs. Flour Sack vs. Grain Sack, I came across an adorable book for those of us who love this piece of history. “Feedsacks: The Colorful History of a Frugal Fabric”, written by Linzee Kull McCray is filled to the brim with beautiful pictures of these historical bags, along with more morsels of the bags’ history. You can get it HERE.
How Can You Enjoy These Vintage Bags?
As I was deciding how to use these treasures around my home to enjoy them everyday, I came across a project Cathe Holden had done for Country Living magazine years ago. Cathe embroidered certain parts of each feed sack graphic to really pop the elements. It makes the graphics even more adorable and charmning! Check out her amazing creativity, “Embroidered Flour and Feed Sack Wall Art”.
Graphics on Vintage Feed and Grain Sacks
The old graphics on these advertisement feed sacks are much more stable than I realized. I was worried if I washed them, the beautiful typography would disappear. It was good to learn the ink they used was not water soluble and actually was quite hard to get rid of. I want to enjoy the graphics for a long time and still be able to wash the items I repurpose!
To enjoy these delightful pieces of history everyday in my kitchen, I added them to the seats of my new upholstered loveseat and chair! I highlighted the details with hand embroidery and stapled the feed sacks under the base. See how cute (and practical) they turned out in “Adding Vintage Feedsacks to New Furniture”.
If you love feedsacks as much as I do, definitely grab one of these awesome coffee table books and further your learning and enjoyment! (Click on the title)
“Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric” by Linzee Kull McCray
“Vintage Feed Sacks: Fabric from the Farm” by Professor Susan Miller
Looking to purchase Feedsacks, Grain Sacks or Flour Sacks?
I’d check HERE and HERE first. Their supply will always be changing, but if you keep checking, you’ll find some!
So what’s the difference between the terms Feed Sack, Flour Sack or Grain Sack? It seems the terms are interchangeable! Bags that featured advertisements definitely came before the printed versions. Their farmhouse graphic charm is what enticed me to turn them into some fun projects for my home!
But to keep things straight in my mind, feedsacks are any bags that feature graphics and advertising. Flour Sacks are printed calico fabrics, and Grain Sacks are any bags that have a collection of stripes and minimal labeling. Does that make sense? Maybe we can all agree to stick with those new definitions to keep them straight?
For more Feedsack/Flour Sacks/Grainsack projects and inspiration:
“How to Make Your Own Feedsack DIY Projects”
Hope you enjoyed hearing about the history of Feed sacks, Flour sacks, or Grain sacks? What is the difference? Become an Insider down below for more vintage inspiration!
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I found a old sack used as a filler from a quilt that my grandma made years ago. It is a big acorn with a cow head in it. I cant find any information on it. Can someone help me age the sack?
There are sooo many feed bag styles out there, Davana. My best advice is to take a picture of the logo and put it into google search. I actually do it on my phone. Google will search all of the internet and hopefully give you more info; good luck!
I came across an old Wirthmore Mink Food bag that my grandmother had kept. My grandfather was a mink rancher back in the day. I was so excited to see a picture of one on your site!
I would like to make it into a pillow but there are a few small stains on it. They look like small rust stains. The bag has been washed so I know it’s clean.
Are the stains a deal breaker for making a pillow? Also, the lettering is faded. Could I fabric paint over the letters to highlight them more?
Yes, Wendy, I’m actually using my 2 Wirthmore Mink Food bags as bathroom cafe curtains right now! I think a few stains are part of the earned character of these oldies. You could always put a cute patch over them with a contrasting fabric for a vintage folk-ish look. If you want to make the lettering pop a bit, you could stitch around them with embroidery or a sewing machine. You can see how I did it on some old feed sacks here: https://lorabloomquist.comadding-vintage-feedsacks-new-furniture-seats/ If you’re not a sewer, you could possibly outline around the letters with some subtle fabric pens? I just like the country look of a simple embroidery running stitch; think it really adds to the charm, kind of like an old needlework sampler. Hope that helps!
Hey! I just saw this and was wondering if you’d be willing to sell the mink feed bag as is? I would like to keep it for my personal collection. Would absolutely love to have it! Thanks!
Sorry, I love having it in my personal collection, too;)
Thank you for answering questions I’ve had for years. I can remember when I was told I’d grown to be such a big girl that now my full skirted twirly dresses would take three feed sacks to make!
I love this memory, Leilani!So much history for so many with these utilitarian fabrics! Thanks for sharing;)
Wow! This great post just answered so many questions!! Thanks for the lovely story and photos! Go to my website and see what I’ve done with these beautiful sacks!! Patty
Thanks, Patty.Your artwork is beautiful; love the history!
This is such a great and informative post. I will definitely be rereading and pinning for future reference! Thanks for sharing at #TFT! I will be featuring you tomorrow!
Thanks, Amber! Glad you enjoyed it!
So interesting! I love them all! Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm!
What a great post! I learned a lot. I have a few seed bags that I have washed and some of the reds bled a little, but they still look pretty good. Found them in my Mother-in-Laws attic just rotting away. I haven’t decided what to do with them yet.
Thanks, Dottie! Glad you enjoyed it! I learned a lot, too!
You have a wonderful collection, Lora…I am loving the Viking brand sack!!
Thanks, Linda! I really like the green grass one because it’s so different!