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Beauty in Hard Times
Depression Era Quilts in Nebraska

Feed Sacks

People commonly think of sewing with feed sack fabric as a Depression-era practice. In fact, thrifty stitchers had been doing this since the late 1800s. Necessities such as flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and animal feed came in cotton sacks. Early cotton sack recyclers had to either ignore product markings or incorporate them into their projects. In time, manufacturers and magazines began giving instructions on how to remove these markings. Eventually detachable labels were used. By the 1920s, sacks were available in bright colors and prints. By the late 1930s, artists specifically designed sack fabric. Some sacks were even designed as specific sewing projects. After World War II, paper sacks were more widely used and fabric became less expensive for the average consumer. The use of feed sack fabric in sewing projects declined. The fabric sack industry, however, continued to promote their products. Blended fiber sacks were made into the 1960s.

Nebraska Farmer
May 1939

Nebraska Farmer
December 1938

Nebraska Farmer
November 1938

Nebraska Farmer
November 1938

Nebraska Farmer
December 1939

Churn Dash

Mary Dietsch Skadden & Darlene M. Swartz Miltner
Made in Waco, Nebraska
Early 1930s and 1970s
87.5" x 93"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Darlene Miltner, Lincoln

Mary Dietsch Skadden pieced the top of this quilt with many feedsack fabrics in the late 1920s to late 1930s. It was completed in 1978 by Darlene M. Swartz Miltner. However, the use of some larger floral patterns may mean that this quilt was actually pieced in the mid 1930s to mid 1940s. The cream colored background on the top of this quilt appears to be made of flour, sugar, or feed sacks, and some of the labels are still faintly visible. The words "FINE," "HOLLY'S," "GOLD," "AF," "GREA," and "RAND" appear in blue lettering.

This doll belonged to Don Miltner,
the quiltmaker's grandson.
   The clothing was made from scraps saved from the making of the above quilt.

Don Miltner with his grandparents Skadden.


Kansas Troubles

Mary Belle Fisher McFadden
Made in Nebraska
80" x 76"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Pearl Joan Cosgrave, Lincoln

Mary Belle Fisher McFadden assembled this quilt by hand when she was in her sixties. It appears that many of the fabrics are from feed sacks. Logos and words can be seen on the backing.

Grandmother's Fan Variation

Emma Gelston Rohner
Made in Columbus, Nebraska
81.5" x 49"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Betty Cowan, Columbus

Emma Gelston Rohner, the maker of this quilt and the Block Island Puzzle Variation also on exhibit, was born in 1870 in Elk City, Nebraska. According to her granddaughter, Emma learned to sew at a very young age-her mother gave her fabric, needle, and thread when she was just three years old. Emma married Jake Rohner in 1892. They lived in Belgrade, Fullerton, and finally Columbus, Nebraska.

Block Island Puzzle Variation

Emma Gelston Rohner
Made in Columbus, Nebraska
84" x 76.5"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Betty, Cowan, Columbus

Colonial Lady

Iva Wintersteen Lewis
Made in York, Nebraska
75" x 75"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Darlene Miltner, Lincoln

This quilt, which features feed sack material on the front, was made by Iva Wintersteen Lewis. Iva was born in 1878 in Fillmore County. She later became an actress and traveled with "Lewis and Poore" or the Lewis Stock Company. She was married at one time to Frank Lewis, one of the traveling show's owners. She later lived on the farmstead of William and Rose York where she helped with various household duties, including caring for their daughter, Darlene, for whom Iva made this quilt in 1940.

Puppet-Crete Flour Mills sack

Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Beverly Fletcher, Woodstock, Illinois

These puppets, used on the Crete Flour Mills sack, were designed by Richard E. "Rick" Fletcher while he was an artist for the Rudy Moritz Advertising Co. in Davenport, Iowa. Fletcher was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1916. After graduating from high school he worked for the Tri City Star newspaper in Davenport, and then for the Rudy Mortiz Advertising Co. from about 1937 to 1942 when he went into the service. He was discharged in 1946 and went to Chicago. He worked at the Chicago Tribune in the advertising art department. At the Tribune, Fletcher and writer Athena Robbins created "The Old Glory Story, a History of our Flag." In 1961 he became an assistant to Chester Gould on the "Dick Tracy" comic. When Gould retired in 1976, Fletcher took over all the artwork and continued until his death March 16, 1983.



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Last updated 5 April 2011

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