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What Is Burlap Made Of? Uses, How Its Made, FAQs & More

What Is Burlap Made Of? Uses, How Its Made, FAQs & More

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Burlap is a versatile material that has been utilized by various cultures across the world for centuries. Its widespread use in numerous applications like sack bags, upholstery, decor, gardening, and even fashion is a testament to its durability, sustainability, and distinctive aesthetics.

But what makes burlap so unique, and what is this robust fabric really made of?

To answer these questions, we must first delve into the composition and manufacturing process of this popular material.

What Is Burlap Made Of?

Burlap is a woven fabric made from jute fibers. Jute is a natural fiber that is obtained from the stems of the jute plant. The jute plant is a tropical plant that is grown in many countries, including India, Bangladesh, and China.

Raw jute fiber hanging on the bridge, under the sun for drying. Jute cultivation in Assam, India
John Sarkar / – Raw jute fiber hanging on the bridge, under the sun for drying. Jute cultivation in Assam, India

Burlap is a durable and versatile fabric that is often used in a variety of applications. It is a natural and sustainable material that is biodegradable.

In addition to jute, burlap can also be made from other natural fibers, such as hemp and flax. However, jute is the most common fiber used to make burlap.

Here are some of the properties of burlap:

  • Coarse and heavy
  • Durable and versatile
  • Natural and sustainable
  • Biodegradable

How is Burlap Made?

The stalks of the Jute plant are tied together in bundles and soaked in water, a process known as retting.
Mr. Mixers Stock / – The stalks of the Jute plant are tied together in bundles and soaked in water, a process known as retting.

Understanding what burlap is made of requires a look at how it’s manufactured. The production process involves several stages, including harvesting, retting, stripping, and spinning.

The jute plant is typically ready for harvesting about 120 to 150 days after sowing. Once harvested, the stalks of the plant are tied together in bundles and soaked in water, a process known as “retting.”

Retting is a crucial stage in burlap production, where the plant bundles are soaked in water for about 10-20 days. This process allows for the decomposition of the plant’s tissues, which in turn, helps separate the fibrous material from the stem.

After retting, the fibers are stripped from the stalks, washed to remove any remaining plant matter, and then dried. The dried jute fibers are then spun into coarse threads, ready for weaving into burlap.

How Is Burlap Used?

Burlap’s unique characteristics lend it to a diverse array of applications, from the practical to the aesthetic, across multiple industries.

In gardening and landscaping, for instance, the fabric’s breathability and water resistance make it perfect for protecting plant roots and seeds. It can also be used to control erosion or as a natural weed barrier, further demonstrating its versatility.

Beyond the garden, the rustic charm of burlap has seen it rise in popularity among DIY enthusiasts and crafters. It has been used to create everything from table runners and placemats to wall hangings, flower pot covers, and even decorative pillows.

These decorative uses have expanded beyond homes, often featuring in events with a rustic or vintage theme. Its natural aesthetic makes it ideal for creating event decor, such as table runners, banners, chair covers, and favor bags.

Three hearts made from burlap and decorated and used for hanging on a wall for home decor
Vladimir Prusakov/

In addition to these more creative uses, burlap also serves practical functions in industries such as agriculture and construction. Burlap bags have been a staple for storing and transporting agricultural products like potatoes, coffee beans, and rice.

In construction, burlap is used for curing concrete. The fabric retains water and keeps the concrete moist, which helps it harden properly.

While not traditionally associated with high fashion, burlap is increasingly used in the fashion industry due to its sustainability. From handbags to shoes and even clothing items, designers are experimenting with this versatile material in their creations.

4 Reasons Why Burlap is Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable

The environmental impact and sustainability of a material have become pivotal considerations in contemporary times.

As a fabric derived from natural plant fibers, burlap presents a compelling case study in environmental sustainability.

1. Low-Input Farming

Jute is a relatively low-maintenance crop. It grows well in tropical regions with high humidity and rainfall, negating the need for extensive irrigation systems.

Furthermore, the jute plant is largely resistant to pests and diseases, reducing the need for synthetic pesticides and promoting a healthier soil ecosystem. The low-input farming associated with jute contributes to the sustainable nature of burlap.

2. Biodegradability and Compostability

Burlap is entirely biodegradable and compostable. Once discarded, it decomposes naturally without leaving behind any harmful residues, unlike synthetic fabrics like polyester which can take hundreds of years to degrade and release microplastics in the process.

When composted, burlap can even enrich the soil with organic matter, returning valuable nutrients back to the earth.

3. Durability and Reusability

Despite its biodegradability, burlap is a robust material known for its durability. This combination of strength and environmental compatibility makes it an ideal choice for reusable items such as shopping bags or storage sacks, reducing the need for single-use plastic alternatives.

Burlap sack holding potatoes with a white background
Irina Gutyryak/

4. Burlap’s Place in a Circular Economy

A circular economy aims to minimize waste and make the most of resources. This regenerative approach stands in stark contrast to the traditional linear economy, which follows a ‘take-make-dispose’ step.

Burlap, with its renewability, reusability, and ability to break down into harmless compounds, fits perfectly within the circular economy model.

Burlap FAQs

Can Burlap Be Washed?

Yes, but with care. Burlap can be gently hand-washed with mild soap and warm water, then rinsed and laid flat to dry. Avoid wringing out the fabric as it can distort its shape. Also, remember that burlap can shrink, so it is not recommended to machine wash or dry.

Can Burlap Be Dyed?

Absolutely. Burlap can be dyed in a variety of colors. However, due to its coarse texture, the fabric might not take up the dye evenly. Always test a small piece first before dyeing the entire material.

Is Burlap Suitable For Outdoor Use?

Yes, burlap can be used outdoors. Its durable nature and resistance to weather conditions make it ideal for uses such as garden shading, protection of plants from frost, and even outdoor decor.

However, it should be noted that while burlap is resistant to weather, it can still degrade over time with continuous exposure to harsh elements.

How Long Does Burlap Last?

The lifespan of burlap varies depending on how it is used. For indoor crafts or decor, it can last for many years with proper care. However, when used outdoors for garden or agricultural purposes, its lifespan can be considerably shorter due to exposure to the elements.

Despite this, the natural biodegradability of burlap is seen as a positive aspect, allowing it to compost naturally over time.