Burlap fabric is made of loosely woven natural fibers. While this fabric lends itself well to rustic decor, it can also work well with a more traditional approach, particularly when used as a wall covering. Decorating with burlap offers a durable and economic alternative to more expensive home-decorating fabrics.
Considering the origins of burlap, also known as sackcloth, its use as a decorative fabric may come as a bit of a surprise. Used primarily for utilitarian needs such as bags, bale coverings and other agricultural purposes, the common burlap bag was called a gunny sack. Exported in the early 1800s from India, burlap was also used to create uniforms for Hessian soldiers, earning the humble fabric the alternative name Hessian cloth, which is still used today.
The types of burlap used in home decorating are lighter in weight than utilitarian burlap. Generally constructed of jute fibers, burlap may also consist of other natural fibers such as flax, cotton or hemp. Canvas weave burlap works well for home decorating. This fabric has a slightly looser weave and can be stretched on a frame and painted to create art. Hawaiian hemp has the traditional square weave, but is woven more tightly. Burlap that is used for home decorating may be left in its natural color and state or may be dyed, sanitized and finished to make sure that natural odors and oils are removed
No longer restricted to browns and tans, burlap decorating fabric comes in a wide variety of colors, including blue, green, black, red and eggshell shades. Bright lavenders, pinks, yellows and spring greens are also available. While most burlap comes in solid colors, it is possible to find burlap fabric in striped patterns. In its natural form, burlap will generally come in a light brown or tan shade with a few interspersed flecks of dark brown.
The looser weave of burlap makes it a good choice for curtains and window treatments, since it offers privacy while still allowing light to pass through. Colorfully dyed burlap fabrics are a good choice for window treatments as well as for bulletin boards or lampshades. When it comes to furniture upholstery, burlap works best behind the scenes. Upholstery burlap has a tighter weave and is used to cover springs and add support to surface fabrics. While coarse burlap has not always been a comfortable choice for upholstering furniture surfaces, trends toward upholstering chairs and sofas with recycled, industrial grade burlap and sackcloth are emerging.
The use of burlap as a wall covering involves jute fabric that is more finely woven, giving it a more linen-like appearance. This fabric is then laminated to a paper backing. This lamination ensures that the lines of the weave remain straight. Installed in a manner similar to wallpaper, burlap wall coverings offer an interesting, textured appearance.
Burlap fabric can range from around $1 a yard to $8 a yard for more tightly woven, linen-look burlap.
While burlap fabrics offer many advantages, there are a few drawbacks. The traditional loose weave of most types of burlap means that the fabric is much more susceptible to stretching over time. If placed in direct sunlight, burlap will fade relatively quickly in comparison to other decorating fabrics.
Ann Hudson is a freelance writer who began her writing career working for a small community newspaper. While there, her work as a feature writer and a weekly columnist were honored. Hudson holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. She has been writing for more than 30 years.