The complete guide to grain sack fabric and grain sack pillows. Includes where to buy, how to launder safely, and how to use grain sacks in your decor.
When I first began my love affair with antique grain sack fabric, it was as someone who thought it was out of reach. Surely it was too expensive and hard to find. I would see random pictures of grain sacks, or a grain sack upholstered chair, and just sigh. It took me a while to figure out why I was so drawn to them. Grain sacks had a purpose and consequently, they had a history all their own.
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The History of Grain Sack Fabric
If I close my eyes, I can see a woman with rough and worn hands, sitting in her farmhouse. She is stitching her family’s grain sacks by hand, and her only light is from the fireplace. These sacks were instrumental in getting her family’s grain to the mill. The grain sack fabric she sewed is called hemp, and it comes in rolls that are around twenty inches wide. Some families personalized their grain sacks by using a custom stripe design woven into the hemp. These stripes were predominately blue or red. Many families embroidered their initials on the grain sack fabric so their sacks were easily identified.
Antique grain sacks are a popular design trend and are used many ways in home decor. As upholstery material, to make grain sack pillows, table runners, and various other textile furnishings. This fabric is perfect for many decorating styles:
- French Country
- Shabby Chic
Where to buy Grain Sack Fabric
When I opened my Etsy shop seven years ago, my goal was to obtain grain sacks easily and at a decent price. I knew this would be a challenge, but I was determined. The easiest place to find them is on sites like eBay and Etsy. (I’ll link to my sources at the end.) I have never found any grain sack fabric or sacks at the antique malls in my area. If you are really lucky, and enjoy the hunt, you might find them at large antique shows or antique shops in larger cities. If you are a traveler, grain sack fabric can be found in the flea markets of France and other European countries like Poland, Sweden, and Austria.
*I made these sets of little stockings when I had my handmade Etsy shop. I am no longer making them, but around the holidays, they can be found on Etsy.
I promise, grain sack fabric is out there…you just have to look. All it takes is Google and time spent online searching.
The average price for a grain sack in good shape is usually between $40 and $50. Bigger sacks and the ones with embroidered initials go for more. The rare colors, like yellow or green, are very pricey. Occasionally, the actual rolls of unused hemp can be found. Never used, it is very easy to work with. I have only ever purchased one roll of unused hemp. The day it arrived on my doorstep was truly unforgettable!
Before I begin sewing, I wash every grain sack with a pod each of detergent and Oxiclean. I add fabric softener to the rinse cycle and then dry them all the way. It softens them a bit and hopefully takes care of any shrinkage. Depending on the width, sometimes I have to pick out the side seams in order to get the most out of the sack. Once in a while, when I get to the bottom of a sack, there are still bits of grain in the corners.
It always makes me wonder about the woman who sewed the stitches that I just took out.
Sometimes I feel a bit sad when I cut into a piece of vintage fabric to “repurpose” it. I try to think of it as giving that fabric a second chance. Grain sacks are not being used any more for their original purpose. Instead of sitting in an attic or barn somewhere, I like to think that I am lovingly bringing them back to life.
My best advice for sewing with grain sacks is to go slowly. Look at each bag for a while and think about the best way to use it. Once you cut, it’s all over. With each sack, I sit at my sewing table and measure the length…several times. I decide what to make that will get the most out of each sack. My first choice for grain sack pillows is always to have both sides made from grain sack, but sometimes that’s just not possible.
I use only vintage fabric to back grain sack pillows…never, ever anything new and only as a last resort. I like to make my pillows in pairs. Sometimes using a different fabric on the back is the only way to do that. After all, reversible pillows are a smart design choice. Two looks for the price of one.
Decorating with Grain Sack Fabric
You don’t have to sew to add antique grain sacks to your decor. They can be used with no alteration as a table runner and can be draped over blanket ladders or small accent chairs.
Image from Edith & Evelyn
They can also be used as upholstery fabric. The width of a grain sack is usually wide enough to cover the seat or back of a dining room chair. As your collection grows, the sacks can be stacked on shelves, blanket chests, or small stools.
Image from Shabbyfufu
I’m certainly not an expert, but if you have a question about sewing with grains sacks I would be happy to try and answer. Just leave your question in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are my best sources for fabric and decor items made with grain sacks.
Until next time…