Decorating with European grain sacks

A little flea market follow-up. When I visited the market both in August and last weekend, I was immediately drawn to one of the first vendors on the lot, Euro Linens.

They sell an incredible selection of pillows made with vintage French grain sacks and mattress ticking, as well as fabric that you can buy for your own projects.

I’ll admit it. When I first came across their wares, I was a little put off by the prices. After all, I’d seen similar pillows at places like Pottery Barn for a fraction of the cost, and I didn’t really understand why this type of fabric was so valuable. $100+ for a flea market pillow seemed a little steep. Still, I love this style of pillow — they’re clean, simple and the ultimate in warm, chic sophistication. Plus, grain sack pillows are often French. So, naturellement, j’adore.

And, after stumbling across the Euro Linens website and doing a bit more research on grain sack pillows, I’m totally in awe of the history and how truly special this fabric is. Check it:

From The Found Blog:

European grain sacks have shown up everywhere from pillows to curtains in home decor lately. The hemp and linen textiles are handwoven or homespun and can date back to the early 1800s. They range in shades of grey, warm creams, and sun-bleached white and have a variety of textures from loose to tight and neat. Most have stripes or other bands (usually blue or red) and rare grain sacks can even be found with text or designs printed on them. Farmers individualized these designs so they could identify their own sacks when transporting grain, flour, or sugar. Some even initialed the sacks with their families’ monogram to further distinguish them.

And from the OC Register:

The design world is moving away from slick, expensive and brand new and embracing handmade (think Etsy), old (think Anthropoligie) and even granny-like, as in grain sacks — although vintage collectible grain sacks don’t come cheap.

Kymberley Fraser from 3 Fine Grains in Agoura Hills said, “Grain sacks are limited, rare, and will probably be gone in eight years.”

According to Fraser, 19th century Europeans didn’t throw them away, but used grain sacks to insulate their walls and floor boards.

“What’s left won’t last long,” she said considering the demand that has cycled back to country — European country in particular.

Isn’t that interesting? I had no idea that grain sack fabric was becoming (or will become!) rare. It makes the price for the pillows seem like a steal if in fact these types of pillows will be impossible to find in a few years.

Even more fascinating are the hoops companies like Euro Linens go through to make the fabric sanitary for upholstery and pillow making.

For the grain sacks:

The grain sacks are usually quite dirty and stained when we get them. It is an involved process, but they eventually come clean. Any sacks that come out of the cleaning process in excellent condition are made into body type pillows with buttons and button holes on the open end. We have to be a bit more creative when there are holes or horrific stains to be cut around. Those sacks end up as different size pillows depending on where we have to cut. On those we use an invisible zipper closure. [But the good news:] Since they have been hot washed and dried by us, they can always be re-washed without fear of shrinking or bleeding.

You might also have seen pillows made with French ticking. They look like this:

French ticking pillows

Usually dating from 1900-1950, this fabric is even more labor intensive to clean:

Originally mattress ticking, cleaning this fabric is an involved process. First, in a confined room wearing a full respirator suit, we remove as many feathers as possible. Next we wash the ticking in a 130 minute sanitizing cycle, then soak it overnight in Oxi-Clean. In the morning we rinse the ticking and put it in the dryer on low for 10 minutes. Then we have to vacuum the feathers out of the dryer’s lint collector. We repeat on low then vacuum about 12 times! We repeat the whole process (sanitizing, soak, rinse, dry) at least one more time, although on the second run, the dryer can run for 20 minutes before we need to vacuum the feathers.

What we make out of the ticking is determined by the condition of the ticking after the cleaning process. An excellent piece can be used to make a mattress cover whereas a very damaged piece will have to be cut up in small pieces for patchwork, etc.

Pretty amazing stuff, huh?

Besides pillows, The Found Blog also had some fantastic examples of upholstery one could do with grain sack fabric:

Okay, so I don’t know about you, but after I found all this out, I had a completely new appreciation for this textile! Knowing the history, do you think you’ll be making some room for authentic grain sack or mattress ticking pillows in your home? Who knows — they could be worth a fortune in another decade!

{Image and resource credits: The Found Blog, OC Register, Euro Linens}

Leave a Comment

3 Comments

  1. 12.10.10

    I absolutely love these textiles! They ARE expensive but, like you said, so special. Even the stuff that inspired by them is lovely.

  2. 12.10.10
    Kelly said:

    The cups are from Jamali Garden:

    http://www.jamaligarden.com/detail/17287/2/metal/vases/polished-brass-julep-cups.php

    Hope this helps! I love them so much!!!!

    Kelly

    • 12.10.10

      Soooo helpful. And they’re so affordable! Jamali Garden seems like a good resource for lots of little accessories.

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