Considered to be one of the strongest fibers in the natural world, ramie becomes even stronger when it is wet. The fiber ramie is especially known for being able to reduce wrinkles and hold shape. The fabric appearance looks lustrous and silky. Compared to other fibers, it is not as durable. Thus, it is blended usually with different fibers like wool or cotton. In terms of absorbency, it is not unlike linen. It also has the same microscopic appearance and density as linen. On the other hand it won’t dye as easily as cotton fabrics. Ramie is brittle and stiff due to its high molecular crystalline properties. If you repeatedly fold it in the same place, it will break. It is low in elongation potential and elasticity. Ramie also lacks resiliency.
Native to Eastern Asia
Native to East Asia, Ramie is a nettle family flowering plant. It is a perennial herb and grows up to two and a half meters tall. There are heart-shaped leaves and small hairs on the underside. Unlike stinging nettles, it gives an appearance of being silvery. China grass or true ramie is called white ramie or Chinese plant.
Rhea or green ramie is a second type of ramie and is thought to have come from the Malay Peninsula. This type has leaves that are smaller with an underside that is green. It also seems to be more adapted to tropical conditions. The Malay word ‘rami’ is where the word ‘ramie’ comes from.
One of the oldest crops ever used for fiber, Ramie has been around for a minimum of 6,000 years. Mainly, it is used for the production of fiber. The part used for fiber is the vegetative stalk bark, making this a bast fiber. Normally, ramie is harvested twice or thrice annually. In great conditions of growing, it can be harvested up to six times yearly. Ramie, unlike other bast crops, requires the fiber to be de-gummed using chemical processing.
Ramie is harvested soon after or just before the start of flowering. Since there is a plant growth decline at this stage, it is harvested at this time. The maximum content of fiber is also available at this point. Stems are harvested by bending the stem or cutting just above the lateral roots. This enables the cortex to be stripped from the plant in situ and enables the core to be broken.
Stems after harvesting are decorticated when the plant is fresh. If this does not occur, the bark becomes hard to remove, and the plant dries out. Then, the bark ribbon is dried as quickly as possible. This prevents fungi and bacteria from attacking it.
From crops, harvested stems’ dried weight ranges from three to four-and-a-half yearly. This means that a crop that weighs 4.5 tons yields one-thousand-six-hundred kilograms/hectare/year of dry fiber non-de-gummed.
Fiber extraction happens in 3 different stages. First, the bark or cortex is removed. This can be done by machine or by hand. Decortication is what the process is called. Next, the cortex goes through a scraping so that most of the outer bark gets removed. In the bast layer, the parenchyma some of the pectins and the gums are removed as well. Finally, they wash the residual cortex material, dry this and then extract the spinnable fiber after it is de-gummed.
Uses of Ramie
Ramie is used for creating products like filter cloths, fishing nets, packing materials and sewing thread. It is also made for household furnishings into fabric, such as canvas and upholstery. Clothing can also be made or ramie. Frequently, another textile fiber is mixed with ramie such as wool. This creates a reduction in shrinkage in wool compared to 100% wool. Ramie’s waste and short fibers are used to manufacture paper. Ribbons of ramie are utilized as a substitute for linen tape and binding books.
Toyota’s Prius 2010 started using eco-bioplastic derived from plants made from cellulose in grass or wood rather than petroleum. Ramie is one of the main crops.
Ramie is Expensive to Produce
Ramie has limited textile use acceptance, despite its strength. The extraction and cleaning of the fiber does not come cheap. The main reason for this is that it involves too many steps including having to scrape, pound, heat, wash and expose the fibers to chemicals. All these steps are sometimes necessary to separate the resins or adhesive gum to the raw fiber which unsheathes it. Fiber spinning is hard by its low elasticity and brittle quality. The yarn’s hairy surface is complicated. The result is a lack of fiber-cohesion between them. Ramie’s greater use depends on there being improved methods of production or processing.
Properties of Ramie
Ramie is resistant to insect attacks, light, rotting, alkalis, mildew, and bacteria. It is very absorbent and thus very easy to wear and feel comfortable in, particularly when the weather is warm. Not unlike linen, ramie has a natural ability to resist stains with ease of soil or stain removal. Ramie does this even better than cotton. Mild acids don’t harm ramie and it is fairly easy to dye. When laundering, there is good wet-fastness in ramie although when repeatedly washed, darker colors might lose its vibrancy. When wet, ramie is stronger than when it is dry. Ramie can withstand high-temperature laundering. When washed, the smooth luster and appearance improve. Ramie does not shrink and keeps its shape. Also, this type of fabric can be bleached.
These days, it is a good idea to become familiar with all the great properties of natural fibers such as ramie. This way, you will know what to mix with other fabrics to garner maximum properties for the textile blend. Also, if you want to add an interesting twist to your ramie garments, go ahead and dye them in a range of colors from a great source of textile and fabric dyes.