Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tips for Working with Burlap

It has been a few weeks since I posted the first burlap totes in my Etsy shop. Burlap is so "in" right now, and so pretty in just about any decor!! The "teaser" pictures that I shared on our Facebook page got a LOT of comments and interactions, so judging from the response, you gals love burlap, too!

But working with burlap is SO WAY different than any medium I have ever used before. My prep time for these totes is about double what it is for a quilted tote. It is fun to see the natural burlap fibers bend in submission to my machine needle and become a beautiful tote. Definitely worth the extra work!

I read a bunch of posts about working with burlap before I started, and here are the tips that seem to work for me.

To start with, I have used two types of burlap so far:

Natural burlap, which is tan in colour and usually has a unique smell. Did you know that burlap in this state is compost-able? You can add your scraps to your compost pile and they will break down over time like any natural fiber. Burlap makes a great option if you want a "green" product.

White burlap. This does not have as strong a smell and seems to be treated in some way (or dyed) to be made white. There are lots of different colours of burlap availabe these days (I've seen red, green, and blue, as well as chevron patterns and text prints, so anything is possible!) but these are all treated and not natural, which means you shouldn't put them in your compost pile.

Here is the process I put the burlap through before I can use it to make a tote:

When I first purchase the burlap, I make sure it doesn't come into contact with any other fabric. The reason is that initially, the burlap "sheds" like crazy! I keep it wrapped in plastic to contain the fibers.

Step numero uno is to throw it in the washing machine. I wash a couple yards at a time and can put the white and natural burlap together in the washer without incident. I normally put a splash of detergent in as well.

To me, it seems like the burlap is just going to disintegrate if I wash it! But the fibers are actually really sturdy and tough. Consider this: burlap sacks are filled with 50lbs of beans or grains on a daily basis. If they can hold that much weight, they can probably withstand the washing machine! :) Some people wash their pieces 2 or 3 times to soften them up even more.

When the pieces come out of the washer, they are covered in fuzz from the fibers. I have found that most of those fibers don't collect in the washing machine, they stay tangled up in the burlap pieces, so there is no danger of getting your machine dirty or seeing those fibers on the next load of laundry.

I hang the pieces of burlap over a clothes hanger to dry. By keeping it nice and straight on the hanger, it dries straight. Normally when I purchase the burlap, it comes off the bolt crooked. By washing it and hanging it up to dry, it straightens out on its own.

Now how do I get all that fuzz off?

At first, I tried taking it outside while it was still wet and giving it a good snap. This might work...but not in freezing temperatures. Imagine my surprise when it instantly froze! Good 'ol Maine weather for ya! :)

Instead, I vacuum it off after it has dried. Yes, I vacuum it. Then I use a lint roller to get even more fine fuzz off every side. It takes several sheets of the lint roller, but this really works well!

During the process of putting a tote together, there is some shedding. I just use a damp rag to wipe down my work space before switching to a different project with cotton fabric.

Once I've made a burlap tote, there is very minimal shedding. I've been using this tote as a Bible bag for weeks, and so far no shedding! I am always wearing a wool coat, and even that doesn't pick up any white fuzz, so I call this method a success. Yay for successes!!

I'd love to hear if you have worked with burlap before, and what steps you take to prep your burlap for crafts. Will you try these tips I've shared? Let me know how they work!

I consulted several other blogs before working with are some links I found helpful:
Notes From The Patch
Starshine Salon
Crafting a Green World
Southern Abbey
Stone Gable

I linked up with the Link Party Palooza, The DIY Dreamer and Weekend Wind-Down Party


  1. Oh.....this was very informative! :) I bought a huge bunch of burlap for the set for the Christmas concert at church and it stunk!!! I ended up putting it into a plastic bag for storage, I didn't want the smell to permeate everything else in the vicinity. I never thought of washing it!!! It would also be more pliable! Thanks for the tips!

    1. Glad I could help! I find that washing it does take most of the smell out. Hope it works for you, too! =)

  2. I've manipulated burlap in many ways to create different kinds of flowers, baskets, table runners, etc. in my crafts. I like to use mod podge, tacky glue to help transform the burlap. I've also used heat n bond to get results without the fraying. I have another project in mind to make something unconventional out of burlap. When I say unconventional I mean you wouldn't ordinarily make it out of burlap. I hope my idea works. Your totes are beautiful and it's a lot of work to wash the burlap first and then transform it into what you want to make. I don't have the patience to do that.

    1. It does take time, but the result is worth it to me to have soft burlap to work with! I would LOVE to hear what you are making with burlap...hope it works out well for you! Feel free to come back and update us on your progress! :)

  3. Wow, I am going to share this with a co-worker who is using burlap in a barn themed wedding for her daughter. Thanks for sharing and linking up again with us at the #WWDParty.

  4. Thanks for all these fabulous tips!!!

    1. You are welcome! Thanks for allowing me to share them at your party! =)


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