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Burlap: The History of This Eco-Friendly Fabric 

Burlap: The History of This Eco-Friendly Fabric

Known for its toughness and durability, burlap goes by many names around the globe, such as Hessian, crocus, or jute. 

It was the people of ancient India who first discovered the usefulness of the jute plant and its fibers. They used it for making rope and paper. It wasn't exported until the 1790s. English traders exported 100 tons of it in 1793 and its many uses started to become well-known.

Dundee, Scotland and Jute's German Role in Burlap

After the English started exporting jute, it's popularity skyrocketed. The first jute mill to open was near Calcutta, India, in 1855. 

In the next few years, the jute industry made its way to Dundee, Scotland. There, they discovered that it could be spun into a tough yarn. This allowed Dundee to become the center for spinning large quantities of jute yarn and fabric. This industry allowed this small village to grow and thrive. By 1869, Dundee was home to five jute mills with a total of 950 looms. 

By 1910, the number of mills in Dundee had grown to 38, with over 30,000 looms turning out jute yarn and cloth at stunning rates. In that year, the town was able to produce over 1 billion yards of cloth. That yardage produced more than 450 million bags made of this durable fabric. 

By the end of the 1800s, jute had become a much sought after commodity around the world in places like Russia, Italy, Germany, and the Americas. 

Originally, India was the only supplier of jute to the entire world. When the British separated India first from Pakistan, then from Bangladesh, the jute production in those areas went with them. India had to start using other areas of the country to produce the jute plant. Due to jute's continuing popularity today, it's grown in parts of India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Thailand, and Myanmar. 

Due to its rough fibers, jute is not popular with clothing makers. However, the German army has used it for clothing German soldiers in the past. In particular, soldiers from the German region of Hesse had uniforms made from jute fabric. This is why one of its often referred names is Hessian. 

Jute in Today's World 

In today's global economy, jute remains a popular commodity. It's mainly used in three manufacturing areas: 

  • Agricultural Packaging - Sacks made from jute fibers are extremely strong and durable, making them the perfect choice for carrying cement, grain. coffee beans and more.
  • Sandbags - Bags filled with sand are useful for building temporary embankments with the intent of diverting flood waters.
  • Nursery & Horticulture - The same canvas used for art work also makes it useful as protection from the elements, especially rain and hail.


Jute plant fiber has a multitude of uses due to its strength, versatility and durability. Its historic roots in the nursery and industrial industries and its proven longevity ensures the jute industry will continue going strong for the foreseeable future.

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