Burlap Fabric: Its History, Properties, and Uses

Burlap might be an unfamiliar term for you, but you may have most definitely heard of jute or hessian. They are all products made from the jute plant. Burlap is a material woven from the skins of plants known to contain strong fibers. When the fibers are manufactured, they are used to make products such as ropes, rugs, etc., and for sewing and crafting. 

You might know Burlap fabric as the fabric used as sacking material. The fabric is currently gaining traction as an eco-friendly material for home and garden use.

Burlap Fabrics Explained

Burlap Fabric

Burlap is a rough, loosely-woven high-strength fabric made from jute plant or sisal fibers. It can also be combined with other vegetable fibers to make ropes and nets.

The most common burlap products are sacks, which can store rice, potatoes, etc.

Flax and Hemp can also be used to make this fabric. The fabric is also known as Hessian in many countries like the US, Canada, and Crocus in Jamaica. Burlap usually comes in brown or natural color, although it can be dyed to any color of your choice.

Burlap has always been known as a coarse fabric. However, recently it is now used in a refined state, jute, which can be used to make items such as bags.

Some Burlap Fabric Properties

Various properties can help you identify burlap fabric when you see one. Some of them include the following;

  • Strength

The tensile strength and resistance of the burlap fabric is one of the properties that make it stand out. This feature makes it durable, withstanding stress and time because of the rigid construction of the burlap fibers.

  • Weather resistance

You can wet and dry burlap fabric without fear of losing strength. So, it is  suitable for areas with harsh weather conditions since it can withstand extreme weather elements.

  • Versatility

Burlap can be used to make various products like bags and clothing since it comes in different lengths, construction, etc.

  • Low cost

In addition to its other interesting features, the burlap fabric is cheap to produce and eco-friendly.

Burlap Fabrics Production Process

Burlap Fabric

Manufacturing Burlap fabric starts with growing the jute plant found in West India and East Pakistan, where it finds its most suitable climate to grow.

Classified by its color, we have three types of burlap (jute), namely, the white from Corchorus capsularis (lighter and less durable than others). Tossa from Corchorus olitorius is the main type and is more fibrous and brown than the others. Mesta (a combination of white and Tossa jute) and jute cuttings (unwanted and roughest part of the jute plant, but can be used to make rudimentary textiles).

When the jute plants begin to shed their leaves, it means that they are ready for harvest, and they are cut. The jute fibers are obtained from the stalk’s inner stem and outer skin.

The cut stems are gathered and steeped or soaked in water. And when it becomes soft, the tissues are removed from its skin and used to make small bundles.

The process of removing the tissues from the stem and skin of the jute stalk is called retting. This process makes the stalks softer and makes it easier to separate the fibrous material from the unproductive material using the hands.

The fibers are washed and sundried, ready for transport to the mill, where they will be further processed. Here, fiber blending and yarn creation convert the strips into burlap. The yarn created is treated and thinned, then woven and twisted into the burlap fabric.

In the mill, the jute strips are processed into burlap fabric that you can purchase from a store. The mill will group the fibers by strength, color, thickness, etc., and this is how they will be bundled into long strings to be blended. It is then treated and pressed to reduce its largeness, then thinned again.

The yarns now undergo roving, where the fibers are twisted and spun. The yarns can be subjected to several chemical processes to make them water or fire-resistant.

After this, a finished yarn is formed, and depending on the buyer’s choice; it remains in spools, flat textiles, or cops of yarn.

Jute yarn can also be made using automated machines, although most communities that produce jute prefer spinning wheels.

Jute fabric that will be made into clothing will undergo softening techniques. However, jute fabric produced for industrial use remains in its original form.

Burlap Fabrics Over The Years

Burlap or Hessian fabric was first exported from India in the early 19th century, where it was used as a backing for rugs, linoleum, etc. It is said that jute has been grown for at least 5,000 years in India for textile purposes.

In Jamaica and some parts of the Caribbean, where they call it Crocus, slave workers or laborers who didn’t have access to suitable clothes had to do with burlap clothing that they made from roughly hewn jute sacking to protect themselves from the heat and dust.

