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grain sacks and other things

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed I kinda like grain sacks.  I know some people are so over them and it’s not every one’s “thing”, but it’s my thing.  I love the look.  I love the idea of repurposing something that was used in a utilitarian way years and years ago.  I love that they were patched and monogrammed and dated and lasted all of these years.  They capture so many things I like about antiques and I can’t ever imagine growing weary of them. 

If you’re interested in putting a toe into the world of grain sacks, here are some things you should know. 

The cost of grain sacks vary greatly depending on condition, origin, fabric, colors…lots of things.  American grains sacks tend to be the least expensive and most readily available here in the US (for obvious reasons.)  I have found thin cotton ones (muslin, I think) and thick cotton ones (I very rarely buy the burlap ones.)  The thin ones are generally more graphic and the graphics are dyed into the fabric.  The downside to these is that when you wash them, the dye fades and sometimes runs off entirely…especially red.  You can end up with a full load of blank, pink, muslin sacks.  Trust me on that one.  Not all of them run, so you are taking a gamble on these if you need to throw them in the wash, which you usually do.  They were grain sacks, after all. 

The thicker ones (like Bemis Seamless) tend to have graphics that are printed on and stripes that are integrated, so bleeding is not an issue when laundering.  They are a good weight for upholstery and pillows. 

You can expect to pay around $5-15 for an American grain sack on average, but a lot more if the graphic is spectacular. 
European grain sacks are my very favorite, but they are expensive. Especially since you’re paying for a sack.  (Have we gone off the deep end, here?)  The cheapest I have found one is $20, but most of mine have been purchased for $30-70/each.  I am such a thrifty shopper, so this cost pains me sometimes, especially when I’m cutting them up, but it’s worth it to me.  I wouldn’t fill my whole house with them, but it’s an occasional splurge I’ll allow myself. 
The European variety are made out of a very thick linen or hemp fabric.  It is tough on scissors and the sewing machine, but it is hard wearing and fabulous for upholstery.  The flax color (and fact they’re usually stained anyway) make them OK for use in homes with kids and pets.  The stripes and monograms are generally stitched or stenciled on, so bleeding is not an issue with these, either. 
If you want grain sacks for upholstery, look for ones that are wider…20-24″ is best, so you can cover the width of a dining chair.  I was able to upholster six dining room chairs and the wing chair above with only four grain sacks, so you can make them go a long way. 

Even after laundering, these European sacks retain a sort of earthy smell.  They don’t stink, but they still smell….earthy. 
If you want to treat yourself to one, but your budget is tight, you can find beautiful ones from Christina at the Antique Linen Store on Etsy for $44-50.  You can make 2-3 pillows out of one and get your fix…or get addicted, as I have! 
If it’s totally out of the budget, you can make a pretty decent replica using drop cloth fabric and paint.  Here are some tutorials of mine that can give you some hope of getting the same look on a super-duper tight budget…
I am often asked where I find all of my grain sacks.  Unfortunately, I do not have a super secret source (although I do have a picker in Germany and one in Poland and a few new connections I’ve made recently), but mostly I just poke around places and try to find them.  I’ve found them at yard sales, thrift stores, antique shops, flea markets, auctions, Etsy, E-bay…everywhere.  If you know of a super secret source and care to share, please do!
I hope this sheds some light on the wonderful world of grain sacks and will give you some knowledge and confidence if you’re interested in making that first purchase. 
A few other things…
If you’ve tried to load my blog on your cell phone, you may have been cursing my name as it took an eternity.  I have things set now so you can see a “mobile version” of my blog on your favorite personal electronic.  It will load a lot faster and make you much happier when you try to visit me on the go.  Give it a try!
Also, check out page 222 of the online magazine Prismma.  They wrote a very flattering spread on yours truly.   It’s always fun to have my work featured.  I don’t think it’ll ever be a ho-hum event for me.
The last little bit of housekeeping…I had a really fun package arrive in the mail that had me a bit perplexed at first.  It was a teeny-tiny-itty-bitty HD Flip Video Camera.  Cool.  OK, who sent it?  I finally figured out that it was from True Value so I could shoot some “vlogs” for your viewing enjoyment.  I’m getting ready to do some major projects, so it’ll be fun to capture tutorials and tips on film with a nice camera. 
 Miss Mustard Seed in HD!!  Can you handle it?
Let’s just hope it doesn’t capture me falling off a scaffold while painting my family room ceiling…
…in HD.







