What You Need to Know About Grain Sack Fabric

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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. 

handmade pillow from antique grain sack

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 sack tote bag on stairway banister with tulips

Grain Sacks + Home Decor

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:

  • Farmhouse
  • Cottage
  • French Country
  • Shabby Chic
  • Boho

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. Grain sacks 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. 

How To Prepare Grain Sacks For Sewing

Before I begin sewing, I wash every grain sack with my normal detergent in the washing machine. 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.

I don’t feel sad when I cut into a piece of vintage fabric to “repurpose” it. I like 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, they are brought back to life, with love and care.

Sewing Pillows

My best advice for sewing with grain sacks is to go slowly. Look at each bag carefully, 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.

If I don’t have enough grain sack to make both sides of a pillow, I use only vintage fabric to back the other side…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. 

Hunting For Grain Sacks

Ten years ago, I began to sew textile furnishings for my Etsy shop, and I knew I had to include items made from grain sacks. 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 actual 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 promise, grain sack fabric is out there…you just have to look. All it takes is Google and time spent online searching. 

handmade pillows from antique grain sacks

The price of grain sacks, like everything else it seems, has gone up. Bigger sacks and the ones with embroidered initials go for substantially more than plain ones. 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!

Where To Buy Antique Grain Sacks

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  1. I was just looking on Amazon into finding some grain sacks, I wanted to use it to make a wreath, but the price is a bit more than I wanted to spend, so I went with a paint cloth.

  2. Thank you for this post. Now I want to make slipcovers for my dining chairs. I hope I can resist spending the rest of the day searching your sources for grain sacks when I have a lot of garden chores waiting for me.
    I love your posts!

  3. I LOVE all things using Grain Sacks. I’ve been in love with it ever since I can remember. Dark blue/Navy and black stripes are my favorite but I use red regularly for different holidays.
    When I’m making something that doesn’t necessarily need the real stuff, I will make my own. I use drop cloth from Lowe’s or anywhere else, fabric paint & grain sack stripe stencils from WallCutz and FunkyJunk. It’s quite easy with a small roller brush to paint a large piece of the drop cloth. And like I said, if I don’t have to use the real deal, this works really well plus it’s a lot cheaper!
    Thanks for all of your great posts. I so enjoy your site. My only problem is when I’m searching for something in particular, I always get lost reading everything else! LOL
    Thanks Again!

  4. Emily Anderson says:

    Hi Ann,

    Great information! I have an antique grain sack that was never in use, so it is pristine and a bit stiff (which I see as a positive). I am planning to make pillows from it, but I am wondering if I should wash it first?

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Emily…yes, my advice would be to launder it first. They are so much easier to work with once they have been washed and dried. Enjoy your new pillows!

  5. Hi, would you tell me if “Washed Grainsack” is stain resistant? There’s a set of chairs that I would like to order and that information would be helpful.. Thanks.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Veronica! Without knowing all the fabric information, here’s my opinion. Although grain sack fabric is washable and stands up to wear, I wouldn’t refer to it as stain resistant. Can you ask the retail site what the fabric content is? That might help. Good luck!

  6. Like all the others, I really appreciate knowing more of the history of grain or seed sacks. I have several that I plan to use to recover my dining room chairs. I was wondering if you used any kind of interfacing on the fabric itself? Thank you.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Kathryn…no, I have never used any interfacing. If you are using the sacks as upholstery fabric, just make sure to pull it tight. In my opinion, you don’t need interfacing. Good luck!

  7. Judy Earls says:

    My son worked on a horse farm and brought me 2 of those grain sacks home and I have no idea what to do with them. Could you help me? I was just going to throw them out.

  8. Jennifer Kanetzke says:

    Really enjoy your blog and your classic taste. I was very interested in your grain/feed sack article especially and was able to pull some of my own out. Do you have a contact that may be able to tell me the value of some? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Jennifer…no I really don’t. You can look on Etsy and eBay to see if there is anything similar…and find an approximate value that way. The sacks on Etsy that are from European shops are almost always more expensive than the American sellers. Enjoy your grain sacks!

  9. Thank you for this lovely post. I thought of my grandmother, who repurposed grain sacks as clothing and linens for her family many years ago. Your posts add beauty and grace to life and I look forward to each one.

  10. Diane LaSauce says:

    Ann, how handy you are! Lovely photos. The chair backs are especially fun.