While in Europe, where it is primarily known as Hessian, Burlap fabric has a good history in Germany, where it was called “Hessian” from the word “Hesse.”

The Germans at this time were mercenaries carrying out the bidding of the King of England against American rebels and used the fabric to make clothing for themselves. 

Varieties of Burlap Fabric

There are different types of burlap fabric available, and their weave differs, some may be thick and more open than others.

Here are types of burlap fabric classified by their weave;

  • Laminated, colored burlap fabric

This type of burlap features a rough weave with a laminated surface. It is usually used as an added fabric to other materials. The laminate (polyethylene) on the surface of the burlap fabric is used to prevent the fabric from easily getting wet.

  • Extra-wide fire retardant burlap

This burlap fabric is usually used to protect market stalls from rain and tables during events as decoration. The fabric is a very good choice for events and public usage since it is coated with a fire-retardant coating.

  • Bituminised burlap

As the name suggests, this burlap fabric has a rough open weave with bitumen to laminate the surface for a watertight cover or surface.

The bitumen coat is resistant to harsh weather elements and is best used outdoors.

Other burlap fabric types include equinox faux fabric, a kind of manufactured burlap good for making tableware. Polyester faux burlap is another burlap mixed with other fibers like polyester, and it is usually used for home decorations. There’s also synthetic burlap. 

How Much Does Burlap Fabric Cost Per Yard?

Burlap fabric is affordable compared to some synthetic fabrics and one of the least expensive textiles in the world, though the artisan forms of jute can be costly. The fabric usually costs between $10-80 per yard. 

It would be best if you considered properties like the color and texture of the burlap fabric to be certain that you’re going for an original burlap fabric.

There are a variety of jute fabrics at different prices and made from 100% jute fibers. Depending on your plan for the burlap fabric, any burlap fabric with an increased weight has a tighter weave and vice versa.

How Burlap Fabric Is Used 

Burlap fabric can be used for home décor, art and crafts, agriculture, and many more.

Various other applications of burlap fabric include emergency flood response, art, building material, beekeeping, flooring applications, etc.

  • Storage material 

This fabric can be used to make gunny sacks to ship goods like cotton, wool, and agricultural products to other countries. Since the fabric is breathable, it reduces the risk of spoilage or condensation.

The fabric can also withstand rough handling, which may occur in transit, since it can help trap moisture.

  • Clothing and textiles

Burlap fabric is not commonly used to make clothing because of its tough texture. However, in religious cases like mortification of the flesh where believers wear a “hair shirt” or sackcloth on Ash Wednesday. During the Great Depression in the US, where clothes were scarce in the rural parts of the country, most farming families wore clothing made with burlap fabric.

Nowadays, burlap fabric is used to make pullovers, jackets, sweaters, etc., because they are not usually in direct contact with the skin.

  • Home Accessories

Some other items that burlap fabric can be used to make include table mats, curtains, gift bags, ribbons and bows, wreaths, upholstery, wrappers, pot plant covers, wall hangings, etc.

  • Construction purposes 

Burlap fabric can also be used in the construction industry for setting cement and concrete. 

How To Properly Care For Burlap Fabrics

Caring for your burlap fabric is easy if you follow simple instructions. The texture and tensile strength of burlap make it seem like it can withstand almost anything, but the truth is that it does not deal with moisture perfectly. 

  • Hot water may shrink the burlap fabric, so warm, cold, or room temperature water is recommended with a mild detergent. 
  • Do not leave it in water to soak. Wet burlap left for a long time may start to unravel, and damp jute may begin to grow mold, so it is important to dry the material once it comes in contact with water.
  • The burlap fabric should be air dried, but not directly under sunlight as it tends to yellow when exposed to direct sunlight. Tumble drying them on low heat is another option. But it’s preferable to air dry them. 
  • If burlap needs to be ironed, you can iron it while still damp. However, stretch the fabric before ironing to shape the material to its original state.
  • To avoid wrinkles or creases on your burlap material, roll it and keep it away in a dry place.

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