A burlap sack or gunny sack, also known as a gunny shoe or tow sack, is an inexpensive bag, traditionally made of hessian fabric (burlap) formed from jute, hemp or other natural fibers. Modern-day versions of these sacks are often made from synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene.
The word gunny, meaning coarse fabric, derives from an Indo-Aryan word. Reusable gunny sacks, typically holding about 50 kg, 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'. 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.
- Referred to as a "tow sack" in "Polk Salad Annie" by Tony Joe White.
- Referred to in the lyrics of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" - "He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack". Indicative of the character's poverty.
- In "Wizard People, Dear Reader", the package containing the Philosopher’s Stone is referred to as a "silly little gunny sack" by Brad Neely.
- Referred to in the lyrics of Dolly Parton’s "Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That?"
- Referred to in the song "Red Rabbits" by The Shins - "Out of a gunny sack fall red rabbits".
- Referred to in the 1980s television series Thundarr the Barbarian. In season 1, episode 2, Princess Ariel asks Thundarr "Must you carry me like a gunny sack?"
- In Haiti, Tonton Macaute (Uncle Gunny Sack).
- "gunnysack". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
- Hassam, Andrew (2011). "Indian Jute in Australian Museum Collections: Forgetting and Recollecting Transnational Networks". Public History Review. UTSePress. 18 (2011): 108–128.
- South, David B. "Protect Your Potatoes". Accessed 2015-06-10.