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.