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Comments

  1. Me encantó tu originalidad. Tienes suerte de conseguir las bolsas en tan buen estado. Te invito a mi blog
    http://norma2-siempreesprimavera-norma2.blogspot.com
    Saludos desde Argentina

  2. Thanks for the tips! I bought some a few months ago and I just can't get the smell out. Burlap sacks so maybe that's different than grain sacks. Either way I love that first chair!

    Jeanine

  3. Thanks for the tips on grain sacks, I'm totally in love with the look. The chairs that you have done are so amazing. I've loved every one. Sadly for me they are out of my budget but I can imitate the look and that's okay with me. Congrats on another feature, I'm going to check it out. Have a great evening.

  4. I'm loving the grain sacks, too.
    And I'd be thrilled if everyone sold them for between $5 and $15 around these parts…the cheapest I've seen is $25.

    Have a wonderful evening!
    Anne

  5. The chairs are lovely. I've always loved what you do with them. Thanks!Hugs!

  6. Elaine says:

    Thanks to you I love the grain sack look too. I read your post on drop cloths a couple of weeks ago and headed to Lowe's. I bought a large drop cloth and was able to make covers for my sofa and chair. With the leftovers I was able to make a couple of faux grain sack pillows. I am so happy with the results. I left the fabric natural, it was the answer to a fabric dilemma I had been pondering for quite some time. When I get some more time, I plan on making a few more pillows. Thank you so much for your inspiration and for sharing your techniques.

  7. Your stuff just rocks. I check in all the time just to drool. I know you've given great tutorials…but I'd much rather just have something of yours!

  8. I recently purchased some muslin grain sacks at an auction. Some of them have graphics and some do not, however the graphics are very faded. Most are in good condition with the exception of a few tears and stains. I have removed all of the seams and laundered them. I really want to make curtains from them but I hate so bad to cut them up. If I don't cut them, if I decide I want them to be grain sacks again, I can just seam them back up. Do you have any other suggestions as to how I might use them without cutting them, or do I just need to bite the bullet and go ahead and cut them for curtains? They have no sentimental value to me as they were purchased from an estate sale of somebody that I didn't know. Also, I really don't believe they have any monetary value. I think I paid about $20 for 9 of them, so I don't have a whole lot of money in them either. Any thoughts? Also, do you have any suggestions as to sources of pictures where someone might have made curtains out of grain sacks. I have been looking and cannot find anything. Thanks so much and I really enjoy your blog. My e-mail address is [email protected]. If you have time to answer my questions I would appreciate it so much.

  9. Thanks SO MUCH for the mobile version! I actually reloaded because I thought I went to the wrong site it went so fast!

  10. Oh Miss Mustard Seed, I just LOVE your stuff. Love it! I went to a HUGE (and I mean huge) antique mall this past weekend and thought of you and your site with so many things I found. It's a good thing I don't live near you or I might go broke! But I'm gathering ideas! Thank you!
    Jen
    Scissors & Spatulas

  11. Great info! I bought a "replica" once but no original grain sacks and would really like to. We're headed to Europe on vacation (including Paris!) next Spring and I'm hoping to find some interesting one's then!

    thanks as always!

  12. You're so funny!!

    Thanks for the info on grain sacks. Just love your chair. I wasn't sure at first but now that I see it; I love it.

  13. If I can't find a grain sack, I'll try your awesome tutorial. Thanks for sharing..and can't wait to see your videos!

  14. very inspiring blog and as always beautiful photos. Grain sacks in Europe are very very expensive. I live in the UK and it is difficult to get really decent grain sacks at a reasonable price.

  15. So…I'm curious about the Egg Breeder that is "full of mash." Perhaps this is a poultry aphrodisiac? I would love to have that chair and make up stories about it. I especially like the colors!

  16. Marian

    I love not only to you share your beautiful photos in your photos but then you also get into the subjects and where they came from and give some history too.

    You have pickers in Europe, wow!

    One of the best parts I love about loggin into your blog everyday is checking out what grain sack you have used to cover something! They are alwasy so beautiful and I notice Blue? I told you in another post Ive never been a blue girl (more green) but your dining room has challenged me to think BLUE and all of your chairs have this blue hint to them.

    I havent found any, however I do have a stash of burlap bags that I use alot for projects, not sure it I could cover a chair but certainly could recover a cushion.

    Thanks as always for sharing your gift and inspiring us all.

    MJ
    Lucky 7 Design

  17. I always overlook these but seeing them here I'll have to pick up a few the next time I run across them at a sale.

  18. great post thank you for sharing i have always loved grain saks even before i started following you!!!

