Grain Sack Pillow Cover Tutorial {& Giveaway!}

Posted by on Mar 19, 2013 in Adventures in Country Living | 83 comments

Today, it’s my joy to introduce to you my dear friend, Amanda Dykes. She’s put together a fantastic grain sack pillow tutorial and has so graciously offered a custom-made pillow to give away! To enter, simply leave a comment below!

Grain sacks are brilliant and beautiful. The history geek in me gets way too excited about these lovelies. Way –Back-When in Europe, people would cart their grains to market in monogramed grain sacks. The unique stripe patterns and initials—usually in red, shades of brown, or blue– were unique to the farm they came from, so they could be returned and re-used later. Kind of like how parents now write initials on their kids’ jacket tags… only infinitely more awesome.

Since many of the Appalachian people in the 1800’s and 1900’s were European immigrants… well, I thought these grain sack pillows had just the right feel for Joanne’s site.

Can’t you just picture Lonnie sitting by the fire, embroidering one of these? Or, ever-resourceful, stitching something entirely new out of an old grain sack?

Grain sacks are used for all sorts of interior decorating and upholstering these days, but the authentic ones cost a pretty penny. So we’re making our own, folks. For just a few dollars. Who’s with me?

Note: I apologize in advance for some of my methods. I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to crafts and sewing. Or cooking, for that matter. I use words like “schplook” and “done-ish” when writing out recipes.  I also occasionally suggest – and please don’t hate me—that if someone would rather not sew, they can hot-glue projects like these.

Supplies needed:

1) Fabric. You can use any grain sack-looking fabric: Muslin, Burlap, etc.—but my favorite is this leftover stuff from when I slip-covered my couch. What is it? This fancy-schmancy stuff called drop  cloth. Yep, just head down to Home Depot or Lowe’s, snag a drop cloth from the paint section, run it through the wash, iron, and you’re good to go. Added benefit: drop cloths have hemmed edges, which will save you a step further down.

2) Sewing machine and thread, or glue gun if you want to try that out instead. I haven’t tried the glue gun on a pillow cover. It definitely won’t be a strong a “seam” as sewing, but it just might work.

3) Measuring Tape

4) Scissors

5) Pins

6) Fabric Paint and Paint Brush for stripes

7) Masking Tape (not pictured) for painting stripes


If you plan to embroider a monogram, you’ll need…

-Embroidery floss and needle.

-Embroidery hoop.


If you plan to embellish with typography instead, you’ll need…

-Fabric Transfer sheet and Iron (pictured later).


Oh! And don’t forget…

Tea. To your liking. Because nothing is complete without it. ;)

Now, on with the project!

First, Measure the pillow you’re making a cover for, and cut your front-piece fabric one inch longer than your measurements on all sides, to allow room for a .5” seam on all sides when sewing.

We’ll use the French typography image pillow as our example. Funny story behind this thing—I’ll get to it in a moment.

Cut your front piece of fabric 1-inch longer than what you measured. The pillow to the left was 16”x16”, so in theory, I would have cut the front piece of fabric to be 17”x17”.

I say “in theory,” because, as my fumbling ways would have it, this whole pillow cover was an accident. I never planned on making it. The front piece of fabric was cut for the long rectangular pillow you see that ended up with the B and A monogram—only I didn’t like how heavily the paint came out on it.

So rather than throw that piece of fabric away (I love that fabric…), I used it to iron the French typography image on, and cover a square Christmas pillow that I was having trouble finding storage for. So the typography grain sack pillow you see up there? Totally an incognito, cherry red Christmas pillow. Anyhow, the measurements were slightly off because of that, but hey! Pillows are pliable! Hooray for forgiving projects!


For the back of the pillow, you’ll be cutting two smaller pieces that will end up overlapping, making an envelope closure. This way you can remove the cover for easy washing, etc. The great thing about using dropcloth is that you can use the already-hemmed edges for these pieces, saving yourself the task of hemming the center edges where the two pieces will overlap. Each of the two back pieces will look something like this:

Cut them so that they’ll overlap about one to two inches. For example, for a 16”x16” pillow, I’d cut each back panel to be 17”x9.5-ish”.

