All About Grasscloth

Grasscloth is a versatile, naturally-sourced wallcovering that adds texture and life to a space. Available in tons of colors, materials, and weaves, grasscloth is a broad term for many style options. Whether you want to add rustic charm or refined elegance to a room, grasscloth can do it all.

What’s It Made Out Of?

Grasscloth is created by weaving together natural fibers that have been sourced from various plants, many of which you’ve probably heard of. There’s hemp grasscloth, which obviously comes from the cannabis plant. If you prefer an abaca grasscloth, chances are that it came from a banana tree in the Philippines. And sisal grasscloth, which you’ve probably more commonly seen in the form of rugs, comes from the agave plant.

Four very different grasscloth weaves from Phillip Jeffries, sourced from different plants

Wallpaper company twenty2 put together this awesome slideshow that details the whole process, from harvesting to dying to weaving.

The woven fibers are attached to a rice paper backing using thin grass or cotton threads. The combination of natural fibers on a paper backing creates a final product that’s very beautiful—but also very delicate. We should talk about where it is and isn’t a good idea to use grasscloth.

Where Can I Use Grasscloth?

Grasscloth is best suited for places where it is least likely to get wet or really be touched by anything at all. That’s why you see it most often in living rooms and bedrooms. I love a good grasscloth in a living room because it can add warmth and interest without overwhelming it like a graphic print might do. And its simplicity really makes artwork and furniture pop.

Grasscloth in the living room adds a touch of warmth (Thibaut T13039 Carolina Raffia in Straw)

You can use grasscloth in a bathroom, if you can keep it from getting wet. In a powder room, consider wallpapering just the top half of the walls. You can achieve this look by adding a chair rail (piece of wood trim that is placed horizontally around the perimeter of a room) and painting below it and wallpapering above it. Or install wainscoting (wood paneling that covers the bottom portion of a wall) and wallpapering above that. This will help keep it out of the toilet or sink splash zone.

An example of a wallpaper above wainscoting (Thibaut T13172 Jelly Fish Bloom in Coral and Turquoise)

In a full bathroom, only use grasscloth if you have an amazing fan/ventilation system. If after a shower you notice a lot of lingering moisture on the walls, grasscloth is a no-go. That moisture will settle into the fibers, which over time will lead to discoloration, bubbling, and even the growth of mold and fungus!

I’d also strongly recommend against grasscloth in high-traffic spaces, like hallways, entries, and stairways. In my old condo, I noticed after a year of living there that the bottom foot or so of the walls in the entryway was filthy. (I’m gross, I know. In my defense it was a dark, windowless entry.) Every time we walked in with dirty shoes or wet coats, those particles splashed everywhere without my realizing.

We tend to bump against or put our hands on the walls in these types of areas. The friction from those movements can cause the grasscloth fibers to break and fray, and oil buildup from our hands can leave stains.

Consider a few other critical factors when deciding on a wallpaper.

Do you have cats? If the answer is yes, avoid grasscloth. It’s like a full wall scratching post, and I’ve seen clients’ cats go to town on their $2000 purchase.

Do you have young kids? I wouldn’t outright say no to grasscloth, but keep in mind that any juice spill, any little dirty handprint, any crayon mural will cause irreversible damage.

What Does Grasscloth Look Like?

The classic grasscloth weaves tend to be chunky and knotty, with irregular fiber thickness and colors. These weaves create a more rustic, coastal, or tropical look.

A chunky weave with knots and irregularities creates a relaxed vibe (Donghia Y0392-0AB Madagascar Grand)

On the other end of the spectrum, a very tight and uniform weave lends itself well to an elegant and polished design style.

A tightly woven grasscloth without any knots creates a sophisticated look (Schumacher 5004705 Haruki Sisal in Robin’s Egg)

If you’re after more of a glam look, the fibers can be woven with metallic threads throughout. Or instead of a rice paper backing, look for options with a metallic paper backing so that you will get small pops of sparkle shining through the grass.

The metallic background shines through this weave (Phillip Jeffries 5223 Glam Grass in Shanghai Night)

Keep in mind that because we are dealing with natural materials that don’t follow a regularly repeating pattern, two strips of grasscloth side-by-side will not match up. Because of this, you will almost always have very visible seams when installing grasscloth. This is not a defect but actually a part of the charm of grasscloth.

Note the visible seams. This is not a defect but a classic feature of grasscloth that highlights its naturally random quality. (Thibaut T5046 Hakka Grass in Aqua)

If you are not a fan of the visible seams, check out the Phillip Jeffries line of grasscloth called Simply Seamless. By using patterns such as herringbones and chevrons or weaves that have more of a vertical feel, they’ve perfected the art and science of minimizing and hiding seams.

Example of Simply Seamless grasscloth. This pattern, Driftwood, has a busy randomness that hides the seams. (Phillip Jeffries 1697 Driftwood in Natural)

Not all grasscloths are plain. Lots of brands make patterned options as well by printing a design on top of a grasscloth base.

Sumptuous Greek-key print over a sisal grasscloth (Schumacher 5008932 Octavia Sisal in Peacock)
Faux Grasscloth

If you’ve gotten through this whole article because you love grasscloth so much but you’re now realizing that it might not be the best option for your situation, I have some good news for you. Many brands that make grasscloth also make faux grasscloth, which is actually made out of vinyl.

I know the word vinyl with regards to materials often strikes fear in people, conjuring images of old diner booth cushions full of crinkles and cracks. But over the past several years, wallpaper manufacturers have steadily improved their vinyl techniques to fine-tune the appearance of faux grasscloth.

In the five years I was working for a wallpaper retailer, my feelings on faux grasscloth went from “It looks like cheap plastic fakeness” to “Okay, that’s not a bad likeness” to “I can’t tell which one is the real grasscloth.” Phillip Jeffries and Thibaut are two companies leading the pack in faux grasscloth design.

Phew! That was a lot of information. If you still find yourself with questions or thoughts about grasscloth, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!

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