Printing on burlap is a cost-effective, crafty way to get vintage-looking decor, custom-designed for framing, upholstering, stuffing or turning into a market bag or other display-worthy household item. The material is cheap but the loose weave requires some extra care as you create your masterpiece. Use your printer or make a stencil for larger designs. Printed burlap also makes great gifts for holidays or special occasions.

Brown hessian sack with stencil writing
credit: GYRO PHOTOGRAPHY/amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images
Print faux labels on plain burlap to create rustic decor.

What You'll Need

Gather your materials before starting the project so you can work uninterrupted. These are the possible things you'll need, depending on which project you choose:

  • Burlap (tightest available weave)
  • Scissors
  • Yardstick
  • Pins
  • Freezer paper
  • Iron
  • Transfer paper
  • Stencil
  • Craft knife
  • Fabric paint
  • Sponge
  • Spray fixative.

Prepare the Burlap

Buy burlap fabric by the yard or deconstruct an old shipping sack to obtain the raw material for your project. If the printed burlap will become upholstery, look for the tightest weave you can find so it holds up when in use. For artwork you plan to frame, you can use a looser weave burlap. Iron the burlap to get it perfectly flat and wrinkle-free. Even up any crooked raw edges by pulling a thread, and then trim the resulting fringe.

The Printer Method

Burlap will go through a home printer but it needs specific organizing to prevent jamming. Cut a piece of freezer paper to a size that will fit through your printer but be slighter wider and longer than the burlap. Iron the freezer paper to the burlap, shiny side to the fabric. Select a graphic image or text on your computer, adjust it to fill the space on the burlap. Do a test run on plain paper to verify the image is properly centered, and then feed the burlap into the printer to complete the image transfer. Blank inks creates a striking effect on burlap and contributes to the appearance of a vintage textile.

Finishing Touches

Peel the freezer paper from the burlap and spray the printed image lightly with clear fixative to set it. This step isn't strictly necessary, but it does prevent color bleed should moisture accidentally touch the burlap surface. Mount the piece on a cream-colored mat or linen backing before framing your burlap art. Or stitch the printed burlap to a decorative pillow sham. Make a small purse from two printed burlap sheets -- a lining ensures the bag holds up. Stitching the seam allowances flat keeps them from unraveling.

Transfer Paper

Iron-on transfer paper -- the kind you use to stencil"on T-shirts -- works just as well on burlap as it does on cotton, as long as you keep the iron hot. Print your image on the transfer paper, following the manufacturer's instructions. Cut out the image, leaving a little border so you can pull the paper off the burlap later. Place the transfer image, picture-side-down, on the burlap and use a very hot iron with no steam to iron the image onto the fabric. Once the image transfers, iron it again as you gently peel off the paper -- press the hot iron right where you want to begin peeling and keep ironing just ahead of the section you are lifting as you peel the paper away. This keeps the image glued to the burlap as it loosens it from the backing paper.

Stencil Big Jobs

Use burlap to cover an old chair and print a graphic design on it with a stencil. Find an image or text you like, print it on stiff paper or take it to a copy shop to size and print on plastic or laminated paper. Cut out the image or letters with a craft knife to create the stencil. Measure where on the fabric the design should show, to find its correct placement. Secure the burlap to a flat, protected surface, and then tape or pin the stencil in place. Use a sponge to lightly stencil the design on the burlap with fabric paint. Let it dry before fitting the burlap to the chair. Alternatively, you could upholster the piece with burlap and then fix the stencil to the fabric and fill in the design. Be careful not to soak the burlap with paint that could blur the design.