One of the iconic uses of feedsacks is the making of quilts used on beds. A bed quilt is basically made up of three or more layers of cloth. The top layer, which is usually decorative, consists of a large piece of cloth that may be made of a single piece of plain cloth or multi-coloured patchwork pieces sewn together and/or designs sewn down (appliqué) onto a plain ground material. There then comes the layer of wadding (batting) for warmth, and finally, the lining or backing layer. The three layers are normally fastened together in some manner, such as by ‘tying’ (the use of small knots at regular intervals), by specific motifs and/or blocks on the top layer being stitched to the lining, or by decorative quilting. The latter consists of small running stitches that are sewn through the various layers, often with the stitches following a predetermined pattern to produce an overall, decorative effect. In many cases the whole bed quilt is decorated in this manner.
Sometimes paper templates were used in various shapes, such as triangles and hexagons for the patchwork forms. These templates can sometimes provide an indication of when the quilt was made. There are examples of quilt templates, for example, being made of dated letters, newspapers and magazines.
In the earlier examples, it is generally the backing of the quilt that is made of feed or flour sacks. Sometimes the name of the manufacturer can still be seen. But by the 1930’s more and more quilts started to include scraps of feedsack cloth into the main top designs. These are usually mixed with other materials that were popular and available at the time.
A wide range of quilt designs were made using feedsacks, including well-known forms such as Crazy quilts, Striped quilts, bowties, Grandmother’s garden, and Dresden plates.
New and traditional designs were often published in local newspapers, such as the Kansas City Star, for women to cut out and use. On other occasions quilting blocks were actually printed on cotton sacks for people to use as templates or to cover with material. If two or four blocks were given on one sack, it was necessary for the quilter to acquire up to ten sacks to make a quilt suitable for a single bed.
Not all women, however, wanted to spend time making bed quilts from hundreds of small pieces of cloth. So feedsack designers came up with the so-called ‘cheaters’, which looked like patchwork quilts from a distance, but which were in fact a multi-coloured patchwork design printed onto the ground material.