Preparing Burlap for Sewing and Crafting

When I got my first delivery of Burlap coffee sacks, I was so excited to get sewing straight away, that I thought I must prewash and press my fabric, as I do for every other fabric, and get sewing. So I enthusiastically threw all the sacks in the washing machine and pressed ‘start’. An hour later I went to retrieve my new fabrics and found a spun web of burlap fibres and the twisted remnants of my prior sacks. For weeks I was still retrieving fibres from the washing machine with each wash. So learn from my experience and never put your burlap sacks in the washing machine.It is very important to wash the sacks prior to using them for craft and sewing projects. Burlap bags may contain remnants of their original contents, dirt, dust and most concerning remnants of pesticides and fertilisers that may have come in contact with the sacks. So when you first get your burlap sacks hand wash them delicately in warm soapy water, rinse in cold water and then hang out to dry. Once dry, iron the sacks and fold and store until ready to use.If you then use the sacks for a sewing project, during which you secure all the loose ends and cut edges, it is perfectly fine to put your finished item in the washing machine. As long as you’ve secured all the loose threads there will be no opportunity for the Burlap to fray. For example if you make a cushion cover this would be perfectly ok to put in the washing machine. It is just raw cut burlap pieces that should not be put in a washing machine as it will fray very easily. This characteristic does have a good side, and can be used to your advantage on certain projects, and will become a trait of Burlap that you love. But in the meantime to prevent destroying your washing machine only wash finished burlap pieces with no raw edges in it.

A "Clever" Burlap applique shirt for Under 8’s Day

Here’s a Burlap sewing project for all you Mums out there. Last week was the annual ‘Under 8’s Day’ at my son’s school. The request came home from school that children wear a shirt decorated with one of the following words: Sporty, Dream, Happy, Fun, Clever, Special or a similar word of their choice.

After much deliberation my son choose clever, despite my trying to convince him that dream would be nice – with a nice cloud (a la easy for mummy to sew). But alas ‘Clever’ it was. So we discussed what makes someone ‘Clever’ and my 6 old thought that he is clever because he knows that 10 + 20 = 30. Can’t argue with that!

So we found a plain black shirt in the wardrobe and set about designing the shirt. Always keen to incorporate Burlap into a project I suggested the following design and it was agreed. He went off to bed and Mummy was left with the challenge of bringing his creation to life by morning.

So here’s what I did, in case you too need a shirt for a ‘Clever’ child!


Burlap square 40cm x 40cm
30cm diameter embroidery hoop
3 large buttons
sewing machine and thread


I used a free motion embroidery technique to embroider the numbers and word onto the Burlap. So to keep the fabrics steady whilst I sewed I laid the Burlap square on top of the t-shirt (I used two layers of Burlap as mine was quite loose weave), and then secured all three layers in the embroidery hoop (two layers of Burlap and only the top layer of the t-shirt).

I used a water soluble fabric marker to write on the burlap 10 + 20 = 30 and the word Clever (see the light blue pen marks below).

I choose to use a dark thread to make the embroidery stand out. I then (with a bit of manoeuvring) put the embroidery hoop under the presser foot and put in place to sew (make sure at this point you only have the front of the shirt under the needle and move the back of the t-shirt out of the way so you don’t sew it to the front of the shirt whilst embroidering).

Free motion embroidery is when you physically move the fabric under the needle to achieve the desired pattern on your fabric. To do this you need a free motion foot for your machine (it looks a bit like a pogo stick and works in a similar way releasing presser of the fabric momentarily to allow you to move it). Next you drop the feed dogs on the machine (the little grip things under the fabric that move the fabric for you when you sew normally), set your stitch width to 0 and your stitch length to 0. Then just start sewing and move the fabric slowly but steadily to create the effect you want. If you haven’t tried this technique before I recommend practising on the some scrap fabric first so you can get a hang of how to move the fabric. You may also find you need to adjust the tension if the stitches are bunching up.

I started by creating the circle around the outside to hold the burlap in place. I just moved around the inside of the hoop as close as possible to the hoop stitching back and forth over each part of the circle two or three times to get a thicker line. I then went about stitching the numbers, plus and equal sign and the word Clever in the same way. Making sure to trace over each area two or three times to make the line thicker. Then trim any loose threads.

I then stitched on the buttons in place of the zeros. Then I carefully trimmed around the outside of the embroidery hoop about 1 cm from the hoop to create the circle out of burlap. Be careful not to cut the t-shirt when doing this.

I then removed the embroidery hoop and then created the frayed edge. I did this by gently pulling on the strands of burlap running parallel to the circle stitching. You may have to cut some as they will run parallel for a bit and then as the circle curves they may then run under the stitching line.

I then gave a quick trim to any rogue strands to ensure there was even lengths of frayed edges around the whole circle. And voila your done.

My son was very pleased with the result when he saw it the morning, and proudly explained to everyone at school how he was clever because he knew 10 + 20 = 30.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, needing to decorate shirt for school, consider burlap as it is cheap and effective. I just love the finished look of this shirt, I think it has a lot of character – similar to the wearer!