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How to Sew Burlap

Guest Author - Tamara Bostwick

Burlap is a coarsely woven fabric made from jute, a vegetable fiber. It makes a versatile fabric that is used for various purposes, many of which are industrial in nature. When most people think of burlap, the first thing that probably comes to mind are gunny sacks which are used for shipping products such as coffee or grains (and of course, in sack races).

Burlap has also been used for many years in homes, but mostly invisibly, as a carpet backing. More recently, burlap has moved out from under our feet and has become very popular in home decorating because of its natural look and feel. It also appeals to those that are ecologically conscious because its production needs are environmentally friendly. Burlap fabric can be made into pillows, curtains, table décor and many other types of decorative items. Burlap textiles are also frequently used in wedding decorations.

The characteristics of burlap that make it visually appealing also present some unique challenges that can cause frustration and difficulty when sewing with it. When using an unfamiliar fabric, it is always a good idea to understand how to work with and burlap is no different. Below, are a few suggestions and tips for sewing effectively with burlap. I hope you will find them helpful when you work with burlap.
burlap coffee sacks

The most common issue in working with burlap is that it frays easily because it is loosely woven. This creates difficulty with both the cutting and sewing process - seams can pull out easily under pressure and the fabric edges can look ragged. There are a few different ways to stabilize the fabric in order to make it easier to work with and create a more durable finished project.

Here are some techniques and tips for working with burlap. Depending on your project, some methods may be more effective than others.

Ways to Stabilize Burlap for Sewing

  • Hemming the edges – cut your burlap pieces two inches larger than the pattern; turn the raw edge over one inch and press. Fold edge over again, press, and sew down near the first fold. Sew pieces together as you would normally. This would be a good method to use when making pillows or a tote bag, for example. This is probably the most durable way to stabilize burlap edges when you will be seaming them together. It creates a nice finished edge as well. The downsides are that this is a time-consuming method and it only works well on mostly straight edges. Trying to double-fold a curved edge is difficult at best. This method will also create a bulky seam.
  • Iron-on stabilizer or interfacing – there are various types of stabilizers and interfacings that can be ironed on to the back of burlap pieces to reduce the amount of fraying that occurs while cutting and sewing. One advantage of this method is that you can trace your pattern pieces onto the stabilizer and use them as a cutting guide. Another option is to apply fusible seam tape along the seam line to stabilize just that area to strengthen the seam. On the downside, depending on how loose the burlap weave is, the stabilizer can show through slightly and be visible on the right side of the fabric. The burlap itself will also be stiffer. Both issues will vary depending on the weight of the stabilizer you use.
  • Liquid stabilizer or fabric glue – liquid sealants or adhesives can be applied to the cut edges of the burlap. This will decrease the amount of fraying, but it won’t add much strength to the seam, however. The areas where the liquid was applied may become stiff. This method would work well on small items where the raw edges are left exposed, such as a stuffed ornament.
  • Lining – another fabric such as muslin can be used as a backing for the burlap. This method works very well on items that will be firmly stuffed because the backing material bears the stress of the filling and keeps it contained. Simply cut each pattern piece from both the burlap and the backing fabric. Place the backing fabric under the burlap and stitch the pieces together around the edge (make sure you sew inside the seam allowance). Depending on how loose the burlap weave is, the lining fabric will show through.

Click to read Tips for Cutting and Sewing Burlap

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Tips for Cutting and Sewing Burlap
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Content copyright © 2015 by Tamara Bostwick. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Tamara Bostwick. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.


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