Sack made from hemp (cannabis)
Sack made from hemp (cannabis)

A burlap sack or gunny sack, also known as a gunny shoe, hessian sack or tow sack, is a bag, traditionally made of fibres which are also known as "tow," such as hessian fabric (burlap) formed from jute, hemp or other natural fibres. 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] The term tow sack refers to their being made of tow, spun broken fibres of hemp or other plants.

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. Although gunny sacks are no longer used to carry them, the common measurement unit of potatoes is still the "sack" among farmers in Idaho, United States.[3]

Stacks of coffee bags, Ethiopia
Stacks of coffee bags, Ethiopia

See also

Cultural references


  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. ^ South, David B. "Protect Your Potatoes". Accessed 2015-06-10.