How to paint on burlap fabric

Written by vanessa van wagner
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How to paint on burlap fabric
Burlap's rustic look makes it popular for craft projects. (Jute image by Udo Ingber from

Burlap is a loosely woven cotton fabric originally used for shipping and construction. One of its main uses was and still is for bags. The fibres are thick and have a rough surface similar to rope. In fact, both burlap and ropes are made from the jute plant. Burlap's coarse weave gives it the rustic look that makes it a favourite craft fabric. It is a popular choice for country-themed decor and folk art pieces such as pillow covers, place mats, tablecloths and wall hangings.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Plastic tarp or old sheet
  • Piece of burlap fabric
  • Flat piece of cardboard at least 2 inches longer and wider than the burlap
  • Push pins
  • Stiff-bristled brushes
  • Stencil (optional)
  • Fabric paints
  • Small plastic cups for paint mixing.
  • Fabric paint markers

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  1. 1

    Plan your design based on the size of your final project. If you are making a 12-inch by 12-inch wall hanging, you will need to create a design that easily fits into that size. You can make it completely freehand or use a stencil. Fine lines and small details may get lost in the thick weave, so it's best to choose a bold design that will accent the thickness of the fibres and stand out against them. Clip art is a great source of inspiration.

  2. 2

    Spread a plastic tarp or an old sheet down to protect your work surface from paint and to catch the small fibre pieces burlap sheds when it's cut or handled.

  3. 3

    Place the burlap out flat on the cardboard. Secure the edges and corners with push pins. The fabric should be pulled taut, but not stretched out of shape.

  4. 4

    Position the stencil, if you are using one, on the fabric. Attach to the fabric with push pins.

  5. 5

    Set out plastic cups, one for each colour and pour in the fabric paint.

  6. 6

    Dip a stiff-bristled brush into the fabric paint. Brush fabric paint onto the burlap. Use a different brush for each colour of paint.

  7. 7

    Leave the burlap undisturbed while the paint dries. If using a stencil, remove it slowly, taking care not to smudge the paint.

  8. 8

    Add freehand touches with the fabric paint markers.

  9. 9

    Allow all paint to dry completely before removing the burlap from the cardboard.

Tips and warnings

  • Burlap tends to stretch over time. This will distort the painted design, so you may want to line the finished piece to help it retain the original shape.
  • Burlap fades in direct sunlight. Repurposed burlap bags sometimes carry lingering aromas. Some people like this as a sign of authenticity. If you would rather eliminate the scents, spray the bag with a textile freshener and let it dry completely before you paint it.

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