  19. Well, it will at least be in Hi Def!!! Ha!!
    Thanks for the info on the sacks. I have come into some coffee bean sacks with very cool graphics but they are burlap! Sigh!
    I am trying to decide how to handle these. Any suggestions??
    Hugs
    SueAnn

  20. I would love to dip my toe into the world of grain sacks, I think they are fab. Here in Northern Ireland, you never see such things. I would just love to see and handle some. There is a good website called Parna, based in England, selling Hungarian linen. Thankyou for this post, it was most useful. Have a great day, Linda x

  21. Thank you so much!! I found some grain sacks recently, and they were cheap (now I know that anyway!) only $8 each. I'm going back to get one, I want to try some pillows. A tip my mom taught me about setting the color in fabric. Before you wash, soak the fabric in cold water with lots of white vinegar. The vinegar should set the dye, and then you can wash it like normal, though she tells me you should always use cold water if you are afraid fabric will bleed. Hope that helps!

  22. awesome post, thanks for all the great inside information ;)

  23. Oh thank you for posting this…I just scored 6 Bemis and 1 other feed sack dated 1941 for 50 cents a piece. Yes 7 for $3.50 at a yard sale…They will be perfect for my dining room chairs….So glad to know they all smell, as mine do and I'm getting ready to wash them and hang them out on a clothes line….

  24. Heading off to my mothers…sheds…I am sure there are some awesome sacks in there!!
    Well that will be my hope. Thanks for sharing.
    I do have some great burlap ones, but am not sure how to clean them?

  25. Love the floor sack info…and while I was reading, I noticed your drapes, the blue Williamsburg print…..I made myself a sleeveless/collarless summer dress out of that fabric….guess I am truly a southern belle, like Scarlet…smiles.

  26. Have to admit.. I am not a grain sack girl but do run across them here in TN quite a bit.. if I see anything spectacular I will send it your way. But I do have to say that the blue on the back of the chair might change my mind.. that is wonderful to say the least!

    Maddie

  27. lovely…

  28. Wow Marian! I need to shop up in your neck of the woods…don't know where you are getting your European grain sacks, but the cheapest i have ever gotten were $55 each and I had to buy bulk and pay for shipping too. I've never found one less than $70 at the antique shows here in Atlanta. The sacks with monograms, grain spouts and ties run more than that! The German grain sacks usually start at $60 and run over $200 each depending on the age and stencil art. As for American sacks, i have never found one for $5 even at the auctions unless I find a seller and once again buy in bulk and that is very rare! I usually pay between $12 and $20 or more depending on the art and condition of the bag. Buyer beware also….as per my German Textile dealer in Europe, there is a company out of Romania/Hungary/Poland paying laborers to hand loom grain sack fabric and even grain sacks..they warehouse them and ship from England. They also make their own pillow covers. They are great knock offs but not authentic and a lot of American wholesalers are being duped at the London Markets. I have to beat mine to get the grain out of the corners and wash and dry them before we ever take them to the work room. If yours smell earthy they are probably the real thing! I have really struggled to find authentic, high quality sacks and for those who truly want an authentic piece of history, they need to be willing to make a small investment for something that will last another 100 years!

  29. Ti ringrazio per le tue preziose informazioni,sei molto gentile.

  30. I love that chair, girly! Especially the wing back…:) If you get the chance stop in and look at a bed I painted with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint…and a sneak peek at one of my client’s homes! YOU will love her old typewriter…I want it!!!! lol Xo, Meme

  31. Nutbird says:

    When I wash the French grain sacks, I soak them for a while and add a lot of Borateem. Soaking overnight with baking soda gets rid of the smell also. I have bought the worst wool blankets at yard sales and wash them in baking soda or borateem and they get a fresh smell that lasts for years. When my kids went to summer camp and made tie dyed Tshirts, they always dipped them in the ocean to set the dyes. So salt might set those colors.
    Marian, they are more than a sack, they are pure, natural, antique fabric. Mine are flax and linen. I think flax grows in a pond. This fabric is the best I have ever seen, except for cashmere. They are indestructible. Some I fill with a king sized pillow for the dogs to lie on. I bought about 50 yards of a 17 inch wide striped grain sack fabric that I need to make into a bedspread. It will be a challenge, because it is in eleven different pieces. Ann

  32. Hi Marian, Have you heard of Color Catchers by Shout? You throw them in with your laundry, and then if something runs, the Color Catcher absorbs the color, and your clothing (or in this case grain sacks) retain their color. It wouldn't save the red stripes, but at least the muslin sacks would be white and not pink! (By the way, a frugal tip. I always rip them in half, as I do with dryer sheets, and they work just fine. You get twice as many for the money.)

  33. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful description, Thank you!

