How to Paint on Burlap Fabric

    by Vanessa Van Wagner

    About the Author

    Vanessa Van Wagner has been working in publishing since 1988 and has been writing about science, technology and the environment since 2005. Her work has appeared in "Town & Village," Rebuild USA Now, Science Fiction L.A. and "S.F. Five Years' Annual." Van Wagner studied liberal arts at the University of Rochester and Regents College.


    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 fibers 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 favorite 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.

    Things You'll Need

    • Plastic tarp or old sheet
    • Flat piece of cardboard, larger than the burlap
    • Push pins
    • Stiff-bristled brushes
    • Stencil
    • Fabric paints
    • Small plastic cups
    • Fabric paint markers

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    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 fibers and stand out against them. Clip art is a great source of inspiration.

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

    Spread 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.

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

    Set out plastic cups, one for each color, and pour in some fabric paint.

    Dip a stiff-bristled brush into the fabric paint. Brush fabric paint onto the burlap. Use a different brush for each color of paint. When you're painting over stencils, apply the paint in a dabbing motion at a 90-degree angle to the surface of the fabric.

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

    Add freehand touches with the fabric paint markers.

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

    • Test the thickness of the paint and your brushing or stenciling techniques on a scrap piece of burlap before moving on to your real project.
    • 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.