Alabama Cotton and Bemis Bags, Pieced into Quilt History

- Bliss Wright, Sarah
Feedsack quilts represent the artistic expression of American women in a distinctive textile era, 1930‒1960, when such bed coverings were created from colorful, patterned fabrics that started out as feed or flour sacks. Many of these textile bags had their genesis in the cotton fields of Alabama because Bemis Bro. Bag Company, the largest textile bag manufacturer in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, operated a cotton mill and bag plant in Bemiston, Alabama. In this presentation, we trace the evolution of cotton bags from a rural-household convenience, to a Depression Era necessity, to a wartime way of life, to an urban re-purposing fad. This progression, steered by the textile bag industry and its extensive research and development, led to improvements in cotton bags and to changes in marketing psychology and advertising strategies. By virtue of the fact that it was the largest textile bag company, Bemis led the way, capitalizing on ideas that would boost sales, make a profit, and keep the textile bag a viable choice in the packaging industry―resulting in millions of yards of free fabric in the hands of creative women. The availability of feedsack prints undoubtedly encouraged the making of pieced quilts. By placing these quilts in the historical context of the textile industry, we examine the role that Bemis Bro. Bag Company and Alabama cotton played in providing feedsacks, and ultimately feedsack quilts, for the nation.