It will be two years next month when I started sewing with burlap. I remember seeing a burlap sack in the coffee shop and thinking, hey maybe I can make something out of this. At the time, I was looking for anything to get me back into sewing. I was near the end of wedding planning and ready to just move on with everything and get back to "normal". Over time, I have learned about how to work with burlap fabric, specifically with some of it's unusual characteristics that aren't found in most traditional sewing fabrics. I wrote a few tips that I posted a while back here. Although I've learned how to sew with it, I never had done research to learn more about where the fabric originated and some of the history around it's use. I've managed to dip my toe into a bit of the background around burlap which I'll be sharing today.
Burlap is a natural fabric, which I knew about. It's made from plant fibers often from a jute plant. Burlap is a modern term for the fabric woven from the jute plant, and most people use the term jute interchangeably with burlap. Jute is grown in tropical areas (often southeast Asia) during the summer months and is known for it's golden color. It is often woven with other plant fibers, so textiles made with the jute fiber can taken on many different weights and textures. The good news is that burlap/jute is totally biodegradable and thus an eco-friendly fabric.
The most common use for burlap fabric is for containment and transportation. Jute fibers are woven into a dense cloth which is then sewn into a sack that is used for many things, from covering plant roots to transporting green coffee beans. Of course, I am most interested in the coffee bean utility since that's the previous life of the burlap sacks used to create the Grounds collection bags. I've read that the beans are stored using burlap sacks because the weave allows for air to pass in and out, helping to avoid mold and other conditions that may arise from being transported in an airtight container. Only green coffee beans are shipped in burlap sacks. Once the beans are roasted, they are then transferred to airtight containers so that they retain their new flavor and aromas.
Aside from uses as sackcloths, burlap is used in a variety of other utilities including the creation of sandbags, clothing, art canvases, rope, rugs, and of course the more modern use in crafting. It's not very typical to see burlap clothing since the fabric is very heavy and tends to be a bit wiry. But, it's undeniable how durable the fibers are. That's why it's so often used in these types of applications, where a heavy load is being transported.
There's a lot more out there if you're interested in doing further research. You can find a few good resources here, here, and here. I love that I get to recycle and reuse the burlap coffee sacks and create new and interesting designs from their original markings. The fact that the fabric is natural and still has it's utility to durably hold items means that it's a great match for being repurposed into totes, purses, and pouches.
I hope you enjoyed this bit of background on burlap fabric. It certainly has made me look at the fabric in a new light and I hope it has done the same for you!