How to embroider on burlap

By on November 14th, 2021
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Machine embroidery on burlap is a popular technique used to make many different types of projects. It creates an interesting texture that you can’t get with other types of fabric. But, perhaps you have noticed that burlap is also quite porous, which may make you wonder, how it might handle embroidery. In this post, we will take a look at some popular machine embroidery projects with burlap and how to embroider on burlap using your embroidery machine.

What is burlap?

Burlap is a coarse, heavy cloth (typically brown in color) that dates back to the medieval ages. It’s usually made of jute or hemp fibers and often used as an inexpensive fabric meant for rough use. Many people love its earthy, natural look for home decor and craft projects.  But, I wouldn’t recommend using burlap for clothing as it’s a bit scratchy and stiff.

Why machine embroider on burlap?

Machine embroidery tends to really pop on burlap. The bright colors of the embroidery thread stand out nicely against the natural color of the fabric. Also, because burlap is so coarse and heavy, your stitches will show up very clearly on its surface.

Burlap is also a relatively inexpensive fabric which makes it great for beginners.  If you mess it up – you are not out much!

Another reason why you might want to machine embroider on burlap is because of the wide variety of pre-made burlap blanks available.  Add a little bit of embroidery, and BAM – your project is done.

Where can you buy burlap?

If you are looking for burlap fabric, you can find it at almost any fabric store.   Joann has a variety of burlap fabrics in colors other than brown.   And, it is NOT expensive at all, especially if you roll in with your 50% off coupon.

Hobby Lobby also carries burlap fabric in (what appears to be) a tighter weave than what is offered at Joanns.  They also have quite a few burlap blanks – like banners, table runners and even Christmas stockings that would be perfect for machine embroidery.

If you are looking for higher quality burlap fabric, consider the Sultana burlap from www.fabric.com.  It has a tighter weave than the burlap you buy at stores like Joann and Hobby Lobby.

Many craft stores like Joann, Michaels and Hobby Lobby sell burlap blanks. But don’t discount Amazon as a source for burlap blanks.  If you are looking for higher quality burlap blanks with some finished details, be sure to check out my buddy, Roseann’s Facebook group.  She makes some REALLY CUTE burlap blanks.

burlap blanks for machine embroidery
Blank from Roseann Buchanan. Photo also by Roseann Buchanan and used with her permission.

Check out some of these other embroidery blanks suppliers as many of them offer burlap items.

Project ideas with machine embroidery on burlap

You can make a lot of different types of projects using machine embroidery on burlap, starting with either pre-made burlap items or items you can make from scratch using burlap fabric. Here are some of the more popular projects.

Personalized burlap garden flags

I’m not a gardener so burlap garden flags are definitely not my jam. But they are a popular machine embroidery project. You can buy burlap garden flags very inexpensively and they even come with a post with an extended hanger so once you are done embroidering them, you just stick them in your garden.

A popular embroidered look for a garden flag is an elegant single initial monogram of the garden’s owner. But you can also stitch out a last name, a funny saying, a pretty design, or useful messaging like “please don’t let your dog pee here.”

burlap garden flag with machine embroidery
Project made by Marilyn Maurer Palumbo and photo used with her permission.

Machine embroidered burlap pillows

I’m not sure I would want to sleep on these, but they definitely have a natural, organic look. Most of the pillow covers I’ve seen use a less coarse version of burlap than you see on garden flags, for example. I especially like these burlap pillow covers with the soft fringe trim which is a nice counterbalance to the course fabric texture.

Custom embroidered burlap art

burlap flag with embroidered design
Project made by Jessica Lopuch of www.406baby.com. Photo used with her permission.

An elegant embroidery design stitched out on a piece of burlap can become a unique piece of art.  Consider using burlap as a canvas for a personalized, embroidered creation.  Makes a great gift, don’t you think?

Embroidered burlap tote bags

Burlap tote bags are a nice alternative to the plastic grocery store variety and can be customized with your monogram or logo. They look really great when you embroider them in bright colors that pop against the natural color of burlap. Plus, the burlap is super durable which makes them ideal for lugging groceries.

