The most personal presents are handmade and found items that show sentimentality. Here, find doable, inexpensive and French-inspired gifts that will be most appreciated.
There is a lot to love about antique French grain-sack pillows, upholstery and sewn gifts—everything, of course, except the price. You can achieve the same look at a fraction of the price of an antique, and it can be personalized for your home or holiday gifts.
Antique grain sacks are generally made from flax (linen) or hemp. Jute burlap is equally as sturdy. Sourcing carefully chosen burlap and washing it to plump the material and remove excess fibers will give you a look that is hard to distinguish from authentic antique grain sacks.
Choose burlap that is heavy in weight and dark in color. Most of the burlap found on the market today is called “10-ounce” burlap. See the Shopping Guide on page 108 for resources for the burlap used here; it is $2.10 per yard and can be shipped anywhere in the country.
If possible, use a commercial laundromat to wash your burlap. I achieved the best result from the front-loading machines and large dryers at my laundromat. Wash four to five times or more, until the loose fibers seem to be gone, on hot wash with low-heat dry after each wash to shed fibers. For the final wash cycle, add a generous amount of liquid fabric softener to relax the material; think cups not capfuls! The more washes the better, as it will shed more fibers.
The ends of the fabric cuts will fray nicely; these can be used for pillow trims.
The burlap should be rather smooth after the final wash, but you can steam or iron lightly if needed. Your dry cleaner can also steam or press the fabric if this is more convenient.
Among the many methods of transferring images to burlap, common freezer paper, found in the grocery store next to the cling-wrap, is the low-tech and easy choice. It eliminates the need to put digital images into “mirror image,” which is more difficult than it sounds given a basic computer. Print an initial or image or monogram on copy paper and lay it over freezer paper. Cut out the image with the paper; for example, the “M” in the “Merry” votive candles. You are making a stencil using the freezer paper.
Iron the freezer paper onto the burlap and dab fabric paint over the image with your finger. Remove the freezer paper for the finished image.
This technique can be used in many ways, including the free-hand burlap chair slipcover; which was cut with an X-Acto knife based on a free-hand olive wreath design drawn on freezer paper. Cost: minimal!
Written and styled by Andrea Drexelius
Photography by Jacqueline deMontravel