If you’d like a really thorough step-by-step guide to cutting and—for later– sewing it all together, there’s a great one here. It’s legit. She even makes things like …(prepare yourself)… patterns!

What the back will look like once it’s finished (minus the criss-crossed overlap closure. I didn’t even know I’d criss-crossed the overlap until I took this picture today… Whoops! Told you I bumble my way through…


But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself. You haven’t sewn yet, so for now…

…set your two back panels aside. It’s time to paint your stripes on and embellish that front piece.


This is where it gets fun.

Paint Instructions:

Take your main piece of fabric. With your chosen color of fabric paint (red and blue being the most common for the grain sack look) and your masking tape, follow Miss Mustardseed’s wonderful painting directions here.

I laid a clean garbage bag on my kitchen counter, taped the fabric down to the counter, and painted.

After it’s dry, you can either skip to the end of this post for sewing instructions, or read on if you’d like to embellish it further with painted monograms or an iron-on typography image before sewing.



Monogram (embroidered or painted) instructions:

If I tried to paint my letters on like Miss Mustard Seed did, I would spend an hour on it and it would look like a splat. Possibly, if I’m exceptionally successful, an amoeba.

*Sigh*… Paint is so… permanent. And I am so… not-painterly. Now if Joanne were doing this, that’d be another story. Did you know she’s an accomplished painter? (Don’t edit that out, Joanne. The people deserve to know! You can even leave this parenthetical in to prove you were forced.)

So, I took a needle to it. Unfortunately this is where my directions get super-vague. Basically you make a bunch of stitched x’s until you get the image you want. And if it starts to look unruly? Take some stitches out and begin again. So forgiving!

OK, I’ll get a tad more detailed than that:

I wanted that authentic-European look, so I found some images on, where you can see a plethora of grain sacks for sale, and printed out some close-ups of the embroidered letters. To find sample images, go to, or, and search for “Vintage European Grain Sack”.

The letters could be anything you choose.. Vintage grain sack monograms indicate the farm or family of origin. I customized the monogram to be mine and my husband’s first initials.

(contrary to what’s shown here, you’ll want to cut and split your embroidery floss before threading the needle)

A few embroidery guidelines:

-Cut a length of embroidery floss, then split it. Each little skein is made up of a cord of 6 small strands. You can split the length of cord to whatever thickness you like. I split mine into a cord of 3 strands (Oh! It’s even scriptural! I wrote a blog post on this once…).

-As you work, it helps to envision rows. You’ll see in some of the images that the embroidered letters are comprised of rows of tiny x’s, skipping the space of an x occasionally to get that decorative gap within the letters.

For a quick crash-course on embroidery like this, here’s a great you-tube clip I dug up.



Iron-On Graphic Instructions:

For my typography pillow, in keeping with the European feel of the grain sack look, I visited this website to find a free graphic. There are tons to choose from, and most are even provided in mirror image (backwards), which you’ll need for printing and iron-on purposes.



1)      Find a graphic you like

2)      If you like it in black print as shown, download their full size .pdf and print straight from there, following the directions on the Fabric Transfer package for completing the transfer.

I wanted my typography to print out blue, so I had to take these additional steps. Instead of printing right away, find a graphic you like, then…

3)      Right click on it, select copy

4)      Open Microsoft Word, right click on the white screen and select paste.

5)      Your image should appear. On the top toolbar, click where it says Format or Picture Tools.

6)      As shown below, make sure your picture is selected on the screen, then select Colors from the toolbar. You’ll see some color variants to choose from.



7)      Print on iron-transfer sheet, and follow the directions from the package for how to iron the image to your fabric.


And now for the final step!

Again, if you’d like a really thorough step-by-step guide to sewing it all together, click here.

If you want the Amanda-digest version…

-On a flat surface, place your main piece, right side up facing you. On top of that, place your overlapping back panels, right side down, facing the front piece, lined up with the outer edges of the main piece.

-Pin at corners, overlapping points, and a few other places along the edges.

-Sew around the perimeter.

