AskDefine | Define sackcloth

Dictionary Definition



1 a garment made of coarse sacking; formerly worn as an indication of remorse
2 a coarse cloth resembling sacking

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A coarse hessian style of cloth used to make sacks.
  2. (Usually paired with 'ashes'), garments worn as an act of penance. Now often used figuratively.
    After he realised the gravity of his crime he spent some time wearing sackcloth and ashes.


  • OED2

Extensive Definition

Burlap (chiefly US) or (more commonly elsewhere) Hessian cloth, is a coarse woven fabric usually made from jute or hemp and allied vegetable fibers.
The name 'burlap' appears to be of unknown origin. The name 'hessian' is attributed to the use of the fabric, initially, as part of the uniform of soldiers from the German state of Hessen.


Burlap/Hessian is often used to make sacks and bags to ship goods like coffee beans. It is breathable and thus resists condensation and associated spoilage of the contents. It is also durable enough to withstand rough handling in transit, these properties have also lead to its use for temporary protection of setting cement and concrete by the construction industry.
Due to its coarse texture, it is not commonly used in modern apparel. However this roughness gave it a use in a religious context, for self-mortification, where individuals may wear an abrasive shirt called a cilice or 'hairshirt' and the wearing of 'sackcloth' on Ash Wednesday and owing to its durability, Ghillie suits are often made of burlap.
As Hessian, it has been used by fine artists as an alternative to canvas as a stretched painting surface.


sackcloth in Danish: Sækkelærred
sackcloth in German: Hessian
sackcloth in Spanish: Arpillera
sackcloth in French: Jute#Toile_de_jute
sackcloth in Russian: Рогожа (ткань)
sackcloth in Finnish: Säkkikangas
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