Functional History: Repurposed Vintage Grain Sacks


“Bridlechair” using German grain sacks, 3 Fine Grains

Repurposed grain sacks have made a welcomed design appearance in the past couple of years, and it doesn’t seem to be a passing trend. Check out some more inspired applications of these old workhorses below, from upholstery to lampshades.  Grain sacks are inherently durable, pest-resistant and their understated, nubby texture is equally at home in rustic, traditional or contemporary spaces.

A fair quantity of vintage grain sack material is available, and prices vary depending on origin, rarity, quality, condition, etc.   For some background information to assist with your hunt… American grain sacks tend to be either thin or thicker cotton.  Thin cotton stock often has imagery dyed into the fabric. Conversely, thicker cotton sacks have imagery printed onto the face of the fabric and can have stripes sewn integrally in the bag fabric and are suitable for upholstery. Unfortunately, the thin cotton variety often fades and bleeds when washed while the thicker, printed selections are less likely to.

European grain sacks are highly prized and are heavier, made out of hemp or flax. The background colors vary (off-white to flax to grey) and demarcation markings, usually stripes, are sewn in the bag, sometimes with embroidered or stenciled initials.  Like lobster buoys and livestock branding, the markings visually signified the farm from which the sacks belonged, and allowed the bags to be re-circulated to the owner once the grain was deposited at the mill.

In particular, German grain sacks are considered the paragon of the grain sack world – they’re rarer (many didn’t survive the war) and a bit softer than other European sacks.  They  are stenciled in a tar-based black with the name of the farm and the date it was established and frequently an animal silhouette or decorate symbol associated with the farm.  German bags often show a number on the bag face for inventory purposes, 1 to 99.   Hand-painted bags pre-date the stenciled bags, usually prior to 1890.

One-of-a kind, these everyday relics are striking and enchanting repurposed into another form or simply as artwork in themselves.




Special thanks for providing me with valuable background information, inspiration and imagery:



  1. Emily Perkins says:

    Wow!! What an amazing idea!!

  2. Hi Karen,

    I just discovered your blog today and really love the grain sack look, but have not felt this fabric texture before.
    How would you best describe it?


    • Karen Egly-Thompson says:

      It depends on the particular bag and the weave, but I believe good comparison would be a linen. However, this would not describe lower quality burlap bags which would be quite scratchy and stiff.

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