What is Jute?
Plastic bags have played a significant role in the pollution of the environment. While they are durable, they are not biodegradable which makes them almost impossible to safely dispose of. Researchers and scientists have tirelessly worked to find alternative fibres that can replace not only plastic but other synthetic fibres without as much damage to the environment.
Jute, also known as the “golden fibre’ – a natural fibre has provided a reprieve. It’s used to make a variety of items which include sacks, curtains, furniture accessories and rustic looking jute bags.
The fibre is made from plants with long, soft and shiny fibres spun into strong but coarse threads. This one of a kind fibre which is second to cotton in terms of production provides an alternative to synthetic fibres and materials like plastic.
What is Jute Made Of?
There are two types of jute fibres produced depending on the plant of origin. There are the white jute and the brown jute which has a softer, silkier feel and is also stronger. Despite the difference in colour, both Jutes are composed of lignin and cellulose.
The History of Jute
The history of the ‘golden fibre’ is as interesting as the fibre itself. It dates as far back as the Mughal rule in India State where villager wore clothes made out of jute. They also made other items like ropes and twines from jute.
Among the Chinese jute was used to make paper and a small jute paper with Chinese character was discovered in the Dunhuang in Gansu Province. It’s believed the paper was made during the Western Han Dynasty.
From the 17th Century
In 1793, The British East India Company exported 100 tons of jute becoming the first company to trade jute. The Flax spinners in Dundee, Scotland where the shipment was headed were anxious to know if the fibre could be processed mechanically.
By the early 1800s, the Dundee Spinners had learned how to spin jute yarn. The jute industry in Dundee grew and so did the demand and export of raw jute from the Indian sub-continent.
Despite the industry being vibrant, it wasn’t until 1855 when the first Jute Mill was established at Rishra and five other mills were opened in quick succession.
The main products produced at the time using the jute fibre were bagging materials. Over the years and with more experience, finer fabrics like burlap and hessian were also produced.
How is Jute Made?
The production of jute starts with the growth of the plant. For the best results, the plant requires a warm and humid climate with lots of rainfall. It’s preferably planted in well-drained loam soils. The plant does reasonably well without the addition of pesticides and fertilisers.
Once mature, the stalk of the plant is ‘retted.’ It’s steeped into slow running water for up to 30 days for bacteria to feed on the gummy matter that holds the fibres together.
Next, the fibre is stripped to get rid of the non-fibrous matter and then the fibres are beaten with a paddle to separate them from the stem.
The fibres are washed, dried and graded after being separated and sent to jute mills for processing to make jute yarn.
The jute yarn is then made to make various products like bags and curtains among other products.
What is Jute Used For?
Since it was first discovered, jute has been used in various application. Sandbags made out of jute were exported from Bengal to the trenches in World War I. It was also used to make ropes, bags, clothes and other household products.
Later on, jute was used to make fishing baskets and it was also essential in the arms and construction industry.
Today, jute is used to make household items like sacks, carpets, coverlets for chairs, rugs and bags. The humble fibre can also be blended with other synthetic fabrics relatively easy to give it a more glamorous finish.