Pronounced ray-me, Boehmeria nivea, a flowering plant also known as China grass, which produces a bast fibre. The white ramie is traditionally cultivated in China, and the green ramie in the Malay peninsula. Nowadays it is also grown in Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, the Phillipines, Brazil and Australia. Ramie fibre and textile has been highly prized for millennia, we know for example that it was used for Egyptian mummy cloths as far back as 5,000-3,000 BC for Chinese burial shrouds at least 2,000 years ago, and as summer Japanese Kimonos. These can be seen in museums including the V &A museum in London which has samples from the 1800 s .
* The plant produces a large number of unbranched stems from underground rhizomes, it has a crop life of 6 to 20 years, and can be harvested up to 6 times a year in the best conditions, although 2-3 times is more usual. The process of taking the fibres into fabric is similar to that of all bast fibre crops–and described more fully under ‘linen’
1. The cortex, or outer skin is removed either by hand or machine
2. The cortex is scraped to remove most of the outer bark and as many of the of the gums and pectins.
3. The residual cortex is washed, dryed and de-gummed, to extract the spinnable fibre The de-gumming process requires chemical action.
* The fibre is naturally white, looks and feels like fine silk, and takes well to dyeing and printing –as in shibori and katabira.
* It has many of the attributes of other bast fibres and furthermore is the strongest of the natural fibres. It is very similar to but lighter than linen, and strongest when wet, which makes it well suited to the hot and humid climates where it grows. Its strength, feel, drape, strength and durability make it ideal for ropes, netting, upholstery, bedlinen, tablecloths, curtains, sheers, millinery and knitwear.
* A disadvantage is that it’s fibres are the least elastic, so more brittle and inclined to break when creased. It is therefore unsuitable on its own for roman blinds, pleats or any household linen that might be left folded for any length of time.
* A more resilient fabric is made by blending it with cotton (55% ramie/45% cotton), which increases its strength, absorbency and lustre; in this combination it can be woven into anything from the finest cloth to a coarse canvas.
* When blended with wool, the ramie content minimises shrinkage, and the wool adds bounce and elasticity to the weave, producing a lovely light crease resistant cloth.
* Ramie is also successfully blended with silk, flax, polyester, and acrylic fibres.
+ Resistant to bacteria, mildew, alkalis, rotting, light and insect attack.
+ Extremely absorbent (this makes it comfortable to wear)
+ Dyes fairly easy.
+ Naturally stain resistant.
+ Increases in strength when wet.
+ Withstands high water temperatures during laundering.
+ Smooth lustrous appearance improves with washing.
+ Keeps its shape and does not shrink.
+ Strong and durable with a tensile strength of approx. eight times that of cotton and seven times greater than silk.
+ Can be bleached.
+Local labour supports local communities
– Low in elasticity.
– Lacks resiliency.
– Low abrasion resistance.
– Wrinkles easily.
– Stiff and brittle.
– Necessary de-gumming process.
– High labour intensity increases the cost.