  11. Marian Fulton says:

    I was fortunate to have my maternal grandfather give me a huge stack of grain sacks when I was just a teenager. Over the years I have used them for cross-stitch projects and one special one for a pillow cover. The pillow cover has the “Fulton Seamless” label printed on it, my father’s family name. I forgot just how many I had left until I recently reorganized my sewing room. I see some new projects in the near future using them.

  12. thanks for that – really wonderful information. Regarding the pre-washing of these grain sacks do you suggest air drying or using the dryer ?? I’m afraid that they may shrink a lot.


    1. Ann Drake says:

      I dry my grain sacks all the way in the dryer. They may shrink a little but not very much. I hope this helps!

  13. Anne,
    I enjoy your blog very much. We seem to be on the “same page” in so many ways. I recently read your thoughts about celebrating holidays. You’ve renewed my spirit! My grandsons and I have shared hundreds of hours creating together and I was a bit sad that they are growing up and our time together is more limited. You made me realize that even though time is changing things, we should still hold on to the “fun” of holidays.

  14. That is a great article!!! Thank you for the tips and your sources.

  15. Joyce Leming says:

    So interesting, a glance into the past. I love the time worn items no longer used today. Loved your article and we need to save or refurbis our history.

  16. grain sack ribbon link is dead.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Thank you so much for letting me know…it’s fixed now!

  17. Jan Kinman says:

    You are such a treasure! I enjoy receiving your posts! You inspire me to try new things & stir my creativity. What a gift you are! Please keep sharing your knowledge & talent!

  18. I so love the look of the grain sacks,you can just imagine the history in them.Your pillow covers and small hearts are beautiful.

  19. Carol Heartfelt Whimsies says:

    Oh my—I so enjoyed this post about grain sacks! I’ve never owned one but like you—am so intrigued by them and the women and handwork behind them.
    Thank you!

  20. Barbara Moore says:

    I’ve purchased some new fabric that looks like grain sack material. It always seems to be much darker than the beautiful cream color in your pictures. I’ve thought about adding a little bleach to the washer, but haven’t had the gumption yet! I sure love your beautiful ribbon adorned pillows, and would also love a tutorial.

  21. I always look.forward to receiving my email from oh on Sunday morning. Great inspiration

  22. HI Ann, I love your comment about feeling sad about upcycling! It’s all good when you give it new purpose! Love this and judging by the comments so do alot of other people! laura

  23. Nana Diana says:

    I don’t always comment, Ann, but I read your blog quite often…usually on the fly because it has caught my attention. You have no idea the amount of joy and knowledge you have brought to blogland. I am sure you have helped more people than you will ever know.
    I hope you have a wonderful weekend. xo Diana

  24. I just watched a woman today re-make a chair with grain sack and Annie Sloan French Linen paint. It came out gorgeous!

  25. My husband and I were at an auction this morning and we picked up around 30 grain sacks for $11. In three years of auction going this is the first time we’ve come across any!

    I ran into this post while looking up how to clean them. Glad to see that my instinct was right! :)

  26. Deborah L Syms says:

    Love the country look – love anything COTTON!! I even have a cotton basket (huge) that was used by the cotton-pickers to carry their cotton to the wagon! I use it for my ironing.

    Love your website. I just discovered it and hope to find out where you get your cotton sacks to sew into beautiful pillows, aprons, etc.


  27. Pingback: 40+ Upcycled and Recycled Crafts and DIY Projects - The Happier Homemaker | The Happier Homemaker
  28. Great post, Ann. I learned a lot. The women who made the grain sacks would smile at the honor you pay to their work. You are the perfect ambassador. Your creations are always exquisite.

  29. Adventuresindinner says:

    Delicious fabrics! I also can’t get enough of them C:

  30. Very interesting post, Anne, I love your pillows, they’re all beautiful. I have a large grain sack that I won several months ago and I have never cut into it, I am afraid I will ruin it. One day perhaps, they are all so beautiful.
    Hugs, Cindy

  31. Janel from NellieBellie says:

    This is stunning!! I love the care and love you give to the grain sacks. You honor their history and it’s sooo cool!!! Love this!

  32. Ann,

    What a great post, I really enjoyed reading this and I am planning on introducing more grains sacs in our new home. Thanks for sharing this history.


  33. Melissa-TheHappierHomemaker/SoYouWannaBeaBlogger says:

    That was really interesting Ann, I had no idea that fabric was so hard to come by…it would make me so nervous to use it with my poor sewing skills! Thanks for sharing!

  34. Your grain sacks are just beautiful and the way you repurpose them, brilliant!

  35. Lorraine@Miss Flibbertigibbet says:

    Everything you do is informed and professional…like this post! great info!

