Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Feed Sack Prints? 1938

Library of Congress
Man posing on the porch of his Topeka store, 1938

In 1938 photographer John Vachon (1914-1975) came to Kansas to take pictures of farmers and their lives for the Farm Security Administration. He recorded this man in Topeka sitting among some of what looked to me like polka dot feed sacks.

There is no identification on the photo above but from this picture
of the same store we can guess that the man might be J.G. (Jack) Rees.

1915 article on Jack Rees in the
Topeka Capital. The Rees family
is still in the fruit business east of Topeka.
And they are associated with Skinner's Garden Center.
"I didn't know it at the time, but I was having a last look at America as it used to be." John Vachon

The photos are wonderful in themselves and the Kansas history is interesting, but I liked the pair of pictures because they seemed to show dress print sacks in photos dated 1938, adding to evidence of a late-1930s date for the advent of these fabric containers. See a post on the 1938 invention:


But I am not knowledgeable about the subtleties of commodity containers. Gloria Nixon is one of the top authorities. She commented on the Rees photo:

1934 letterhead from Crete Mills

"I feel those aren't dress prints. [See] Crete Mills/Victor Feed letterhead from 1930 and 1934 showing some of its bags. Now look at the Jack Rees photo. From the little I've found, Crete Mills used a motif corresponding to the feed the bag held: pigs, chicks, eggs, etc., throughout the 1930s. Victor Flour is the product I would expect to see packaged in pretty dress prints around 1938."

I guess what I thought was a polka dot is an egg. I opined that the piggy print would make a cute child's garment. But sez Gloria....

"The labels took up most of the cloth anyway, front and back. There would be little fabric to use for anything."

So Mr. Rees is indeed selling feedsacks but not the kind with the dress prints that we are so familiar with. The Victor feed containers predate the usual dress print sacks. And that's why the Facebook groups are so useful---group think. Fine points discussed. Experts chiming in.

View John Vachon's photos at the Library of Congress website. They've scanned 14,000 of his images so you might want to limit your view to a particular state.

Read more about Vachon here:

Print sacks shown in an exhibit at Kansas State University

See our QuiltHistorySouth Facebook page. We have over 2,500 members. Ask to join:


  1. I knew women in my quilt guild in rural South Carolina who wore feed sack clothing as children. One recalled as a teenager trying to persuade her father to buy two sacks of the same pattern when he went to town so she could make a dress.

  2. In reply to the comment about the label taking up most of the sack, I’ve seen sacks where the label is a sheet of paper pasted onto the fabric sack. So the label could be removed by soaking it in water. I’ve also seen plain white sacks with printed labels used as quilt backs.