What is Osnaburg?

I was pretty stoked recently when I found osnaburg fabric at Walmart, of all places.  I bought what was left on the bolt, dreaming of all the awesome interlinings and buckram I was going to make from it, specifically for Mr.C’s Regency items.

I posted my gleeful discovery on Facebook, where a goodly number of you asked, “what IS osnaburg?” So I shall answer that question here.

Osnaburg is a cheap, coarse fabric originally named for the city of Osnabrück, Germany.  In the 18th century, it was made from flax (linen) fibers.  In the 19th century it was made from cotton.

18th century osnaburgs were used for working class and slave clothing, as the textile was cheap and plentiful.  It also makes excellent linings and inerlinings, particularly if glazed or stiffened with sizing or glue.

In the 19th century, the definition of osnaburg changed to a cotton textile, which it remains today.  These osnaburgs are made from waste cotton mixed with a low-grade cotton.  They were still used for lower and working-class clothing, as well as items like feed sacks, mattress covers and sheeting, shoe linings, backings of various items, etc.

How do you use osnaburg in historical costuming?

For 18th century lower, working, and slave class representations where historical accuracy is key, use coarse, unbleached linens – W.M. Booth Draper has a wide variety here for around $13/yard. Burnley & Trowbridge also carry osnaburg for $11/yard.

For 19th century lower, working, and slave class representations, use the cotton stuff (thought linen is still just fine, of course).  I got mine at Walmart, but you can find it at any fabric store that sells quilting cotton, or online.  I paid less than $3/yard; JoAnns has it for around $4/yard.

For interlining and stiffening items of any period, that choice is yours.  I spend my money on the fabric that shows, so a cotton osnaburg interlining used on an 18th century item doesn’t bother me at all, but to each her own.

Have fun!


  • AuntieNan

    March 4, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    Thanks for this! When I was a teen, and my mom was sewing me a box full of lovely (BUT USELESS) dresses to wear to college (DRESSES? for a theater major… sigh) she found what was called "kettle cloth" to make some miniskirts. It was cute, washable and pretty damn indestructible. (Not a great choice for pants, as it was ROUGH, and unless you needed some massive exfoliation along your inner thighs, something to avoid.) Have you ever heard of "kettle cloth"? and might it be just another form of Osnaburg? I think it had more than a smidgen of poly, as it made the iron stutter. Didn't really need to be ironed of course, but we did things by the book…
    Nancy N

    • Joan K

      July 12, 2014 at 3:28 PM

      Kettle cloth was tighter weave, more like a light version of sail cloth with a bit more nubby finish. I worked in a fabric store and we sold a ton of it. Also made indestructible stuff out of kettle cloth for my kids when they were little.

  • Pauline

    March 15, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    I believe this is what we call "saca alvejada" in portuguese. It was in fact used for slave clothing, specially in the big farms, during 18th and 19th century. Today, unfortunately, this fabric comes only in small widths, which does not help me at all! I have some newspaper articles from 19th century about fugitive slaves where they describe the clothes they could be found wearing, since these kind of fabric was slave-exclusive in Brazil, at last. Even being poor, free people would avoid fabrics like these because of the visual association with slavery. Who said fashion history is futile?

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