Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hawaiian Quilts - Part I[1]
Art Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have list other posts in this series:
Hawaiian Quilts - Part II
Hawaiian Quilts - Part III

Hawaiian quilts were a recent phenomenon, dating a century after the island’s discovery in late 1778 by the British. They were derived from a fusion between European, American and Polynesian cultures.

It is clear that quilts in Hawaii have no functional purpose due the islands’ climatic conditions. Rather, Hawaiian quilts serve a more abstract functionality: while the medium and the process maybe European and American in creation, the concepts embedded in Hawaiian quilts evoke a mixture of their culture and belief systems, their legends and story telling as well as emblems for their continuous evolving struggle to maintain their integrity and identity amidst a colonial tidal wave demanding homogenization. (The latter occurred due to political dependence, European immigration and internationalization caused by tourism.) Hence, Hawaiian quilts stand as a testimony, a forum for free expression, a diary of a present struggle and a remembrance of past cultural identities.

Situated squarely in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, over 2,400 miles away from the nearest continental land mass, the Hawaiian archipelago consists of a chain of 132 islands, atolls and shoals, spread over some 1,600 miles of ocean. The islands are volcanic in origin, created by a mixture of continental drift, and hot zones - where lava is released over millions of years because of intermittent but intense activity, creating mountain tops lifted out of the sea. Only six of the islands, all located within 300 miles of each other, are large enough to contain sufficient fresh water in order to support human habitation. The largest is Hawaii followed by Maui, Oaho (contains Honolulu), Kauai, Molokai, and Niihau.

A slice of the Hawaiian Archelago.

The Hawaiian archipelago was first discovered and settled around 400 AD by Polynesian sailors from the Marquesas Islands - a trek of some 2,400 miles of open-ocean. Wherever they landed (e.g. Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand etc.) the Polynesians bought with them their polytheistic religion and social structures (e.g. monarchy) as well as their fruit (e.g. coconuts, pineapples, bananas, breadfruit etc.), vegetables (e.g. sweet potatoes, yams etc.) and animals (e.g. dogs, pigs, chickens etc.)

Kahuan is the ancient spiritual tradition of the polynesians of Hawaii.

New England missionaries landed in Hawaii in 1829 and maintained schools in the island for much of the nineteenth century. The missionaries were attributed with bringing the first quilts to the islands, teaching the Hawaiian women and children how to sew etc. It should be noted that Hawaiians knew how to sew before the missionaries made their appearance, since they made their own cloth called tapa from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. Moreover, tapa was sown using bird bones or native hardwood needles and threads twisted from bits of natural bark fiber. It could be dyed using natural dyes and decorated with designs drawn freehand with a pen-like instrument. Clothes and bed coverings were made from tapa. When the Europeans arrived with cloths such as cotton, linen and with woven fabrics, these formed the basis for a new media, which the Polynesians needed to learn how to manipulate.

Hawaiian Tapa Design.

The tome – Hawaiian Quilt Masterpieces[1] - presents 116 stunning Hawaiian quilt designs. The overview below gives you just a glimpse of some of the great quilt designs in the book[1]. Each quilt that was presented comes with technical information and with a story behind it. This is a must buy!

Hawaiian Quilt Designs[1]

Artists Unknown: Lei O Ka’ahumanu Quilt (1874).
Background: Quilt was made to celebrate the sixth birthday of Clive Davis, a prominent English businessman in the islands.
Motifs: Centre – British coat of arms, flanked by a crowned British lion and a chained unicorn and topped by a substantial crown. The four panels of a coat of arms include: Irish harp, Scottish lion, and two panels of three horses. A large Maltese cross is appliqued on either side of the central crown. A symmetrical motif of four leaves around a circle is repeated in each corner of the quilt, and a wreath of crossed laurel branches at top centre balances the lettering below coat of arms. The two floral motifs add a distinctly Hawaiian flavour to the overwhelming British emphasis of the design elements.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 93.5 x 66 inches.

