Traditionally used for twine and rope, it now has many uses–paper, cloth, wall coverings, carpets, drums and in the household–body brushes, slippers an cleaning cloths; also in the building and automotive industry as a strengthening agent, and being developed for biomass fuel.
To process the fibres, the long Agave leaves are crushed and beaten with a rotating wheel set with blunt knives until only the fibres remain–this is a process known as decortification. The fibres are then washed, cleaned and dried, before being…..and woven into yarn bamboo , agave ….
Sisal fibres are softer and finer than coir and yet strong, extremely durable and resistant to salt water deterioration. It is the most expensive of the soft natural flooring materials, but also the most versatile with an inherent flexibility makes it suitable for many weaves and patterns, and an ability to take dyes well.
Weaves: the usual woven flooring weaves: plain, basket and herringbone are supplemented by boucle, panama and small geometric patterns combining two or more colours. Blended with wool or jute it become softer, more pliable and more attractive for bedrooms, or anywhere you want softness underfoot with out rugs.
Colour: sisal is the only soft natural flooring material that readily takes dye. Its natural colours, ranging from white sand to wet sand come dyed white to black, silver to navy blue; we’ve also used sisal in soft pink, reds, blues and yellows, but mostly in a mid to dark chocolate brown.
Setting: as with all flat weaves sisal fits into any environment, becoming the perfect foil for all decoration styles. The range of colours and weaves simply make it even easier to place. As pleasing in clean, contemporary, open architecture as in an eclectic busy household. When seen in situ it is not dissimilar to the tatami mat, and therefore good for quiet spaces and meditation areas.
Wall to wall: sisal needs a competent and experienced fitter who really understands the material: it is not carpet. Always lay on a felt underlay with gripper rod, loose binding or bronze nailing around the edges. Sisal beds itself into the felt and thereby keeps in position, creating a soft, warm and sound deadening walk. Seagrass is also fine on stairs, again if well fitted.
Joins: The usual width restrictions means that joins are at some stage inevitable; these should always go with the length, and both pieces hand stitched together in situ. Always use light oak wood, the width of the threshold, or linen covered thresholds: never cheap metal. Or else ask your fitter to lay it without threshold joints.
Edges: sisal, together with all woven floorings, looks good with linen bindings around hearths, stairs, mat wells and on landings around the banisters. These must be hand stitched in situ to look good, from a 5 cm binding approx. 1-1.5 cm on top and the rest folded under. Neutral or toning colours will blend in, contrasting ones add interest. We’ve often used contrast bindings around the perimeters of rooms, either side of the stairs, and around hearths. Either use a narrow edging of 1-1.5 cm, which looks especially good with un-even cottagey walls, or go for it with a full 5-6 cm. A strong formal edging looks really good if the walls are straight and the architecture formal.
Stairs: sisal is fine on domestic stairs as its very durable. Sisal and wool mixes, being softer and more pliable than 100% sisal, will bend and sit easily on any curved or complex stair run. As with all stair runs, the bottom steps are inclined to wear first and any flooring must be well fitted so that there is no material slippage. If you have concerns, stop the sisal at the top and bottom and fit a flat weave wool runner in stripes or a sympathetic geometric pattern.
Rugs: any size and shape of rugcan be made by cutting down larger pieces and hand stitching seams. Linen bindings look good in toning or contrasting tones, as does leather, felt, flat wool embroideries, tapestries –anything goes. But always hand stitched. The cost is well worth it.
Durability: sisal is tough, although slight matting can occur in high traffic areas, it is not likely to wear prematurely. As it does not build up static, it doesn’t trap dust. Classified from medium domestic-full contract.
Maintenance: sisal only needs to be vacuumed
Cleaning: as with all natural materials–stone, slate and wood, seagrass– sisal needs to ‘walk up’ to age. To start with all marks and spots will show, but as the material ages, the surface changes and stains become either absorbed into or repelled by the mature material. All that is needed is regular vacuuming to remove surface dust.
Practicality: I’ve used seagrass and other rush mattings in my own dining rooms and children’s rooms–most dropped food, including sultanas, soft fruit and sticky play materials will come out with a stiff brush. This is with relatively careful use–I wouldn’t use it in a kitchen.
Exterior Doorways: Seagrass will wear at front and back doorways, so plan the area for replacement or use a heavier duty coir mat well. I wouldn’t recommend it for busy hallways, boot rooms or utility areas–only an impervious stone , which can be washed with water and scrubbed can take that sort of wear.
Bathrooms: sisal, despite its resistance to seawater, will discolour in wet areas. However, no soft flooring will last a lifetime in any bathroom and a sisal wool mixture will be comfortable underfoot and durable, so long as it doesn’t get too wet; a solution to this is using a supplementary mat and keeping the room well aired.
Under floor heating: sisal is perfect to lay over concrete and underfloor heating. Lay over padded paper or thick cotton felted underlay to keep the walk soft.
Other are: Agave, seagrass, coir, jute and rush.