Linen and hemp sacks were used in Europe until very recently for transporting flour and grains, recognisable by the rustic ground cloth and the woven blue, red or ochre stripes, often centrally but also on either side; each maker had their own style.
These old sacks have been used, laundered and re-used without compromising their durability until the fibres become compact and in so doing create a soft and smooth, or almost smooth surface. It makes an excellent furnishing fabric for curtains, cushions, bolsters, loose covers–anything really.
Choose ones in good condition, and always pre-wash, by hand, as we have experienced shrinkage in hot water. Also, don’t tumble dry as the fibres, strong as they might be – don’t like it. 3-4 holes appeared in one of my kitchen curtains when I tried it one day, in a rush.
The quality and colouring of the hemp and linen exactly reflect the locality and the hand of the weaver- some are almost grey, others almost white, some are finely woven, others very rustic and sometimes they are twill and sometimes plain woven. It’s also possible to buy rolls of sacking material – these were woven either to be made into sacks, or into hand towels; whichever it was they are they of even better quality, having never been used. Of course they they don’t have the tiny hand stitched seams of the sacks, which is such a bonus for cushions. However, these rolls are even better for curtaining and upholstery – and no seams to undo.
The stripes are interesting as they are rarely exactly the same, even those that should look as though they should, are virtually impossible to match up. They look good joined together with the stripes adjacent to each other – one horizontal and the next vertical, and as patchworks, with stripes and colours completely mis-matched.