The Wonders of Natural Fibres
Have you ever wondered where your hemp wallet or jute string bag comes from? I mean really comes from, in its raw, natural state?
We absolutely love sourcing natural fibre products at Fair Go Trading and bringing them to conscious shoppers all over Australia. We have been doing so since 2005. Have you ever wondered where your hemp wallet or jute string bag comes from? I mean really comes from, in its raw, natural state?
Let’s take a look deep within these fascinating fibres to learn why artisans and farmers across the world have been working with these versatile plants for thousands of years.
Pictured above is jute fibre, often called “Golden Jute”. Fair Go Trading captured this photograph on a recent visit to Bangladesh.
Hemp really is a super plant. The leaf of the plant is well recognized world-round, as is pictured below. Anyone who has travelled around the foothills of the Himalaya’s and many other regions of Asia will know that hemp literally grows, well, like a weed. This universally recognised leaf has a notorious reputation as a recreational drug — BUT as a fibre, hemp has been used for industrial use and dates back 10,000 years.
Hemp fibre is derived from the outer layers of the long woody stems of the Sativa plant - which is cultivated for industrial use in many countries around the world. China, France, Canada, USA, Romania and Australia are just a few.
How are these hemp fibres used? The versatility of hemp fibre seems to be endless with uses that include rope, insulation, bio fuel, paper, plastic-alternates, mulch, building materials, animal bedding to name a few.
Hemp plants mature in just 3-4 months, requires few pesticides and no herbicides and is 100% biodegradable making it a very environmentally friendly material. And it’s not just a super fibre, when eaten; hemp seeds are jam packed with vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fatty acids.
Hemp made into fabric is coarse and not highly suited as a fabric. Mixed with organic cotton though, the fabric is wonderfully usable and can be made into bags and accessories. Fair Go Trading have partnered with Sativa to bring a range of sturdy and well-designed hemp bags and accessories to Australia. Sativa bags are made from a 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton blend that creates a hard-wearing, yet soft woven “canvas”, a word which is actually derived from cannabis!
We also have hemp string, hand knotted hemp string bags, hemp crochet soap holders, and hemp knitted washcloths from our Fair Trade partners in Bangladesh.
What is not to love about hemp.
Most of us have owned a jute string bag or walked on a jute rug, but did we stop to think where this amazing material comes from?
The jute plant requires a lot of water and humidity to grow and multiple water treatments to extract the fibre so unsurprisingly, it is cultivated in the wetter, lower lying regions of Asia including Bangladesh and parts of India, Thailand and China.
Jute is super-fast growing, reaching heights of 3.5m in just 4 months.
Traditionally, the fibre is extracted from the woody stems after bundles are soaked in water for up to 30 days, then placed in moving water (a stream for example) to help to extract the fibres.
After washing and sorting, it is spun into yarn in mills and crafted into a vast range of artisan products from baskets to soft furnishings.
The lower grade jute is processed into utility products such as hessian sacks and carpet backing.
We were very surprised to learn that this humble plant is the second most used natural fibre after cotton.
You may have heard of sisal carpets which, when woven, look pretty similar to jute. However, as you can see, the plant which is an agave variety (with the botanical name Agave sisalana) and bears no resemblance to the jute or hemp plants.
The fibre is actually extracted from the leaves and not the stems. It is grown in the tropics all over the world and it is believed to be native to Mexico. There is evidence that sisal was used in paper making by the Aztecs and Mayans.
Brazil is now the largest producer of sisal.
While the cultivation of sisal uses no chemical fertilisers and few herbicides, unfortunately some forests have been cleared to make way for sisal plantations. It’s production into fibre may be less environmentally friendly than some other natural fibres, so we only purchase through our Fair Trade mechanisms that ensures care for our environment,
Similar to jute and hemp, sisal twine or yarn is incredibly strong and durable and can even withstand saltwater.