Burlap is a woven cloth created from jute, hemp or flax fibers. These plants are not known for their silky or cottony textures, so the result is a coarse fabric with a large weave pattern and natural beige coloring. Burlap is often used to form storage bags for grains, potatoes and other bulky materials. These bags can be imprinted with rudimentary logos or trademarks to help identify their contents. The actual meaning of the word is a bit of a mystery, but some sources also refer to it as Hessian cloth.
Cloth made of burlap is also used in the formation of linoleum floor covering. Much like steel rebar in concrete, it reinforces the linoleum and gives it some linear structure. A form of this material may also be found in the underside of carpeting, providing a base for the individual fibers. Some designers may also use burlap panels as wall coverings, since they can hold paint and have distinctive textures.
Burlap has not received quite the same level of respect as its cousin canvas, but it can be used for similar purposes. Tote bags made of this fabric often replace paper or plastic as an ecological choice for grocery packing. Burlap is also biodegradable, which means all of those potato and apple sacks should eventually disintegrate without harm to the environment. Using jute and hemp fibers also keeps these alternative industries economically viable.
Some attempts have been made over the years to use burlap for inexpensive clothing and other consumer products, but results have been variable. Fabric made from hemp fibers is still too coarse for general comfort. Consumers are far more likely to use this material for tablecloths, decorative throw rugs or other applications. Burlap sacks often contain interesting lithographic images, much like packing crates. These can be used to create decorative tapestries or lampshades with the right combination of craft tools and skills.