Burlap is the North American name for cloth made from jute, hemp or flax fibres. Fibre for making burlap is grown all over Asia and Central America. Burlap is tough enough to be used as a building material, flexible enough for sculpture, and loose enough to grow crops when used as a weed barrier. These same qualities make it ideal for use in crafts.
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Use loose weave burlap for carpet backing, and decorative floor coverings. Embroider with burlap yarn to make decorative wall hangings, table runners, napkins, and doilies. Add shredded burlap to paper pulp to make a beautiful, flexible draping paper that resists tearing. Make jewellery by weaving or braiding burlap yarns and adding jewellery findings, shells, and polymer clay or glass beads. Use tight-weave burlap cloth for decorative reusable shopping bags, embroidered with elaborate burlap yarn scenes. Drape Hessian cloth soaked in fabric adhesive to make soft sculptures. Mold burlap like paper mache to make bowls, lamp bases, platters, and sculpture. Stretch fine-weave burlap on a frame, like canvas, and use to make textured mixed-media paintings and other fine art pieces. Burlap can even be used to make decorative ribbon and gift bows.
Grow jute and flax in sandy, alluvial soil. Jute cultivation takes place throughout Asia, in India, China, Bangladesh and Thailand. It requires heavy watering, so it does best in countries where monsoons provide the majority of the rains. It enhances soil rather than needing fertilisers, and post consumer burlap can be recycled through strip composting, paper making, or use as a road and earthworks stabiliser. Pegging a construction site with burlap helps grass grow back much more quickly, while preventing soil erosion and subsidence, the overly rapid settling of loose soil.
Burlap has been used for everything from sacking, to clothing, to ships' rigging and sails. It can be used for shelter, for adornment, for penance from one's sins, or to mourn the departed. The Christian Bible records in Genesis that Jacob put on sackcloth and tore his clothes to mourn for his son, Joseph, when Joseph's brothers bring his torn, bloody coat as proof of his demise. Burlap saved the lives of many World War Two soldiers, being used to carry ammunition, leaving their hands free. Burlap has even been used by NASA in space, as a growth medium for lettuce and basil. Only perlite outperformed burlap as a nutrient medium for plant growth in space.
Take full advantage of burlap's flexibility. Use it to make dimensional art, by soaking it in fabric stiffeners such as starch, acrylic adhesive, or wall sizing. Wrapped around an armature, burlap becomes the base of a free-form sculpture. Another benefit is burlap's texture. The looser weaves provide stability to woven or hooked rugs. Burlap overlays on walls create warmth provide interest to an otherwise plain expanse of sheetrock. Burlap can also add texture by being chopped and added to paint or ink. It can be laid over drying concrete or plaster to leave an impression. Burlap's versatility means that only the imagination of the artist or craft person, limits its potential uses. Burlap can be spread, moulded, painted on, sewn through, woven, embroidered, and cut.
Burlap may one day beat cotton as the most used natural fibre. It's far lower fertiliser needs make it a better choice for sustainable agriculture. Use of post-consumer burlap in compost means a constantly renewing product that increases soil fertility rather than depleting it.
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