By now, most of us have seen the dashing blue and red striped corn sacks from Eastern Europe, mostly gathered from huge farms where they were used to transport grain to the cereal mills, and which were recognisable by their bright red and bright blue stripes down the long sides, often with attractive cross- stitched initials. I remember selling the first few I ever saw to a very well-known decorator who had (luckily for me), never seen them before and much to his surprise, his own special upholsterer, on a whim, covered his two big club chairs with the sacks and placed the initials boldly on the backs. He told me they caused much interest and everyone wanted to know if they were the initials of his grandmother - reply no, she was not a Hungarian peasant! Travelling a few years later, to French antique fairs, I saw whole stands with nothing but these sacks decorating and covering every kind of furniture; stools, sofas, beds, cushions, bolsters, bags aprons, etc., and I stopped using them as many people found that although they looked attractive and fresh, the weave was often too loose and covers sagged and creased with frequent use.
Recently I have come across a dealer who has an amazing supply of heavy hemp from Russia, and these cloths are much more satisfactory for soft furnishing - the weave is heavy and close and the decoration is generally in softer shades than the Hungarian and Romanian, and I am finding that they blend so much better with existing colour schemes, whether traditional with antiques or modern with blonde and sleek furnishings. I have explained before now that the stripes were a sort of bar code by which the empty flour sacks were returned from the flour mill to the correct farm or village - the stripes said it all!
They are cheap enough, I sell mine for £45 each plus postage and 2 or 3 will do an armchair (the real cost is in the making up, of course) They do not show marks and are easy to sponge or have dry cleaned by a professional. I always have armcaps for all my own chairs which can be washed and changed as needed.