A versatile, age-old fibre from plants in the genus Corchorus that thrive in a monsoon climate, where they can grow fast with their feet in water in alluvial soil. Tossa jute, Cochorus olitorius, traditionally comes from Africa and the Middle east, and white jute, Cochorus capsularis, from India. West Bengal and Bangladesh are the world’s largest producer of jute. The colloquial Bengali name for jute is paat or patti, meaning a braid of hair.
As a bast fibre (meaning the fibre is derived from the stem and the outer skin of the plant), just is extracted and processed in the same way as hemp, kenaf, ramie and flax-linen. Much of the production today is mechanized, however for millennia the fibre has been extracted manually, via the retting process that involves bundling and immersing the fibres in low running water: women and children strip the non-fibrous matter and collect the long fibres as they are released. In India, the weaving is done mostly in Kerala, which has a more suitable climate. Its primary indigenous use was for ropes, twines, string and sacking, though Bengalis have worn white jute clothes since early times (Ain-e-Akbari, Abul Fazal 1590);
After cotton, jute is the second most used fibre in the world. It is much less expensive to make and with none of the associated environmental and physical. Indeed, it is 100% biodegradable and every part of the plant is usable from food to geo-textiles.Being rain-fed, it has no need for artificial fertilization; it grows extremely fast and produces a large amount of cellulose, suggesting that it could meet much of the world’s wood requirements without incurring deforestation. Constant cropping and re-growth of any vegetation is environmentally helpful – young vibrant plantings absorb 5% more carbon di-oxide than mature plantations.
Jute is traditionally used as the weft for kelims, dhurries and all hand woven carpets In the mid 18thC, Scottish weavers started seriously importing it from Bengalese producers to Europe, and subsequently employed new technologies to spin better quality yarns and weave the cloth by machine. In the UK this woven cloth developed alongside new broadloom and carpet weaving technologies, soon becoming the favoured carpet backing for Axminster and Wilton, which it has been ever since.
Mechanisation and global transportation vastly increased production volume and trade. The primary indigenous use had been for ropes, string and sacking, all handwoven and whilst this is still the case machine woven jute cloth is largely used to make and export grain as agricultural and building sacks across the world, and in this capacity it is often called hessian, or burlap.
Hessian can be jute alone or a mix of natural bast fibres. Often confused, the difference between hessian and sacking is that sacking tends to be heavier – using a thicker fibre and, or, more tightly.
Jute biodegrades naturally, so all in all the life cycle is clean and universally benecifial.
Properties and usage
* The fibre is soft, warm, easily manageable, versatile and used very much like cotton; the tossa variety is the silkier, stronger of the two.
* Jute is a good material for interior furnishings: inexpensive and versatile for curtains, wall coverings, loose covers, cushions, to cover garden chairs, and for upholstery. It works for contemporary ideas and down-to-earth, simple furnishings in both urban and rural settings; it is interesting in all environments. Often made up as a bound area rug on wooden floors–as it is similar in colour and tone.
* As with all un-dyed and un-bleached fibres, it ripens into a deeper tone over time, becoming more mellow and even textually softer. If you prefer, there are treatments that limit this, at least partially.
* Rural and rustic, chic and urban, jute flooring is a good choice for the least trafficked areas, bedrooms, landings and drawing rooms–though not the best choice for stairs, hallways or family rooms, as it has a shorter life than similar other options.
* Wall to wall flooring: jute requires a competent and experienced fitter, who really understands the material. Although it’s not carpet, it is woven and needs an underlay to improve the walk; it needs to be secured with grippers underneath or studs from above. Natural materials such as wool, or wool and cotton felt underlays are by far the best, providing a backing that jute can bed itself into, increasing its longevity, sound proofing and depth.
* Joins: the usual width restrictions mean that joins are at some stage inevitable; these should always go with the length and both pieces hand-stitched together in situ. For thresholds and joining strips use either light oak wood left clear, stained, or linen-covered, or commission bespoke metal strips. . Alternatively ask your fitter to lay it without threshold joints. pic….
* Edges: linen bindings suit all natural floorings, especially around hearths, stairs, mat wells and on landings around the banisters. These must be hand-stitched in situ to look good, from a 5cm (c.a. 2”) binding approx. 1-1.5cm (c.a. 0.4-0.6”) on top, and the rest folded under. Neutral or toning colours will blend in, contrast ones add interest–we’ve used contrast bindings with all woven floorings very successfully, around the perimeters of a room, either side of the stairs and around hearths. Use a narrow edging of 1-1.5cm (c.a. 0.4-0.6”), which looks especially good with uneven cottagey walls, or go for it with a full 5-6 cm (c.a. 2-2.4”). A strong formal edging looks especially attractive if the walls are straight and the architecture formal.
* Stairs: fitting jute on stairs is fine in principle, but it’s not strong enough to withstand any level of family use. Instead, use a sympathetic flat-woven wool or cotton flooring, in stripes or a small geometric pattern to complement the adjacent jute.
* Rugs: any size and shape of rug can be made to suit, either by cutting down the standard width–usually 4m– or joining a large piece with hand stitched seams. Linen bindings that are strong enough in colour and/or size to identify the edges look good in toning or contrasting tones – leather, felt, flat wool embroideries, tapestries–anything goes, so long as it is always hand-stitched. The cost to hand stitch the border is well worth paying .
* Practicality: jute can be fitted anywhere in the house, but it’s best in low traffic areas and as floor rugs as these can be lifted and laundered. Similarly, jute will wear at doorways, where there is any degree of heavy footfall. Fit a full width threshold (the depth of the wall and architrave) in light oak, or stained to match the flooring, to take the brunt of the traffic.
* Durability: like cotton it can be dyed and treated, but as flooring it can’t be lifted to wash like clothing and so needs care. Cover with rugs in heavy use or with soiling potential areas.
* Maintenance: most natural materials are hardwearing; after a period of time they settle in and ‘walk up’ and the stains are eventually absorbed into the fibres–jute has the added bonus of being non-static and therefore doesn’t attract dirt.
* Cleaning: regularly vacuum to remove surface dust. Clean spots and spills as soon as you can after they have happened. Above all don’t fit anything anywhere you need to fuss about. Use rugs to do the work for you.
+ its natural sheen has earned it the title ‘Golden Fibre’
+ 100 % biodegradable and recyclable
+ cultivation requires no fertilisers or pesticides
+ carbon neutral
+ high tensile strength
+ a breathable fibre and cloth
+ good insulator for warmth and acoustics
+ blends easily with other fibres, especially wool, to improve the properties of both
+ low thermal conductivity
+ accepts all cellulose and pigment dyes
– poor drape
– creases easily
– fibres become brittle and shed
– loses strength when wet