Burlap placemats

Looking for a washable, durable solution for some casual and stylish placemats?  Then, burlap is what you want.  These sets of burlap placemats are cheap and super cute.  Just add a monogram in the center.

Burlap napkin rings

And to add cool casual table setting… monogrammed, burlap napkin rings! It doesn’t get any cheaper that this project… but oh so cute.

Burlap Table Runners

And finally, the perfect way to add some festive elegance to a table is a monogrammed burlap table runner.  You can make one yourself, or you can buy a pre-made table runner and simply add a monogram or festive design to both sides to hang off the ends table.

burlap table runners with a monogram

Now that I have sold you on all the fun embroidery projects you can make with burlap, you might be wondering…

Is it difficult to machine embroider on burlap?

No. The burlap fabric is stiff and non-stretchy, and is therefore not likely to buckle. It’s also not a slippery fabric, so it won’t have a tendency to move around while you are working on it. Because it’s so porous though, you just need to makes sure that you stabilize it appropriately.

How to embroider a design using your embroidery machine on burlap

This is actually quite easy. Here are some tips:

To hoop or to float?

Really, you can go either way. Burlap is fairly thin and will not tend to get hoop burn, so you could certainly secure it in an embroidery hoop.  But, if you are embroidering a burlap item on a spot that’s a little tricky to access, you may want to just float it.  But, if you choose to float the item, either use sticky back tear away stabilizer to hold it all in place. Or, use temporary fabric adhesive spray to hold it secure the burlap and the stabilizer together.

Stabilizer

The stabilizer you choose is somewhat dependent on the nature of the burlap.  For very tightly woven burlap, you can probably get away with just using a bit of tear away stabilizer.  But if the burlap is quite porous, you will definitely want to incorporate a permanent cut away stabilizer. Extremely porous burlap may even require two layers of cut away stabilizer (layered at opposing angles), especially if your design is very dense.

Another option is to layer a tan colored felt underneath your burlap which will give your design something to “bite into.” This might only be a good solution, however, if the burlap project is on the smaller side as you will not want felt underneath just part of the item.

Needle

A standard 75/11 embroidery needle will work perfectly for embroidering on burlap.

Topper

Unless the burlap is really fine and dense, you will almost always want to use a water soluble topper on top of your burlap before embroidering on it to keep the stitches from “sinking” into the burlap.

Use a water soluble topper when embroidering on burlap
Using a water soluble topper when embroidering on burlap

Finishing

Once you are done embroidering on your burlap, you will want to take the usual finishing steps of trimming your jump stitches. However, if the burlap is very porous, you will also want to trim down any cut away stabilizer as close to the back of design as possible so that you can’t see it from the front.

Back side of embroidered burlap
After I finished embroidering on burlap, I trimmed the cut away stabilizer as close as possible to the design.
Embroidered burlap
If you are just embroidering a small piece of burlap, you don’t have to trim your cut away stabilizer. You will just have a white background behind the entire piece of stabilizer. This might look great if you are planning on framing the piece.
embroidery on burlap after stabilizer is trimmed
You can see the difference here where I trimmed the stabilizer on the back side. You can now see through the burlap in the non-embroidered areas.

If you are making an item where the back will be visible (such as a table runner or a flag), consider adding a backing. Some people have suggested attaching a muslin fabric to the back to make it two-sided.

Another consideration… if you are making burlap garden flags, you may want to spray on a clear matte acrylic. This will help prevent mildew if you are going to keep the item outside.

Ready to try machine embroidery on burlap?

Burlap is a natural fabric that has been used for centuries. It’s heavy, coarse texture makes it perfect for machine embroidery projects because stitches will show up well on the surface of this type of material. Whether you’re looking to make personalized garden flags or pillows with your own monogrammed initials, there are many great projects you can create using burlap and an embroidery machine.  I hope this post has inspired you to give machine embroidery with burlap a try!

Good luck!

XO

Julie

Burlap blanks

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