Exhibit stitches together the ‘Thrift Style’ idea

Items on display through Aug. 16

‘Thrift Style’ exhibit


‘Thrift Style: Using Our Past to Improve Our Present’ lecture by Curator Marla Day

  • When: 5 p.m., Wednesday, June 28
  • Where: Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Citner, 2079 Sidewinder Drive
  • Cost: Free
  • Web:
These quilts, which are part of the “Thrift Style” exhibit at the Park City Museum, are made out of feed sacks that once contained flour, sugar and grain.
David Jackson/Park Record

Long before the concept of “thrift store chic” came into play there was a more practical concept that allowed homemakers during the 1930s and 1940s to sew clothes out of reused feed sacks.

“Thrift Style,” a new exhibit showing at the Park City Museum through Aug. 16, showcases this concept with more than 41 artifacts that have been collected and curated by the Historic Costume and Textile Museum and the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University, said Courtney Titus, Park City Museum’s curator of collections and exhibits.

“This exhibit explores the upcycling of commodity sacks that were packed with flour, sugar and grains for shipping,” she said. “It’s about how these sacks were used to create something new and better.”

The artifacts include original dresses, aprons and other items, according to Titus.

“It also features three original quilts and a variety of original feed sacks,” she said. “Some are plain and others have prints.”

The “Thrift Style” exhibit, currently showing at the Park City Museum, features artifacts that encouraged homemakers in the 1930s and 1940s to upcycle feed sacks to make clothing and other useful items. Pictured here is a printing plate of a colorful pattern that inspired a homemaker to make a dish towel.
David Jackson/Park Record

Although the patent for the idea of using feed sacks as fabric originated in 1924, consumers, mostly women at home, began doing this on a regular basis in the 1930s and 1940s, due to the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II, Titus said.

“During World War II, the government started rationing household staples as limited resources,” Titus said. 

Rationed items included automobiles, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk, and shoes, and citizens were issued ration cards that they used to purchase meat, dairy, coffee, dried fruits, jams, jellies, lard, shortening and oils.

“Bolts of regular fabric were also rationed, but feed sacks were not considered a limited resource,” Titus said. “So that meant consumers could buy as many feed sacks as they wanted to not only use the contents that were inside, but also use the sacks themselves to create dresses, aprons and other home goods.”

Homemakers in the 1930s and 1940s sewed clothes for their family out of feed sacks that once contained flour, sugar and grains. The “Thrift Style” exhibit showcases this idea with artifacts from the era.
David Jackson/Park Record

To encourage consumers to purchase the sacks and the goods inside, manufacturers and businesses worked together to come up with eye-pleasing colors and patterns that belied the fact that they were on feed sacks, according to Titus.

“These patterns and colors were incredible,” she said. “Some of the sacks had designs that encouraged the making of dish towels, and sometimes the sacks had patterns for toys like rag dolls and stuffed animals printed on them.”

Manufacturers also went one step further and attached additional yardage, so the consumer would have enough fabric to complete a project, Titus said.

“They also printed their logos with inks that could be washed away, so people wouldn’t be advertising their products with their clothing,” she said. “Sometimes it wasn’t successful, so the sacks would be used to make undergarments or clothing liners. Later on, manufacturers began to attach removable paper labels on the sacks.”

Sometimes manufacturers would encourage homemakers during the 1930s and 1940s to make toys out of feed sacks by printing patterns of rag dolls and teddy bears on the sacks.
David Jackson/Park Record

Trade publications also added to the effort by producing pamphlets and booklets filled with clothing patterns, Titus said.

“This encouraged homemakers to reuse the sacks as a patriotic act, and as a form of being thrifty,” she said.

While reusing and upcycling are common today, it’s done differently, Titus said.

“A lot of times upcycling something now is unintentional on the part of the manufacturer, but back then it was the full intent of the manufacturer to help homemakers find ways to become thrifty,” she said. 

While most of the fabric in the “Thrift Style” exhibit can’t be touched, there are some interactive stations, Titus said.

“We have a place where kids can see what they would have looked like in a feed sack dress, and we also have a place with a selection of books about the ‘Thrift Style’ patterns that visitors are welcome to peruse,” she said. 

Feed sack manufacturers in the 1930s and 1940s decorated their sacks with eye-pleasing patterns that encouraged homemakers to reuse the sacks as material for clothing.
David Jackson/Park Record

Although this exhibit originated in the Midwest, it is pertinent to Park City, Titus said.

“There were companies all over the country that were making feed sacks, and there were consumers all over the country, including here in Park City, who were using these sacks,” she said. “We have a few examples of feed sacks in our own museum’s collection.”

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