Details, details. They really can make or break a piece of writing. Too many and the passage is bogged down, too few and the reader will visualize what they choose, too gaudy and you’ll be accused of purple prose. But if you can capture a scene with the right amount of description formed by carefully chosen words, you will achieve Olympic writing gold. We’ve all experienced that moment when we sit back in open-mouthed awe of a perfectly crafted sentence that conveys exactly what we meant to say.
I recently experienced this during my fifth round of editing on my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I needed to show the quaint but tidy lifestyle Lyla Welles maintained in her home. Her husband, John, is a farmer, and while the family does well enough, there isn’t money for frivolous luxuries such as lace curtains.
When I described what I wanted for the scene, my mother suggested feed sack curtains. Images of stained, coarse fabric crudely stitched together came to mind. Mother informed me that they were quite pretty and, in fact, feed sack was used to make dresses for little girls, tea towels, and aprons. I had to go in search of the fabric that could be used for such items while baring a name more plain than homespun. What I found prompted this post.
Ingenious women of low income reused the fabric from feed sacks for undergarments, curtains, pillowcases, etc. Initially, the fabric was white and without pattern. A company logo, which had to be scrubbed out or strategically placed on the homemade item, was the only ornamentation. These plain white feed sacks were probably what Lyla Welles would have used during the time period for the above-mentioned scene. I imagine her hand lovingly embroidering a simple pattern or trimming the edges.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that patterned feed sack became popular as a marketing tool. Women chose the products they purchased depending on the pattern on the feed sack fabric. Contests were held to design prints and artists were consulted to make them more appealing.
The following link from the Buchanan County, Iowa Historical Society provides a complete history on the evolution, popularity, and history of feed sack fabric. I recommend utilizing Google to see a myriad of garments and household items made from the repurposed fabric. There are even Pinterest boards and quilting forums dedicated to the humble feed sack.
When I was young I remembered mother telling us of children who wore feed sack dresses. We never knew they were anything but chintz fabric and thought they were very pretty.
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I would think feed sack garments would be uncomfortable and scratchy. Maybe I’m not thinking of the same thing but aren’t they burlap? Probably a good thing I didn’t grow up in that era.
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LOL! Actually, feed sacks were cotton. When cotton prices fell, the manufacturers needed another way to make money beyond the simple sack, hence patterned feed sacks to influence the purchase(s) made by women.