…and now for the best moment in the whole process…

-Turn it right-side out and…voila! Your pillow cover is done! Insert your pillow and you have yourself a customized, homemade grain sack pillow. All told, you could probably do this for less than $5.00 (keeping mind that even if you have to buy a larger-sized drop cloth than you need, you’ll only use a fraction of it for this project… and you’ll be left with yards of possibility!)

Oh, did I not mention the giveaway yet? How thoughtless of me!

Yes, Joanne and I have cooked up a giveaway for you. Simply leave a comment below*, and we’ll choose one winner on Friday, 3/22. The winner can specify what size throw-pillow they’d like me to make a cover for, what color paint, and help design the embellishment (whether it’s customized monogram in the color of your choice, or a typography image from the website referenced above).

Now. I let you get a glimpse at my haphazard project ways. As you can imagine, this provides me with plenty of stories of project-fails… some of which you witnessed today. Can you share a D.I.Y. (Do-It-Yourself) story with us? Perhaps something you attempted that didn’t quite pan out… or perhaps something you endeavored that more than panned out. Do tell!

*Entrants must be 18 years old or older and a resident of the United States or Canada. 


UPDATE: Giveaway is now closed and…we have a winner! Congratulations to Bonnie (bonnieroof60@) — I’ve sent you an e-mail so that we can get to brainstorming! Thank you to everyone who chimed in, we had such fun with you.


* * * * 

Meet: Amanda Dykes

The Author of my life gave me a heart full of words.  They tumble around in there, changing and moving and learning, until I set them loose with ink on paper and learn some more. Out they pour: sometimes it’s story, sometimes a simple revelation. As I make a home for them, my hope is to invite you in, sit a bit with you and– yet again– continue to learn as we visit, as we draw near to  Jesus together.

Amanda is represented by Wendy Lawton of Books and Such Literary Agency, and is a member of ACFW.


  1. Those are lovely!!! What a great idea.

    I do a little re-finishing. Hopefully the link works.

    • Jennifer, WOW those furniture restorations are amazing! Gives me hope for the work our Heavenly Father is doing in my heart– smoothing the splinters and blisters away, refining, and with such care. Thank you for sharing that!

    • They really are lovely. I’m amazed at her craftiness.

  2. Wow!

    I actually have some beautiful antique fabric just like this from box I inherited from my grandmother.

    I absolutely love this craft, you two!

    thank you for sharing your hearts and your stories


    • Ashley, I inherited a box of fabric from my grandmother. Since she’s the one who taught me to sew and how to embroider, it’s such a special thing to dig into that box and find just the perfect fabric for a project. I love that you have a similar story!

    • Ashley, meet Amanda. Amanda, meet Ashley. My two dear friends! Ashley, you are one crafty mama and could do this so easily with that fabric. How neat to have inherited it from your grandmother!! <3

      • Nice to “meet” you, Ashley! I’ve seen some of your craftiness in action on your website and I’m impressed!

  3. What a neat idea! I would love to be talented enough to make one of these covers. I have tried my hand at sewing and have made simple curtains and pillows for my kids, but not with a pattern. That is how I work! :)

    • Jen, sounds like we’re birds of a feather– I like to eyeball and guess~ patterns befuddle me. :)

    • Jen, That is how I work too. It sounds like you’ve got the talent more than I would. I love this step by step. I’m so glad you stopped by!

  4. I love, love those pillowcases !! I remember my grammy’s house, she always had pillowcases with embroidery on them… nice memory, I would love to do some of my own.. thanks for the walk down memory lane.. Rosemary

    • Rosemary, what a special memory! Thank you for sharing.

    • Rosemary, I’m so glad you are here. Thrilled that this takes you down memory lane! :)

  5. I really like this pillow cover. I would love to win one.

    • Alysia (what a pretty name!)~ So glad you like the pillow cover. It’s a fun project. :)

    • Alysia,

      We are so glad! You are official entered. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I sent one comment that left me before I was done. Love the pillow, and love the comment of your heart full of words given you by your Author of life…..Please excuse the unfinished comment if it came to you…it left my fingers too soon!

    • Connie, thank you for your encouragement and for stopping by! I’m so glad you entered. :)

    • Connie,

      No unfinished comment that I see..but if there was, fear not for you’d be in good company. I do it all the time. :) I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and those beautiful, heartfelt words from Amanda.