Artists Unknown: Lei O Ka’ahumanu Quilt (ca. 1880).
Background: This quilt is probably typical of the first ventures at applique design attempted by Hawaiians.
Motifs: It consists of a central folded cut out pattern, without border embellishments. A single cut out floral form set at right angles and repeated four times makes up the central design. The quilt is for a design named after Lei O Ka’ahumanu (one of the 21 wives of King Kamehameha I, the founder of the Hawaiian Kingdom and monarchy). It is therefore named as such.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 82.75 x 82.75 inches.

Artists Unknown: Central Plumed Star (ca 1880).
Background: Quilt design may have come to the Hawaiian islands via missionaries bringing with them Pennsylvania German traditional cut paper art called scherenschnitte, which contain the design elements.
Motifs: The central design bears a striking resemblance to the traditional Princess Feather pattern, a widely distributed American design that was popular among the mid-nineteenth century Pennsylvania German quilt makers.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliqued and quilted.
Size: 80 x 80 inches.

Artists Unknown: Na Kalaunu Me Ka Lei Maile [Crowns and Maile Lei] Quilt (ca. 1880).
Background: Quilt is owned by the Daughters of Hawaii, Honolulu.
Motifs: The quilt has an unusual structured pattern in that it combines applique elements one, two and three fold complexity, resulting in designs which appear once, twice, or four times, respectively. It should be noted that such design elements are not usually applied to a single quilt. The small design element at the center of the quilt is only symmetrical when divided half vertically, and was thus conceived as a single fold. The same design is repeated in a larger size to the left and right of the center of the quilt; these elements are mirror images set vertically at right angles to the central design and thus represent a two-fold symmetry. The rest of the quilts design, including the four crowns and leis in the central field and the lining border that surrounds them, is built on a more typical three-fold symmetry.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliqued and quilted.
Size: 72.5 x 68.5 inches.

Artist: Great-grandmother of Joseph Makini. Log Cabin (ca. 1880).
Background: The Log Cabin is probably the best known and most widely disseminated of all American pieced quilt designs. The Log Cabin's broad popularity explains its appearance in the late nineteenth-century Hawaiian quilt.
Motifs: Centre – The quilt maker has reworked Log Cabin elements to create a unique approach by building the top of only sixteen very large pieced blocks, and so has adjusted the scale of the quilt. Her choice of arrangement and colors are also distinctive with the close values of lighter yellow and orange create a soft and relative uniform background against which the strong contrasting stripes of red and blue (the latter now faded to grey-green) stand out.
Technique: Cottons, hand pieced and quilted.
Size: 80 x 79 inches.

Artists Unknown: Unnamed Floral Pattern Quilt (before 1918).
Background: Hawaiian’s often decorated their traditional tapa cloth bedcovers, called kappa moe with designs derived from native flora.
Motifs: In adapting the printed tapa pattern to appliqued cloth, the quilt designer reduced the size of the basic pattern and eliminated the single central design. In its place this artist created a far more complex design by closing the repeating forms of the tapa pattern into a circle; a border of closely related floral forms, set in a solid outer band, frames the central motif.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 84.5 x 82.5 inches.

Artists Unknown: Kuli Pu’u [Bent Knee] Quilt (ca. 1880-1910).
Background: Although flag quilts combined piecing and applique in their designs, fully pieced Hawaiian quilts like this one are extremely rare. Only a handful of examples exist and apparently few were made in the nineteenth century.
Motifs: This quilt's powerful designs crackles with energy. The bold multi-colored zigzag design is visually reminiscent of the graphic “Lightning Bolt” pattern sometimes worked in bright colors by Mennonite quilt makers in the American midwest, but in reality is more closely related to the decorative traditional pattern of the bark cloth kappa moe bedcover.
Technique: Cottons, hand piece, hand appliquéd and quilted with machine stitched edging.
Size: 92 x 82 inches.

Artists Unknown: Roses Quilt (Late 19th/early 20th Century).
Background: There are two and four fold symmetry of roses and stems.
Technique: Cottons, hand and machine pieced, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 77.5 x 77.5 inches.