  34. Jennifer says:

    Thank you! I have a stack of grain sacks that were from my husband's aunt's farm in Oregon. They have been packed away waiting for inspiration and "how-to" and now I have it! I am new to your blog and I love it!

  35. Anonymous says:

    There is a great fabric store in Malbis, AL called Richtex fabric that sells a fabric that looks like vintage grain sacks. Just the stripe, not any writing. You can order the fabric online, and can get free shipping over a certain amount. It is very resonable and may be worth you checking out. The website is buyfabric.com, or put in Richtex fabric in Mablis, AL.

  36. I love grain sacks, too. I can understand why the European ones are so expensive it's because they are so gorgeous. Here's an article on the history of the feed sack on Etsy that I found interesting:

    http://www.etsy.com/storque/read/feed-sacks-a-sustainable-fabric-history-12734/
    Enjoy!

  37. Jenn A says:

    I love the grain sack chairs that you do! I also have a paint question…what is the best finish to put over a painted and distressed piece of furniture to protect it from water – like a small side table? I read somewhere that wax doesn't protect from water. Any suggestions?
    andersonclan at mac dot com

  38. I love the idea of using grain sacks for pillows. Do you think I could get away with one or two in a room that's a bit more modern? That was a great article about you. I just found your blog so it was great to read about who you are and what you do. I'm definitely coming back for more!!!

  39. Hi,
    Loved this post about grain sacks. I am a handbag designer and one of my most popular collections is bags made from vintage French grain sacks. Check them out at my website, http://www.sharphilldesigns.com. Would love to chat with you about sources, as I currently have only one in Vermont. If you would like to talk, please contact me at [email protected]. Thanks.

  40. Regarding burlap sacks, this is what has worked for me:

    1. French burlap sacks usually can be machine washed (check by soaking for a while in the sink). Use white vinegar and citrasolve (or another citrus oil liquid) to help alleviate the odor. If you smooth out the wrinkles, hang to completely air dry, then give them a few minutes in the dryer, they will soften a bit. Usually ironing will also help with the serious wrinkles and to soften. There will still be a slight odor. However, this will dissipate once the burlap has blended with your own things, either after being used for upholstery or even just in piles with other textiles. French burlap is best to be made into items that won’t touch the skin…chair seats, rather than backs, etc…as it will always be slightly scratchy.

    2. American burlap sacks are almost never colorfast, although they are softer on the skin than the French variety. If one needs to be washed, just place it in a sink with cold water, white vinegar and citrasolve. Keep checking the color. Don’t squeeze or wring. Don’t rinse. Remove it from the sink, roll in an old towel, then hang to air dry.

    A note about burlap: it is difficult to work with and doesn’t always hold a seam nicely. It is made up of
    tiny fibers that fly through the air during cutting and sewing. These fibers are not good for your lungs
    and should only be worked with in very small doses. Small children, pets and people with lung conditions should avoid working with burlap or being in a room where someone is working with burlap. I recommend a HEPA mask even for small projects.

  41. So totally love your stuff and style!!!

  42. Hi ,
    Love your site!! I just found 3 grain sacks at an estate sale!!! problem is some kind of oil, a bit of mildew. They are American/Bemis is one. I tried scrubbing with dawn dish detergent, several times and of course the sun. Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Mary

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  44. Hannah richrdson says:

    Hi I am trying to source some grain sack material (fairly plain with a red/blue stripe) for my sisters wedding to cover hay bales…..but I need to find some that is 1 metre wide – do you have any ideas where I could source this, but also the important thing is that it needs to not be expensive. My sister lives in the states and her wedding will be near woodstock. I live in London – any help would be most appreciated. Many thanks

    • I have not found that kind of fabric that is 1 meter wide. I think around 24″ – 26″ is the widest I’ve seen it. Since you’re on a tight budget, I would suggest making your own out of some drop cloths or hemp canvas. You can tape off and paint red stripes. That way, you get the look you want at the width you need and it’s affordable.

  45. Lis lower case but my I pad refuses to, acknowledge that. I had the opportunity to buy a bunch of French feed sacks before they became “a thing”. I held on to them for years and finally covered a bunch of pillows for my patio swing and chairs. Absolutely fabulous. My problem is several got water stains. I love the look of the sacks but ip need to get rid of or at least reduce the stains. Any suggestions. By the way. These are in lake muskoka chairs. Google them. They are fabulous. Any help with my stains would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Trackbacks

  1. […] Several readers asked questions about where to find grain sacks and if they’re good for upholstery.  I wrote a post that should answer all of those questions a few months ago.  You can check it out HERE. […]

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