Sunday, February 16, 2014

Favorite Fabrics: Osnaburg

Do you have a favorite fabric type? It could be a sturdy twill, an airy charmeuse, or a crisp voile... or if could even be one of those in-between fabrics, whose name you're uncertain of. You know, that special fabric you picked up that sits in your stash, waiting patiently for the day that you shout "Eureka!" and run to the sewing machine with a genius idea appropriate only for it.

I have several fabrics that I just love; some are officially named varieties, and some are those vague treasures. One of my absolute favorites to play with, however, is Osnaburg!


Osnaburg is a utilitarian fabric that may conjure images of work aprons and early peasant clothing, and with good reason! It was originally made from rough flax and jute, and it is a course, natural fabric perfect for the grungy grimy needs of all factory workers! Nowadays it is made primarily from cotton, but because it is still woven of a coursely spun, slubby fibers, spaced widely in their reed, it still retains the same aesthetic that it had when made from the original fibers.

The name "Osnaburg" comes from "Osnabrück", which is the name of the German city (though it's technically part of Saxony, culturally speaking). The fabric was originally made in Germany, but by the 18th century it had become a staple in the Scottish textile mills and was sold as a low-lint utility fabric used for facings, course under garments and lower class clothing (think factory workers and work-house prisoners). It was also used in The States to make the primary clothes of slave workers, due to it's sturdy and low-maintenance nature.

While bumbling around the internet the other day, searching for linen sources, I happened across a wonderful blog post at The Split Stitch, discussing the use of osnaburg as a linen alternative. I've been doing this for years, and this is probably the main reason I love osnaburg so much (it runs roughly $4 a yard, instead of linen's $15 a yard!) but I thought I'd share the post since it was very well written.

I use osnaburg for lightweight canvas bags, and it makes a great course medium for block printing. It would also make an excellent fabric for aprons, dish towels and even pillow covers. Because of its linen-look and soft hand, it also makes great skirts and it takes dye well (assuming you pre-wash well enough to get the factory goo out of it!)

I'm currently designing a new pattern that I intend to mock up using some of my osnaburg stash, so I'll be sure to post the finished results when I have them!

Have you ever used Osnaburg for anything? Do you have a fabric you prefer to work with?