[1] Hawaiian Quilt Masterpieces, Robert Shaw, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., China, 1996, ISBN 0-88363-396-5.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Historical Australian Crochet – Margaret Ann Field[1]
Artist Profile

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The history of crochet is very obscure - largely because pattern designs and instructions on how to create crochet items were handed down by word of mouth, leaving few written records.

Nevertheless, amongst the world legends is a charming tale about how crochet came into being. Apparently thousands of years ago a snow-white serpent, the king of the reptiles, was roaming the land when he met a woman called Eve (not Adam’s left rib!), who invited him to come to live with her. At first he declined, but after much cajoling on Eve’s part he agreed provided that she should knit or crochet a pattern on his back in order to make him more attractive. Eve created a beautiful design for him – a pattern that is found on the back of all pythons today. That is how crochet was created – according to the universe of legends.

Shatter Pattern Ghost Ball Python.

In reality it is generally thought that crochet has much the same history as knitting, being develop in the East and spreading to the Mediterranean area.

The word “crochet” is of French origin, from the word - crocher - meaning “to hook”. Hence the French played a vital part in the development of it and in the increasing popularity of this form of lace making.

In the 16th Century crochet became known as “nun’s work”, since nuns made altar cloths and other crochet items for Church use. By around 1785 the center of the craft became Cork in Ireland and many thousands of women were involved in a thriving industry. The crochet work they produced was based on patterns derived originally from Italian, Greek and French lace designs.

A mid-19th Century crochet parasol, which makes delicate use of floral motifs on a lacy background.

The “traditional” Irish rose pattern was in fact taken from Venetian lace. It was during the 19th Century that crochet came into its own for personal and house-hold use. The Sisters of the Ursuline Convent in Ireland taught Irish crochet lacemaking to children, a subject that spread to become part of the curriculum in most convents in the country.

Ursuline Convent (Ireland).

Crochet has become very popular because it is quick and easy to do. It is a very adaptable craft; lengths of crochet work can be used with other materials, or it can be made into fabric in its own right. Besides making complete clothes and household items you can make borders and edgings for things such as table cloths and window shades.

Irish crochet is a particular style of crochet invented during the 19th Century to imitate Duchesse or Honiton bobbin lace, or various needlelaces. It is distinguished from the more common crochet by having raised and layered parts. The motifs are worked densely in shapes to imitate plant forms like petals and leaves, and some parts are worked over a thick cord to give a raised or relief effect. The grounding is usually chain stitch with picots, to imitate bobbin lace braids or needlelace buttonholed bars.

The only tool you will need is a crochet hook. These are generally made from lightweight coated metal or plastic, rounded at one end with a hook and at the other - similar to a shepherd’s crook. The size of the hooks is directly related to the quality of yarn being used. Fine, small hooks are suitable for thin cottons, rayons and baby yarns, and large thick hooks should be used with heavier yarns and string.

Crochet hook sizes.

Historical Australian Lace – Margaret Ann Field
Amongst the large number of handmade fancy work “treasures” kept by generations in Australian households, by far the majority are crocheted.

The technique threaded its way to Australia in the 19th Century most likely via the convict migration of Irish women. Hence Australian women used Irish crochet techniques to make collars, cuffs and yokes for dresses and children clothes, and scores of different edgings for clothes and household linen.

Crochet sample book made at Miss Francis Yates’ Finishing School, Jamestown, South Australia (1902).
Photograph courtesy of J. Emmett.

Part of the popularity of crochet throughout Australia was the ease with which it could be picked up and put down, even in the most unusual situations.

Crochet corner of a large tablecloth made by Mary Delabenty, Euroa, Victoria (ca. 1910).
Photograph courtesy of K. Atkinson.

The story of the Australian crocheter – Margaret Ann Field – is important in the history of crochet in Australia, since it typifies Australian life and creativity early in its European history.

Margaret’s mother, Matilda Ann Lang, was well connected in the UK, having once been engaged to Coats of the “Coates Cotton” fame, but according to her family she fell in love with Thomas Lang.

