Category Archives: What is Burlap

10 Fun Facts about Burlap

Today, I thought I would share with you some little know but interesting facts about Burlap.
  1.   It originated from India which it was used for rope and paper production
  2.  The English brought it to Britain where the Scottish first spun it into yarn
  3. Bangladesh and India are the worlds largest producers of Burlap, closely followed by China, Myanmar, Brazil and Thailand
  4. Burlap was traditionally used as backing for carpet and linoleum
  5. Burlap is resistant to condensation and that is why it is used as shipping sacks for produce
  6. Burlap’s durable qualities make it suitable for varied uses such as erosion protection, sandbags, seedling protection and weed matting
  7. Burlap is often used in the furniture industry to give support inside couches and chairs
  8. Burlap was commonly used to camouflage helmets in World War II
  9.  Burlap is often used as a mask in Horror movies
  10.  Burlap is now very popular in interior design.

I would love to hear any quirky facts about Burlap that you may know. Please leave me a comment if you know if any other Burlap trivia.

The History and Origin of Burlap

Burlap is a fabric with a rich history. Whilst it is unknown where the name Burlap came from, Hessian, as it is otherwise known, is said to have originated from Germany. The soldiers from a state in Germany called Hesse wore uniforms made from Burlap. And as such were known as Hessians – hence where the name Hessian came from.
Burlap is made from the fibers of the jute plant. Originating from India, where it was used for rope, it was the English that brought the plants back to Britain in the late 1700’s. It was in Scotland where it was first spun into yarn.
Soon India were running their own looms and produced Burlap cloth themselves and exported it to the rest of the world. More recently Pakistan and Bangladesh have also become major producers and exporters of Burlap.
In World War II Burlap was a popular material for camouflage on helmets. Burlap has also worked its way into popular culture with many artists using Hessian as a substitute for canvas, and it’s presence in many horror films as a mask.
You can see the humble Burlap sack is not so humble; it has a very rich history and evolved to become a significant part of our everyday life. These days Burlap is more readily known for it’s role as a protective sack for transportation of raw produce and it’s every growing presence in the interior design world.
So next time you see a piece of Burlap, spare a thought for it’s ancestors who have played such a critical role in our history.

Prevent Burlap from Shedding – a Case Study

Here are some tips on how to prevent Burlap from shedding and the print from fading when sewing and crafting with Burlap Sacks.

One of the questions I most frequently get asked is how to wash Burlap and prevent shedding and fading of the print. So I thought I would do a little case study to explain the process.

Firstly, I never wash my Burlap sacks prior to sewing with them. Often they have been cut open and the loose threads will shed and go everywhere. If you are a clean freak, and just can’t possibly stand the thought of ‘dirty Burlap sacks’ in your craft room, then I recommend hand washing only. Put some detergent and warm water in a tub and then dunk each sack into the water. Swish it around and then rinse it under a tap to remove the detergent, and hang it on the line. If you wring it out, be prepared to iron, iron, iron to get it flat again. The great thing about Burlap is the loose weave so even if you don’t wring it out and just hang it on the line it should still dry in a couple of hours.

That said, let’s now assume you take my advice and don’t wash prior to sewing. Move straight on to making up your item and ensuring you secure all loose edges.

So I have taken the example of this cushion cover I made from a Burlap Sack. I sewed it up and then went ahead and washed it.

Before washing

Next step was to heat set the ink. The branding on the sacks is not designed to be permanent, and that is the roulette of sewing with Burlap. Some inks will bind really well to the Burlap and will be there forever, others will wash out. You need to accept this.

However, to give you ink the best chance of surviving the washing process, it is nest to heat set teh ink first. To this I covered the printed area with a sheet of baking paper and then using a hot iron, iron over the top of the baking paper for about 10 seconds on each spot.

Once you have heat set the inks, place the item into an old pillow case and secure the top with a rubber band. Put it in the washing machine on a cold cycle with detergent (no bleach).

When the wash is complete undo the rubber band and pull out your Burlap item. All it to dry flat and then iron it again to get it flat.

I found that my pillow case actual had no shedding. This is because all the raw edges were secured prior to washing. As you can see there are no loose fibres inside the pillow slip when I removed the Burlap.

The inside of the pillow case once I removed mu cushion cover

The ink did fade a bit, but I think that just adds to the worn vintage feel, see the before and after photos below (a bit more iron ing required for the after photo!).

Before
After

So I hope this has helped ‘shed’ (excuse the pun) some more light on the process of washing Burlap!

I would love to hear any tips or experiences you have had washing Burlap.

Seek and You Shall Find – Sourcing Burlap

Burlap is one of the most affordable sewing fabrics. Burlap can be purchased in most fabric stores by the metre. It usually comes in extra wide rolls and is very affordable. It also comes in a range of colours, where the manufacturer has dyed the natural hessian in to bright and vibrant colours. This is important to keep in mind as not all Burlap sewing and craft projects have to have the natural Burlap colouring. In fact Burlap can be quite striking when the coloured versions are used.