  36. susan@avintagefarmwife says:

    Love everything you have made from your grain sacks. I have never seen them anywhere for sale around me and I live in a total farming area, but maybe I just haven’t noticed. Wonder if they are more prevalent on the East coast? I bought two very similar chairs dirt cheap at an auction and they turned out adorable. Love them!

  37. shirley@housepitality designs says:

    I loved reading about the history of the grain sack…I purchased my very first grain sack from that vendor at the Country Living Fair…I first met that vendor at an antique fair near me in NC…she is from Europe and has a beautiful collection of them!…the one I purchased is very thick and rough in texture…so I shall wash it and use fabric softener…it looks as though it has never been used…so Oxyclean should not be necessary, I think…Thanks Ann…you are always so informative.

  38. I love grain sacks too! Everything you do is beautiful!

  39. Hi Ann! Your work is just so beautiful with these old grain sacks. Love all you do and your snaps are just like something from a magazine.
    You’re really an inspiration to us all.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  40. Jane @ Cottage at the Crossroads says:

    I really enjoyed this post and was surprised to learn about the identification of the grain sack by the placement and color of the stripes. I have yet to run across any grain sacks, but I will scarf them up for you if I do!

  41. Jeanette Duke says:

    I love repurposing things to give them a new life. It’s fun to see these old things reborn. I bought a lovely grain sack pillow at the Country Living Fair in Atl. I have it in my sunroom on my sofa. It has the red stripe and looks great with my decor. You keep sending us these great ideas from your blog. Lol!!

  42. I did not know that grain sacks had all that history…so interesting!;)

  43. Great post on one of my favorite things :)

  44. Oh Ann, I love it when someone can repurpose something like you have done with these grain sacks. They now have a useful new life. Your work is beautiful! I’m going to keep my eyes open. The hunt is part of the fun!

  45. Ann, your creations could not be more perfect! I love the story of grain sacks…and the red and white would be my favorite.


  46. Mary Alice Patterson says:

    Love, love, love grainsacks, especially the ones with blue and red stripes. I think they’re timeless!
    Mary Alice

  47. Keeping It Cozy says:

    This is such a fascinating post, Ann. I loved reading it and it put a whole new perspective on my grain sack items. :-) One of the reasons I love old things so much is the story behind them. I’m so glad you shared!

  48. Clydia @ Three Mango Seeds says:

    Ann I just love every thing you do. I’ve have a love affair with vintage grain sacks myself. Hugs!

  49. I love all of those pics of the beautiful grainsacks! Aren’t they just intoxicating? You make some beautiful things with yours.

  50. The only thing I can say is I love them and one of these days, I am getting one of your pillows….I am just sayin’…one of these days!!!

  51. Nana Diana says:

    I love the looks of those old sacks, Ann. You do such a wonderful job of repurposing them and I think you pay respect to their roots by giving them a new life. Have a wonderful day- xo Diana

  52. Dori Troutman says:

    Hello Ann. I loved this post. I didn’t know about the grainsacks having different stripe designs for different families. That is really neat to think about. I would love to sew with it some day but honestly I’m not sure I could trust myself to not really make a serious mistake. Have you ever done that??? Andrea and I hope to go to the Country Living Fair in Atlanta this year…. keeping fingers crossed. Although we drove through Atlanta this weekend on our way home from South Carolina and the traffice was unbelieveable…. on a Saturday no less. So… it will take a lot for us to want to brave that again! Have a good week, Ann.

  53. I am so glad to learn about the history of grain sacks! Very interesting. I love learning something new. They sure are pretty! Wouldn’t those women just faint to hear how much we’re paying for grain sacks now days? :)

  54. Oh, can’t wait to see the chairs done. Like Miss Mustard Seed said Saturday at the workshop just try to do something new and expand your horizon and open up a whole new world. You should come to Scott’s in Atlanta some time and see a whole huge lot of grain sacks and rolls of the fabric too. She is high though.

  55. OOOh what a great post! I love grain sacks too, the red are my favorite! Thanks for the beautiful inspiration!

  56. Atta Girl Amy says:

    Ann, I just have to say I love the writerly approach you take on your posts. You are great at setting a scene! I can picture that woman stitching, too, and I love that you’re attracted to grain sacks not just for the look but for their legacy of utility and hard work.

    Not only did I enjoy reading this post and being taken back in time, but I learned something too. I never realized the lines and colors of grain sacks were like a family monogram. How neat.

  57. WOW!! That word says it all!!
    Your pillows are amazing!!
    Can’t wait to see the transformation of that chair!!!