They had eight children, of whom Margaret Ann was the first, born at Kilmarnock, Scotland on the 22nd of April 1842. Margaret, or Maggie as she was known, was thirteen when the family followed their father to Australia on the Star of the East. The family settled in Ballarat (Victoria). Less than ten years later Margaret married Edwin Richard Field, a mining engineer with whom she had two sons and a daughter.

The young Mrs. Edwin Field (nee Margaret Ann Lang) with baby.

Ballarat had rich gold fields and a gold rush ensued (not too dissimilar to the gold rush in California, USA). Nevertheless her husband was required to travel to distant places in order to conduct explorations and to pioneer mining operations. Hence, her life included periods of extreme isolation in remote and difficult places - such as in Normanton - near the Gulf of Carpentaria in the far north of Australia.

The Ballarat gold rush was a revolutionary event and reshaped Victoria, its society and politics.

Her husband died in Victoria (Australia) in 1902, whereas Maggie died some 30 years later in Hampton Victoria at the age of ninety-four. She is best remembered in Australia for her book – “Australian Lace-Crochet” - in which she described herself as a, “Briton Beyond the Seas”. The book was published in London in 1909.

Cover of “Australian Lace-Crochet”.

When crochet was achieving great popularity in Australia and the UK, she had invented a new form of Crochet, which she called “Australian Lace-Crochet”. She wrote in her foreword of her book that:
I would like to make Crochet, that could be properly described as lace... Many beautiful pieces of lace will, I hope be made from these new and easy patterns…Should this be so, it will greatly recompense me for years I have expended on this development of Crochet.”

Plate from Mrs. Field's book.

At the time Mrs. Field was hailed as a celebrity. Details of her work and interviews appeared in the Melbourne (Australia) and London (UK) press. The Melbourne Herald commended her for elevating crochet, “...the scullion wench of needle art, to the rank and honours that befit hand-made lace.”

Another plate from Mrs. Field’s book.

Mrs. Field sought Royal approval of her invention and so she had lengthy correspondence between herself and Queen Alexandra’s ladies-in-waiting over a period of several years.

The above three pictures are a crochet bonnet and samples of her work, designed as “real lace”. She accomplished her work whilst rearing children in the remote outback of Australia.

Detail of a crocheted tablecloth of Mrs. Foster based from patterns in Mrs. Field’s book, Freemantle, Western Australia (pre-1920).

Mrs. Field’s crochet did not achieve lasting popularity in Australia. However, recently interest in the 1970s in her work resurfaced. She has been successfully reinstated as one of Australia’s most important original artists and designers. For example, Francis Budden paid a tribute to Mrs. Field in her 1976 work, which is basically embroidery on a net surrounded by a border of Australian lace-crochet. She has, in true sampler tradition, embroidered the words, “Needlework provides all the information needed for a history of women’s creative thought”.

Frances Budden (1976).

[1]J. Isaacs, The Gentle Arts, Ure Smith Press, Willoughby (1991).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wish You Were Where? Environmental Refugees
Prints on Paper

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This blogspot is not only devoted to ArtCloth and all things fabric (e.g. wearables) but also to limited edition prints on paper and artists' printmakers books. I have listed below for your convenience my contribution to this artistic genre.

Made to Order
Unique State (Partners in Print)
Wangi's Djiran:"Unique State" Prints
Veiled Curtains
A Letter to a Friend
Beyond the Fear of Freedom
Travelling Solander Project
Star Series
Cry for the Wilderness
Federation on Hold - Call Waiting
The Four Seasons

According to a United Nations report, the current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050. It is estimated that the current sea level rise is about 3 mm/year worldwide. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, “…this is a significantly larger rate than the sea-level rise averaged over the last several thousand years", and the rate may be increasing due to spiralling energy demand. The rise in sea levels around the world potentially affects human populations in coastal and island regions and natural environments like marine ecosystems (e.g. Great Barrier Reef).

World’s Population Growth.