But one of my favourite sources for Burlap is to recycle Burlap Bags. These bags have a lovely worn in quality to them and have the added bonus of making me feel that I am doing my part for the environment. Many manufacturers who purchase food products from primary producers will receive their goods in Burlap Bags. Once the primary produce is removed from the bag the Burlap bags are often discarded as a waste product. If you are interested in sewing or crafting with Burlap I recommend you approach a manufacturer in your local area who receives their primary produce in Burlap Bags, and ask them if you may have some or offer to purchase them off them. More often than not they will be happy for you to take them off their hands as it only costs them money to dispose of them.

I source mine from a local coffee roaster, this provides me with a variety of different markings and stamps on the bag from different parts of the globe which also adds a lovely dimension to my projects. Sometimes I feature the different stamps in the project, other times I just turn the bag inside out for a plain Burlap finish. With the popularity of coffee these days, I think most people will have a coffee roaster within driving distance from their home.

If you can’t manage to source free Burlap bags locally you can also try Ebay. I have often listed excess bags on Ebay and managed to meet many creative and talented people who have bought them to turn into wonderful creations. I will feature some of them in other blog posts. Local trading posts may also have listings for Burlap or Hessian Bags.

Worst case head off to your local fabric store and purchase it by the metre. Whichever way you procure it, you will find that Burlap is an economical material for crafting and sewing. Not to mention it adds such a lovely rustic charm to your finished projects.

Burlap Shearers Moccasins

The Petting Zoo

I was surprised to learn recently of Burlap being used for shoes. Whilst still at the local country show held in Brisbane – the Ekka, we went to the Petting Zoo for the boys to feed and cuddle the Baby Animals. Upon exiting the petting zoo we ended up at a stage decorated with Burlap sacks, so of course it immediately caught my eye!

Shearing Presentation Stage


We noticed the presentation was about to start so we decided to sit down and rest out feet for a while. The presentation was about wool and the shearing industry. A shearer came on stage and demonstrated how to shear a sheep and prepare the fleece for bailing. The children were quite enthralled with the whole process.

But what I found most interesting was that shearers wear a special type of footwear called a ‘Shearer’s Moccasin’. These are made out of soft leather and help the shearer to slide across the ‘boards’ of the shearing shed floor. In days gone by, shearers would make these themselves out of burlap sacks. They would cut up the wool bales and make them into moccasins so they could move around the shed floor easier. I am constantly surprised the history and versatility of the humble Burlap Sack. So many uses and so little credit!

Explaining the History of Shearers Moccasins


P.S. If any of you happen to have a photo of any old Shearer’s moccasin’s made from Burlap I would love to see it.

Preparing Burlap for Sewing and Crafting

When I got my first delivery of Burlap coffee sacks, I was so excited to get sewing straight away, that I thought I must prewash and press my fabric, as I do for every other fabric, and get sewing. So I enthusiastically threw all the sacks in the washing machine and pressed ‘start’. An hour later I went to retrieve my new fabrics and found a spun web of burlap fibres and the twisted remnants of my prior sacks. For weeks I was still retrieving fibres from the washing machine with each wash. So learn from my experience and never put your burlap sacks in the washing machine.It is very important to wash the sacks prior to using them for craft and sewing projects. Burlap bags may contain remnants of their original contents, dirt, dust and most concerning remnants of pesticides and fertilisers that may have come in contact with the sacks. So when you first get your burlap sacks hand wash them delicately in warm soapy water, rinse in cold water and then hang out to dry. Once dry, iron the sacks and fold and store until ready to use.If you then use the sacks for a sewing project, during which you secure all the loose ends and cut edges, it is perfectly fine to put your finished item in the washing machine. As long as you’ve secured all the loose threads there will be no opportunity for the Burlap to fray. For example if you make a cushion cover this would be perfectly ok to put in the washing machine. It is just raw cut burlap pieces that should not be put in a washing machine as it will fray very easily. This characteristic does have a good side, and can be used to your advantage on certain projects, and will become a trait of Burlap that you love. But in the meantime to prevent destroying your washing machine only wash finished burlap pieces with no raw edges in it.

Burlap vs Hessian vs Jute – What’s the difference?

When I first started working with Burlap (or Hessian as we call it here in Australia), I was bombarded and confused by terms such as Hessian, Burlap and Jute. They seemed to be used interchangably, but I wasn’t sure what the exact difference was. So I went to a reliable source in our digital world – Wikipedia.Wikipedia.com defines Hessian as follows: 

Hessian

(play /ˈhɛsi.ən/), or burlap in the US, is a woven fabric usually made from skin of the jute plant or sisal fibres, or may be combined with other vegetable fibres to make rope, nets, and similar products. Gunny cloth is similar.

Hessian, a dense woven fabric, has been historically produced as a coarse fabric, but more recently it is being used in a refined state known simply as jute as an ecofriendly material for bags, rugs, and other products.

The name “burlap” appears to be of unknown origin. The name “hessian” is attributed to the use of the fabric, initially, as part of the uniform of soldiers from the German state of Hessen who were called “Hessians.”

So it turns out they are all interchangable. I will refer to it as Burlap in this Blog, however if you come across jute or hessian cloth, rest assured it will be perfect or any of these projects.