Not widely known outside the East Asian countries that produce it, ramie is lightweight, silky and made for summer
Native to East Asia and commonly known as China grass, ramie (Boehmeria nivea) is a flowering plant of the nettle family. Its bark has been used for millennia to make twine and thread, and spun as grass-cloth (or "Chinese linen"). It grows to a height of 3 m. Yields of green plants range from 8 to 20 tonnes per hectare, with fibre yields of 1.5 tonnes reported.
Ramie fibre is white with a silky lustre, similar to flax in absorbency and density but coarser (25-30 microns). One of the strongest natural fibres, it has low elasticity and dyes easily. Strands of ramie range up to 190 cm in length, with individual cells as long as 40 cm. Trans-fibre fissures make ramie brittle but favour ventilation.
CNR-ISMAC, Biella, Italy
The ramie plant is grown for fibre mainly in China, Brazil, the Lao PDR and the Philippines. While it is considered a promising "ecological" fibre for use in textiles, fibre extraction and cleaning is difficult and labour-intensive.
Production and trade
FAO estimates world production of ramie green plant at 280 000 tonnes in 2005, almost all of it grown in China. Most of the ramie fibre extracted is used in producing countries, and only a small percentage reaches international markets. The main importers are Japan, Germany, France and the UK.
Uses of ramie
Coarse ramie fibres are suitable for making twine, rope and nets. Wet-spun, it produces a fine yarn with high lustre (at left), suitable for a wide range of garments, ranging from dresses to jeans.
Fabrics of 100% ramie are lightweight and silky, similar in appearance to linen. The Korean traditional costume, the ramie hanbok (at right), is renowned for its fineness.
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However, since it has low elasticity and resilience, ramie is usually blended with other textile fibres. It increases the lustre and strength of cotton fabric and reduces shrinkage in wool blends. It is also blended with silk.