Agave sisalana is the botanical name of the fabric sisal. This is an agave species native to Mexico’s southern part. In many other countries, however, the plant is naturalized and cultivated. The result is a stiff fiber utilized for creating a variety of products. The sisal term might refer either to the fiber or the common name of the plant, depending on the contexts it is used in. At times, hemp sisal is the term used to refer to this. The reason being that for hundreds of years, one major source of the fiber was hemp.
The fiber sisal has been used traditionally for twine and rope. There are a variety of other uses including dartboards, carpets, bags, hats, footwear, cloth and paper.
Creating Sisal Fabric
The Mayans and the Aztecs made paper and fabric out of sisal. In Brazil, the first plants were created in the thirties and it was not until 1948 when the first exports of sisal fiber was accomplished. In Brazil, there was an acceleration of sisal fabric production in the sixties and the first of hundreds of spinning mills occurred. These days, sisal is produced in vast amounts in Brazil. There are both negative and positive impacts to the environment for growing sisal.
Extracting the Fiber
The process known as decortication is used for the extraction of the fiber. In decortication, leaves are brushed away, beaten and crushed by a wheel that rotates with knives that aren’t sharp. What remains is thus the fiber. On the other hand, there are large estates in Eastern Africa where sisal is typically produced. The leaves are transferred to a central plant for decortication. Water is used for washing away the leaves’ waste portions.
Generally, sisal propagation is using buds produced from bulbils in the flower stalk. It is also propagated by growing suckers around the plant base. These grow in field nurseries until they are big enough for transplanting in their permanent destination. Methods like these don’t offer options for genetic improvement.
In agriculture, sisal has been the primary material for creating baler twine or binder twine. This is due to its durability, strength, resistance to saltwater deterioration, affinity for dyes and ability for stretching. Aside from cordage, twine and rope, sisal is used in creating macramé, wire rope core, handicrafts, carpets, mattresses, geotextiles, filters, buffing cloths, dartboards and specialized paper. In order to replace fiberglass and asbestos, sisal has been used as an eco-friendly agent for strengthening. Lower grade sisal is used to make paper. Medium grade fibers are used for making binder twine, baler and rope. Twines and ropes are employed for agriculture, marine and general uses in industrial situations. After treatment, the higher grade fiber is used by the carpet industry and converted into yarn.
More products created with sisal include disc buffers, cloths, slippers, rugs, lumbar support belts, cat scratching posts and spa products. Wall coverings made of sisal meet the tearing and abrasion standards of the National Fire Protection Association.