Hessian cloth is a coarse woven fabric which was used in the uniform of Hessians. Hessians were German soldiers from the state of Hessen. However, the word "burlap" was used for this fabric in the history. Hessian cloth is made from the fibers of Jute plant or from the fibers of Sisal plant; sometimes it is also combined with other vegetable fibers in order to make products like nets, ropes etc. Historically, it was used to make as a dense coarse woven fabric, and in the early 19th century, it was exported from India. Earlier it was used in the backing of linoleum rugs and carpets, however, these days it is used to make bags, rugs and similar products.
Hessian cloth not just has a unique looks, but also has many unique uses as well. Whenever trees and shrubs are transplanted then Hessian cloth is used to wrap up the exposed roots. It is used on steep slopes for erosion control. Artists use it as an alternative to the canvas as it gives a very good stretched painting surface. Beekeepers use it in hive-tending as a smoker fuel because it is easy to ignite and has a generous content of smoke.
These days almost every country faces the problems of natural disaster like floods, and hessian cloth is also needed in such circumstances. Whenever, there is a problem of a flood then hessian bags are used as sandbags as a temporary solution to the flooding. The material of hessian bags can be reused, and or be composted after the use. Many State Emergency Services in developed countries like Australia and Germany deploy these sandbags whenever flooding takes place. The vehicles of such services always have these sandbags inside them for the emergency situations. Besides hessian bags, the plastic bags are also used for this purpose, but the State Emergency Services found Hessian bags better because of their versatility. According to them, it can be used for a variety of rescue applications as it is a good edge protector for ropes and as padding on the slings.
Gunny sacks are made of hessian cloth which are used to ship goods like coffee beans. It avoids spoilage of the contents by resisting the condensation as they are breathable. Moreover, it is also durable to withstand the rough handling in the transportation. The construction industry uses the hessian sacks for temporary protection as wet coverings. This is done in order to prevent the rapid moisture loss in the setting of cement and concrete. In addition to this, the hessian cloth is used for making sandbags; the empty hessian sacks are filled with sand which is used for building temporary walls against the floodwaters.
Due to its coarse texture and roughness, it is used in the religious context especially where individuals may wear an abrasive shirt or sackcloth. However, it is not commonly used in modern apparel. Earlier, hessian cloth was used as a camouflage scrim on combat helmets during World War II.