It has been estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 different designs were created and used to decorate feedsacks between the 1930’s and 1960’s. The scale of production, both in terms of designing and printing, gives an indication of just how important feedsacks were to the U.S. and Canadian economies. The designs came from a wide range of sources, including the cotton industry itself, individuals and groups of professional designers, as well as from the women themselves who used the sacks.
Course, plain coloured sacks were always available. Sometimes white sacks were dyed at home by enterprising women and then given or sold to others who needed them for garments and, more often, bed quilts. The earliest designs were simple forms, such as checks (especially ginghams) and stripes. It was not long before flower designs were created, which were popular with various generations of wearers. These reflected fashionable forms, as well as styles that are so general they cannot be given a specific date.
In the 1930’s, more specific designs begin to appear, as noted by the Percy Kent Bag Company (Buffalo, New York), which employed European artists to create designs based on more fashionable motifs. Animal and insect figures became available, including a range of animals, birds, butterflies and fish. The article in the 1948 Libelle, for example, shows an American woman dressed in a fashionable wide-skirted dress decorated with stylised fish. Another popular range were embroidery designs. Sometimes these were printed onto the textile in order for somebody to actually embroider them. On other occasions the design was made to look like a piece of embroidery, especially using motifs worked in cross stitch and satin stitch.
Another range of motifs that was popular were those that were somewhat nostalgic and based on the cowboy and girl way of life, farmer’s lives (pig feeding at a trough, farms and farm land, etc), antiquated forms of transportation (coaches and early steam trains), as well as old fashioned paddle boats. There were also designs that referred to specific sporting events, such as the various horse races and race courses in the U.S., including the Kentucky Derby, Tia Juanna and Santa Anita. There are other feedsacks that include a range of buildings and scenes, such as Venice, Dutch windmills (with figures in clogs) and Southern style plantation houses.
During the 1950’s machine printing techniques improved and the range of designs further increased. In addition, popular culture was reflected in the patterns produced. At the same time more and more abstract designs were developed, which often had the appearance of painted motifs.
Feedsacks and Disney
In the late 1940’s the Percy Kent Bag Company signed a contract with the film company of Disney for the rights to reproduce images on their feedsacks. Famous cartoon figures used by them include Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, as well as figures from Disney films such as Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Davy Crocket (1955). In some cases, Percy Kent used the actual artwork of Disney illustrators for the feedsacks.
Despite all the various forms and artistic trends that came and went, the mainstay of the feedsack design repertoire remained flowers and floral motifs in their many forms!