Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Feed Sack Pillow

This post is almost 3 years in the making. Truthfully, it's almost 90 years in the making. Let me explain.

It all started with Ellen Esther DeVoll. You remember her.

She was my great-great grandmother. She married Civil War Vet, James Eugene Hoyt.

They were the original owners of the tall stand (of which I'm the current caretaker).

James and Ellen had 2 sons and adopted another son. James died at the age of 52 in 1907. Ellen's sons grew up, married and moved away. After her daughter-in-law (Cleo) died in the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Cleveland, Ellen took on the responsibility of raising Cleo's young daughter - my grandmother, Thelma Esther (Hoyt) Hall.

Here's Ellen about the time of Cleo's death - all dressed up.

Here she is again about the same time (with my grandmother as a little girl) - in everyday clothing.

Even though Ellen died 21 years before I was born (and 2 years before my mother was born), I feel like I know her. I respect and admire her for taking on the job of raising her granddaughter when she was already in her late 60's.

Times were tough. It wasn't an easy life for an elderly widow and her granddaughter. Ellen owned her own home - built by her husband, James. However, the government denied her James' Civil War pension and she had to work hard to make ends meet. She had a garden. . . raised chickens. . . cooked for people. . . took in laundry. . . and did whatever she could to provide food and clothing for herself and my grandmother. Nothing was wasted - not food - not fabric. Grandma told me the story about how the man who owned the local store would save fabric samples for her grandmother. Fabric suiting samples were cut into small squares and adhered to pages of books for people to browse through. You would choose the suit you wanted and the fabric you wanted, and the store owner would use that information to place an order with the suit company. When the sample books were replaced with new books, the store owner would give the outdated sample books to Ellen. She would use those samples to make quilts, and she taught my grandmother to sew using those samples.

Muslin was another important fabric in Ellen's house. It could be used for a variety of items, such as quilt backing, pillow forms and underclothing. Chicken feed came in muslin sacks - sometimes 100 lb. sacks. Enter Chappel Bros. Inc. of Rockford, Illinois - back when the common abbreviation of Illinois still had 3 letters. Don't ask me how Ellen ever lifted those sacks. She was a tiny woman.

It might interest you to note that Chappel Bros. was most famous for making Ken-L-Ration dog food back then, and the main ingredient was horse meat. Some of the by-products from the manufacture of the dog food went into making feed for other animals - like hogs or poultry.

Anyway. . . since nothing was wasted, those muslin feed sacks were washed and repurposed. When my grandma passed away back in 2012, we cleaned out her house. We found some of those old muslin sacks - still packed away in her house. 2 of them found their way into my possession. This is the better of the 2. It had a few rips. . . and a small patch - in the lower left corner of the next photo.

I'm sure Ellen had a reason for patching it. I wish I could ask her. I've wanted to do something with this feed sack since I got it in late 2012, and I finally did it last Friday. I got out my sewing machine, and this. . .

became this.

It took just over an hour start to finish, and you can still see Ellen's teeny tiny stitches on part of the patch that's still showing.

I can just imagine her sitting in her home in Wisconsin - all those years ago - sewing on that patch - never imagining that her great-great granddaughter would one day pick up that same feed sack and make a pillow - to be displayed on a bed in her guest room - in the woods - in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Ellen wouldn't have used the portion of the feed sack with typography for display purposes back then. She would be shocked to learn that using these old sacks for decor purposes is all the rage in 2015 - especially for a great-great granddaughter with an appreciation for family history. So, thanks to my great-great grandmother for my new pillow; and thanks to my grandma for my new pillow.
before window trim
after window trim

All is well in the Keweenaw.


  1. What treasures! One found, another created. I really enjoyed this post. (Visiting from Tuesdays with a Twist.)

    1. Stephanie, thank you so much for your kind comment! Every item I have that originally belonged to my GG-grandmother is a treasure!

  2. I loved reading the fun history behind this feed sack pillow! Knowing that it was touched by your great grandmother makes it so much more special! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

    1. Thank you, Jann. Ellen was actually my great great grandmother, so it's very, very special!

    2. I loved reading about your great great grandmother and the photos are interesting - I think old family photos are so precious. I have a 1910s wedding photograph of my ancestors:

      And the pillow is great! Thanks for sharing. :D

    3. Thank you, Lina. The wedding photo of your ancestors is also a great treasure!


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