I found the grain sack used on this chair in Pennsylvania. It would either have been brought
to America by an immigrating family from Germany or made here, in their new home. It is
easy to see how Pennsylvania Dutch design (which, of course, is actually German)
It is hard to hand over my grain sacks, so many of which are favorites, to my
upholsterer, knowing that when he is finished with a chair or daybed, it will
go to the Hudson Supermarket to be sold. Lost to me forever…
–Grain sacks, variously called mill, flour or barn sacks, were used by farmers and tradespeople to send their product to market or to go to the mill carrying grain and return to the farm with flour. They were also used for the storage of grain and other food products which, in addition to the years of dirt and use, accounts for differences in color.
–German grain sacks are hand-woven and hand-decorated linen. They may have been woven and decorated at home or purchased from a grain sack maker.
–They feature beautiful hand-stencilled, hand-written or wood-block printed graphics, most containing an inventory number, the name of the farmer or trades person, the owner’s town. Many also show figures, such as an animal, farm implement or other symbol which relates to the contents or owner’s business.
–Both old-old stock (old, well-worn, repaired, marked) and new-old stock (old, found bundled in barns and attics, stored for many years in unused or lightly used condition) come in a wide variety of textures (from heavy to light in thickness) and color/shades (from dark tan to white). These variations are found even in multiple, same-farm stock. Also, some grain sacks in a group of sacks from the same farm may have a stripe in the graphic while the others from that farm do not.
–All German grain sacks have a wonderful, soft hand and are perfect for anything that touches the skin.
–Most grain sacks exibit signs of use ranging from tattered and torn to the tiniest of hand-darned repairs. In early German farmhomes, the parlor or good room was used for only two purposes : (sparingly) for formal visitors and (regularly) for the women of the household to repair grain sacks! Repairs are one of the most charming and highly-prized aspects of grain sacks.
— I have machine washed and dried hundreds of German linen grain sacks with no loss of the graphics. Some that are made of very heavy linen are nicer if hung to air dry and then given a few minutes in the dryer to soften. (I cannot recommend machine or even hand washing of other types of grain sacks. I have tried washing a few American burlap grain sacks and lost all of the graphic. I have had success maching washing American cotton sacks and French Hessian sacks. It is probably best to test a small area first.)
–Before putting any grain sack into your washer and dryer, turn it inside out and shake it out (in the yard!) first. I have shaken out inches of down feathers, grain, straw, stones and other left-overs. I ruined one washer before I figured this out.