The Marshall Islands, a group of 29 atolls and coral islands standing on average only two meters above sea level, and lying halfway between Australia and Hawaii, are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Other small island Pacific “microstates,” including the Solomons, Tuvalu and the Carteret Islands, have all suffered rapid erosion, higher tides, storm surges and inundation of their freshwater wells with seawater. Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, predicted his country was likely to become uninhabitable between 30 and 60 years from now because of inundation and contamination of its freshwater supplies. These islands produce less than 0.1 percent of the world’s emissions, and yet will be at the forefront of suffering due to anthropogenic climate change caused by the world’s biggest emitters (e.g. China, USA, European Union, India, Russia etc.)

Tuvalu is a small island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. With a maximum elevation of 4.6 meters and an average elevation of only 2 meters above sea level, Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.

Clearly, one day environmental refugees will arrive by boat in Australia, but will they be treated by the Australian Government differently than the current cruel treatment of boat arrivals, who are political refugees?

Title: Wish You Were Where? Environmental Refugees
Artist: Marie-Therese Wisniowski.
Technique: Deconstructed silk screen-prints and postage stamps, re-digitized into digital prints on paper.
Size: Unframed 30 (h) x 42 (w) cm.
Edition Number: Three editions are available for purchase.

The Concept
Global warming will cause polar caps to melt, sea levels to rise and changes in weather patterns (such has altering rain patterns and rendering continents into decades of long drought conditions). The concept of translocation of peoples due to environmental hardships is not new (e.g. The Huns, Mongolians etc.) However, as the borders of Nations have hardened and so are less permeable, translocation is now far more difficult. This series depicts the emergence of environmental refugees. Each print is in a postcard format, signifying an iconic message to government’s to arrest current factors contributing to global warming.

This series was first exhibited in a group exhibition titled - "Blue" - at the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop Mini Print Exhibition, Back to Back Gallery, Cooks Hill, Newcastle (Australia). It was then exhibited at Marie-Therese's solo exhibition - The Journey - at the Megalo Print Studio & Gallery in Canberra (Australia).

Wish You Were Where? Environmental Refugees I represents the disappearance of current coastal regions due to sea level rises (e.g. Venice, Los Angeles, Holland).

Wish You Were Where? Environmental Refugees II traces the disappearance of low-lying islands and atolls.

Wish You Were Where? Environmental Refugees III depicts continents dominated by deserts due to changing rain patterns, thereby being unable to support human population.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Other Natural Cellulosic Fibers[1-2]
Art Resource

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This is the twenty-sixth post in the "Art Resource" series, specifically aimed to construct an appropriate knowledge base in order to develop an artistic voice in ArtCloth.

Other posts in this series are:
Glossary of Cultural and Architectural Terms
Units Used in Dyeing and Printing of Fabrics
Occupational, Health & Safety
A Brief History of Color
The Nature of Color
Psychology of Color
Color Schemes
The Naming of Colors
The Munsell Color Classification System
Methuen Color Index and Classification System
The CIE System
Pantone - A Modern Color Classification System
Optical Properties of Fiber Materials
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part I
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part II
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part III
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part IV
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part V
Protein Fibers - Wool
Protein Fibers - Speciality Hair Fibers
Protein Fibers - Silk
Protein Fibers - Wool versus Silk
Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Cotton
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Linen
Other Natural Cellulosic Fibers
General Overview of Man-Made Fibers
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Viscose
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Esters
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Nylon
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Polyester
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Acrylic and Modacrylic
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Olefins
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Elastomers
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Mineral Fibers
Man Made Fibers - Other Textile Fibers
Fiber Blends
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part I
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part II
Melt-Spun Fibers
Characteristics of Filament Yarn
Yarn Classification
Direct Spun Yarns
Textured Filament Yarns
Fabric Construction - Felt
Fabric Construction - Nonwoven fabrics
A Fashion Data Base
Fabric Construction - Leather
Fabric Construction - Films
Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins
Fabric Construction – Foams and Poromeric Material
Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns
Weaving and the Loom
Similarities and Differences in Woven Fabrics
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part I)
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part II)
The Three Basic Weaves - Twill Weave
The Three Basic Weaves - Satin Weave
Figured Weaves - Leno Weave
Figured Weaves – Piqué Weave
Figured Fabrics
Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements
Crêpe Fabrics
Crêpe Effect Fabrics
Pile Fabrics - General
Woven Pile Fabrics
Chenille Yarn and Tufted Pile Fabrics
Knit-Pile Fabrics
Flocked Pile Fabrics and Other Pile Construction Processes
Glossary of Paper, Photography, Printing, Prints and Publication Terms
Napped Fabrics – Part I
Napped Fabrics – Part II
Double Cloth
Multicomponent Fabrics
Knit-Sew or Stitch Through Fabrics
Finishes - Overview
Finishes - Initial Fabric Cleaning
Mechanical Finishes - Part I
Mechanical Finishes - Part II
Additive Finishes
Chemical Finishes - Bleaching
Glossary of Scientific Terms
Chemical Finishes - Acid Finishes
Finishes: Mercerization
Finishes: Waterproof and Water-Repellent Fabrics
Finishes: Flame-Proofed Fabrics
Finishes to Prevent Attack by Insects and Micro-Organisms
Other Finishes
Shrinkage - Part I
Shrinkage - Part II

