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Thrift Style exhibit opens
September 1, 2021
On Wednesday, September 1, an exhibit entitled Thrift Style will open at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. The exhibit explores the reuse of feed sacks to make clothing and other household objects and illuminates how the “upcycling” of these bags mutually benefited 20th-century consumers and businesses. With 41 works from patterns to garments, it serves as an example of past ingenuity that can inform today’s efforts toward sustainability.
In conjunction with the exhibit, as a part of the CSRHC’s Museum After Dark event on Saturday, September 11, heritage seamstress Marna Davis will be doing demonstrations in the gallery and talking to visitors about how hand-made clothing was made. Her demonstration will take place from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., in the museum, prior to the “Village Sounds” Beau Jennings acoustic set from 7–9 p.m.
The exhibition, organized by the Historic Costume and Textile Museum and the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, both at Kansas State University, provides a nostalgic view into American ingenuity, sensibility, and optimism during a particularly challenging time of economic hardship and war—the period of the Great Depression and World War II. The reuse of feed, flour, and sugar sacks was a cost-saving and resource-saving approach employed by homemakers to make new items to meet their families’ needs.
In the 1920s through World War II, manufacturers began producing patterned and colored feed sacks to give home seamstresses more options. During World War II, the federal government limited fabric use for individual garments, and homemakers were obligated to use thrifty approaches to repurpose what was available to them. As fabrics from feed sacks were not considered a limited resource, women turned to them as an accessible and patriotic option during the war effort. In response, trade organizations and manufacturers promoted the thrifty use of feed sack fabric by publishing how-to brochures and booklets with clothing designs, mending instructions, and other suggestions for restyling clothes.
The artifacts in the exhibition demonstrate a mutual goal of sustainability, with local businesses—mills and feed and seed operations—tailoring product design and marketing campaigns to attract customers; and consumers using their imaginations and practical skills to tailor clothing, aprons, quilts, dolls, and more out of the industry’s byproduct: feed sack cotton.
This exhibition offers a snapshot of domestic life during this time when recycling was as critical as it is today, and it provides one of the best examples of upcycling in our nation’s history.
Thrift Style will be open at the CSRHC from September 1 to October 5, 2021.
It is organized by The Historic Costume and Textile Museum and the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, both at Kansas State University and ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.