The Old Bag Lady

Illinois collector gets a reputation as the Old Bag Lady thanks to impressive collection

| December 1999

Before our throw-away society evolved, numerous farm products came packaged in fabric sacks. Many a Depression-era child wore a garment made from an old feed bag. Old bag manufacturers sometimes intentionally selected print fabrics that could be converted into a tablecloth, dress or apron. 

In 1977, Helen Scott of Galva, Ill., started collecting old bags: feed sacks, flour bags, sugar bags, and other fabric sacks. Her favorites originated near her home, but she has bags from all over the country. Today, her collection includes about 200 bags that once held potatoes, walnuts, cottonseed, chick feed, seed corn, and many other products. If possible, she saves a bag in its original condition and obtains an identical bag to embroider.

An avid collector, Helen loves to attend auctions and yard sales. She bought her first old bag, a Doughboy rolled oats bag, tucked in with some junk at an auction.

"I hate to have dirty things lying around," she explained, but she wanted to save the old bag.

She was afraid that if she washed it, the color would disappear, so she conceived the idea of embroidering the design. (Helen learned to embroider as a child.)

"I'm not too happy with my work on it," she said apologetically. "My work has improved a lot after doing all these bags."