  7. Wow, what a cool idea! I love the pillows, wish I had the time to learn how to do this too. It would be great to win one! thanks for the opportunity!

    • Cathy, so glad you like them. It’s a good project to learn on, since pillows are so forgiving. :)

    • Welcome, Cathy! Always so great to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! :)

  8. Oh my word, how LOVELY! Now, I will confess I skipped right over the technicalities of making these gorgeous pillows, because I have not an OUNCE of craftiness in my body, and I can never understand craft instructions. BUT I would love to win one! HA. And what a great idea, Amanda! So classy, yet rustic. Love them.

    • Heather, you made me laugh! “Craft instructions…” not sure mine entirely count as instructions, since I just sort of describe how I feel my way through the project. I’m not much for instructions either. ;) Glad you entered, though!

    • Heather,

      You make me laugh :) I am so glad that there is a giveaway for the not-so-crafty ones!! And I could just see you and your hubby’s initials on there. Maybe a pretty little viking print to go with ;)

      • Oh, I’m laughing. All I could picture when you said that, Joanne, were Viking horns. :)

  9. These look amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  10. So now you two have me wanting to get out my embroidery again! I have some flour sack towels and am thinking that might work for a light weight pillow too. Feels very springy and summerish, which I’m aching for. Sharing this one!

    • Melissa, my day is complete now that you’ve stopped by, friend! :) I can only imagine what beautiful creations you’d whip up. If you do, you should post it on your blog– I just love your DIY posts!

    • Melissa, you and Amanda AMAZE me with your ability to embroider! I’m aching for spring too. :) Thanks for sharing!

  11. Would love a pillow.

  12. Neat idea! Its ok to mess up
    God bless you both

  13. Hello Amanda, great project! I’m not much into sewing…as a matter of fact, on the rare occasion when I do sew, I’ve found that fabric glue works great in a pinch. My crafting is mainly in scrapbooking. My blog shows a few pages I’ve done. You can find it here:

    I would LOVE to win a special pillow cover from you. My living room is basically focused on tall ships, so I would be requesting a nautical themed cover for my couch. :)

    Hey Joanne! How’s Gideon and Lonnie’s story coming along?

    • Debbie, the fabric glue is a great idea. My son’s bedroom is nautical-themed as well- I bet we could come up with something for your living room using this same fabric. That would be a fun project! If you scroll back up and look at the pillow that has buttons on it– that is from Ikea, and the flipside is a really cool nautical map.

      • I love the buttons on the back! Any nautical theme would work…tall ships, compass, anchor, maps….anything! I would be wanting the color blue in the theme…my curtains are blue. :) Man! Now I really want to win!

    • So glad to see you here, Debbie! I remember the giveaway you did with MaryLu and all the great nautical themes!

      You are so sweet to ask about Lonnie and Gid. :) Their story is coming along. It went from 91K words to 107K words during the first stage, so now I’ve got to cut some scenes :( LOL

      • Hope you don’t have to cut too much. The more to read, the better I say! :)

  14. Hi Amanda. I always use fabric glue, it is so much easier.

    • I have never tried fabric glue, but hearing the suggestions floating around, I need to check it out! Thanks for being here, Jean :)

  15. Amanda, how talented you are. I wish my fingers and needle would understand each other to be as crafty as you. They are beautiful. I would be thrilled to get one of these, would come in perfect time for my wedding in June. Would look stunning in Green, since thats my favorite color. It would be amazing I hope I win. Hehe!! Wishing everyone good luck in this giveaway and Blessings to you Amanda.

    • Wait, wedding!? In June!? How did I miss this? Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you!

      Amanda is so talented. She sent me a little gift of an embroidered table cloth. I will bring it to the party for the table so you can see it there :)

    • Keren, congratulations!! And thank you for your sweet words. :) Green is such a beautiful color- one of my favorites, too.

  16. Those are beautiful… I love to quilt… It brings back good memories of my grandma! :)

    • Lisa, what a special memory. I’m so glad you stopped by!