There are currently eight data bases on this blogspot, namely, the Glossary of Cultural and Architectural Terms, Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff, A Fashion Data Base, the Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins, the Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns, Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements, Glossary of Paper, Photography, Printing, Prints and Publication Terms and the Glossary of Scientific Terms, which has been updated to Version 3.5. All data bases will be updated from time-to-time in the future.

If you find any post on this blog site useful, you can save it or copy and paste it into your own "Word" document etc. for your future reference. For example, Safari allows you to save a post (e.g. click on "File", click on "Print" and release, click on "PDF" and then click on "Save As" and release - and a PDF should appear where you have stored it). Safari also allows you to mail a post to a friend (click on "File", and then point cursor to "Mail Contents On This Page" and release). Either way, this or other posts on this site may be a useful Art Resource for you.

The Art Resource series will be the first post in each calendar month. Remember - these Art Resource posts span information that will be useful for a home hobbyist to that required by a final year University Fine-Art student and so undoubtedly, some parts of any Art Resource post may appear far too technical for your needs (skip over those mind boggling parts) and in other parts, it may be too simplistic with respect to your level of knowledge (ditto the skip). The trade-off between these two extremes will mean that Art Resource posts will hopefully be useful in parts to most, but unfortunately may not be satisfying to all!

Cellulosic fibers, which are obtained from the stems of plants are known as bast fibers. Hence flax is a bast fiber. The bast fiber produced in greatest quantity is jute.

Bast fiber from the Melalecua Tree (also called a Paperbark tree).

Most bast fibers are used for cordage or sacking, or for industrial purposes. Hessian and burlap are made from jute.

Site name, Gallo Cliff Dwelling, 1100-1200 AD.
Braided cord was used to weave feather and fur blankets, and to hang canteens and seed jars. Yucca fiber.
Size: length - 52.0 cm; diameter - 1.8 cm.

Other plant fibers include coir, which is a very coarse fiber. It is generated from coconut husks and is used to make doormats. Sisal is a fiber produced from the leaves of the agave plant.

Sisal fields.

To put their usage in perspective, the annual production of cotton is three times as much as that for all these fibers put together. These natural fibers have to compete with synthetics for the cordage and industrial market. Nevertheless, improvements in cultivation and processing have kept these natural fibers competitive in the market place.

Ramie or grass cloth has been used for several thousands of years in China. It is grown in countries that have a hot humid climate. In the USA ramie is grown in the everglades region of Florida.

Pure Ramie fabric.

The plant is harvested by cutting. After cutting, a new growth starts immediately. Three crops a year may be harvested.

The ramie fiber bundles are removed by a decorticating machine. The machine strips the stalks as it pulls them through a series of rollers, which removes all of the woody portion of the plant. After decortication, the fiber must be degummed in a mild chemical bath. The ramie fibers are longer than any of the other fibers in the bast fiber group. They range from 1” to 12” (2.54 cm to 31 cm) and are usually cut into desired staple lengths before spinning.

