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Sack made from hemp burlap

A gunny sack, also known as a gunny shoe, burlap sack, hessian sack or tow sack, is a large sack, traditionally made of burlap (Hessian fabric) formed from jute, hemp, sisal, or other natural fibres, usually in the crude spun form of tow. Modern-day versions of these sacks are often made from synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene.

The word gunny, meaning coarse fabric, is of Indo-Aryan[1] origin. Reusable gunny sacks, typically holding about 50 kilograms (110 lb), were traditionally used, and continue to be to some extent, for transporting grain, potatoes and other agricultural products. In Australia, these sacks, made of Indian jute, were known traditionally as "hessian sacks", "hessian bags" or "sugar bags."[2]

Gunny sacks are sometimes used as sandbags for erosion control, especially in emergencies. Up until the latter part of the twentieth century, when they became less common, the sacks were one of the primary tools for fighting grass fires in rural areas, used while soaked with water when available. Gunny sacks are also popular in the traditional children's game of sack racing.


A gunny sack holds approximately 50 kg (110 lb) of potatoes, and measures 45 inches (110 cm) by 34 inches (86 cm).[3] Although gunny sacks are no longer used to carry them, the common measurement unit of potatoes is still the "sack" among farmers in Idaho.[4]

Behind him, thousands of bags are stacked in rows.
Stacks of coffee bags, Ethiopia

See also


  1. ^ "gunnysack". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  2. ^ Hassam, Andrew (2011). "Indian Jute in Australian Museum Collections: Forgetting and Recollecting Transnational Networks". Public History Review. UTSePress. 18: 108–128. doi:10.5130/phrj.v18i0.2268.
  3. ^,34%20inches%20by%2045%20inches.
  4. ^ South, David B. "Protect Your Potatoes". Accessed 2015-06-10.