    • Lisa, I love that quilting holds such personal, sweet memories for you. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I am quite impressed with how detailed your instructions were, Amanda! I would have a very hard time explaining my projects to anyone, so I applaud you for taking time to make it so clear. Of course, I would also love to win one of these lovely pillows in a giveaway, yet another reason for leaving a comment! :)

    • I am impressed to! I love how detailed and organized Amanda is. It is one of her special qualities! I am so glad you visited and are entered for a pillow. I hope you get the chance to make them! I’d like to try…I need to get my hands on some of these towels ;)

    • Why, Katie May! Is that *my* Katie May? I’m so happy to see you here! Two of my very closest friends of all time, in one place– Joanne and Katie. You two would just love each other.

      Katie, you are so sweet with your words, especially since my instructions had mixed results for me. :)

  18. Oh my! These remind me of my grandmother. What a wonderful giveaway idea! Thank you for the offering.

    • That’s so great to hear, Mary! Thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment. Amanda and I are having so much fun getting to chat with everyone today!

    • Mary, what a special connection- so glad it brought you a sweet reminder today!

  19. Thank you both for sharing so much of yourselves, most especially for all the smiles you give away. What fun to share our daily walk with you. Be blessed!

    • Melody, thank you for stopping by and for your sweet words!

    • Good morning, Melody! Thank you for your sweet, sweet comment. :)

  20. I love, love, love your post! Miss Amanda, I love your hair design too! I am here to WIN your awesome feed sack pillow! I like it with the writing on it. So sharp looking, and French! I would like the one in the photo ~ no need to measure for me! You ladies are so fun. So, here you go ~ draw my name, please. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

    • Kathleen,
      Well your message was just a bundle of encouragement! You seem to specialize in that. Thanks so much!

    • Hi, Kathleen! I am so glad that you’ve been able to get to meet Amanda recently. Isn’t she a dear? These pillow covers truly are so pretty. I’m so glad you are entered!

  21. Hi! I am commenting to be entered into the drawing for the pillow! It sounds like a very creative craft! It would be great to win!!!!!

  22. Love homemade items & haven’t the patience to sew – so hoping I’m lucky enough to win this! Thanks for the opportunity!

    • Bonnie, Good morning! I’m not much of a sewer (but I am trying) :) Thankful for crafters like Amanda to help us along!

  23. These would be perfect for my granddaughters. I would like them to say — Wherever I am remember I will always love you. What great gifts they would be for them to have after I am gone.

  24. i love home made gifts and i would love to win this one , i dont know where its found but its a verse i speak to my self a lot and it would be on the pillow on my bed, it is, What time im afraid oh Lord i will trust in you
    Shirley Blanchard

    • Shirley, I love the idea of referencing a verse through the embroidery. What a special treasure that would make!

  25. oh I love the sack pillow, we owned a dairy and often wore sack dresses….. I think I’d like Timothy 3:16 printed out on it…it says it all….thanks

    • Virginia, I love hearing about the dresses you wore. What a sweet memory! The verse is a wonderful idea. :)

  26. My best friend has been like a sister to me. She’s been there through the loss of my family and my health. Her initials are SGN. It would be wonderful to give her this gift.

    • What a thoughtful idea, Mary, for a wonderful friend!

  27. This has really scratched an itch of mine on so many levels. Just this am I was making the bed and I could still see the imprint of his body on my bed. He died 4 years ago. So bittersweet. A reminder he still is beside me in so many ways. When we were missionaries to the Philippines I studied 18th century samplers and made a few….this was a part of my ministry with unwed mother’s….but I went so much deeper in studying the history of samplers. This grain sack is so typical of that era. If your next book is regarding young girls and their stitcher ies, then I will give a copy to all who know me….bless you Amanspda…we are friends ib FB too!

    • Bonnie, wonderful to run into you over here! Thank you for stopping by. It sounds like you and your husband shared an amazing life and love.

      Fun fact– the heroine in the book I’m currently working on is named Bonnie. :)

  28. Love the pillow cases – they are very beautiful. You are very talented I have to say. I wish I was crafty. Thank you so much for sharing and for the giveaway.

    • Maureen, thanks so much for stopping by! Hope you have a wonderful day.

  29. I certainly will be trying this project….unless I win one! :)

  30. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day.

    It’s always useful to read articles from other writers and
    usse something from their websites.

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