When seen under a microscope, ramie is very similar to flax fiber. It is pure white. It is one of the strongest fibers known and its strength increases when wet. It has a silk-like luster. Ramie also has a very high resistance to rotting, mildew and other organisms.

Ramie under a microscope.

Ramie has some disadvantages. It is stiff and low in resiliency, hence it wrinkles very easily. Ramie has the most highly crystalline molecular structure of any of the cellulose fibers, creating its high strength as well as its lack of resiliency. Ramie is low in elasticity; it is brittle, and breaks if folded repeatedly in the same place.

Ramie is used in fabrics resembling linen, such as suitings, shirtings, table cloths, napkins, and handkerchiefs.

Hand dyed fushia Ramie napkins.

The history of hemp is as old as that of flax. Because hemp lacks the fineness of better quality flax, it has never been able to compete in the clothing field. Some varieties of hemp are, however, very difficult to distinguish from flax.

Hemp fields.

Hemp production and manufacture is very similar to that of flax. In 1942, the USA government sponsored a hemp-growing program in order to service war needs. Its high strength and light weight made it particularly suitable for twine, cordage, and thread for stitching the soles of soldier’s shoes.

Poster during WW II.

After the war, the demand for hemp declined; it is now one of the less important fibers, although there has been a recent resurgence in interest for its use.

Uses for hemp.

Jute was known as a fiber in Biblical times. India is the largest producer of jute, having well over several hundred jute mills. Jute is the cheapest textile fiber and it is the second most widely used vegetable fiber, ranking next to cotton. The individual fibers in the jute bundle are shorter than those of other bast fibers. It is the weakest of the cellulose fibers.

Jute out to dry. The soft, stringy part is the outside fiber of the plant, and is the part used for textiles etc. The bundles on the left are the inside of the plant.

The greater part of jute production goes into bagging for sugar, coffee and so forth, or is used in carpet, backing, rope, cordage, and twine. The olefin fibers are now competing with jute in these areas.

A Comparison of Properties
Since all plant fibers are 70-80% cellulose, and contain similar gums, waxes and pectin (a cellulosic gum) they are chemically similar. Their properties differ mainly by virtue of the differing dimensions and crystallinity of their components.

For example, let us compare flax and sisal. Although the fiber bundles have the same overall diameter, it appears the fibers making up these bundles are fine in flax, but thick and coarse in sisal. The comparative fineness of flax means that it is much more supple and flexible. Flax and sisal have similar tensile strength – it takes the same lengthwise pull to break them – but greater rigidity of sisal makes it far more brittle – it is less abrasion resistant.

This difference in properties explains why flax is suitable for clothing textile applications, whilst sisal is used mainly for cordage.

Brazilian Sisal Twine.

Below we shall compare the fibers using three headings: Fiber, Type, Use and Properties.

Fiber: Jute.
Type: Bast.
Use and Properties: Burlap, hessian, bagging cloth, carpet backing, rope and twine.

Fiber: Flax.
Type: Bast.
Use and Properties: Linen (clothing, household linen).

Fiber: Sisal, henequen.
Type: Leaf (agave).
Use and Properties: Ropes, twine, roof insulation, backing cloths.

Fiber: Hemp.
Type: Bast.
Use and Properties: Cordage, linen-type weaves.

Fiber: Abaca.
Type: Leaf.
Use and Properties: World’s most desirable natural cordage – soft and strong.

Fiber: Pina.
Type: Leaf (Pineapple).
Use and Properties: Fine lusterous clothing fabrics.

Fiber: Coir.
Type: Fruit (coconut).
Use and Properties: Doormats, upholstery, stuffing – it is stiff and brittle.

[1] N. Hollen, H. Saddler, Textiles, The Macmillan Company, London (1968).
[2] A Fritz and J. Cant, Consumer Textiles, Oxford University Press, Melbourne (1986).