It’s green, it grows in the wild, it stings and you can make fabric out
of it. Guess what it is! It’s stinging-nettle, a plant that most of us
would have never imagined making fabric from. But nettle fiber is not
the only thread that triggers our imagination; nowadays you can indulge
in many luxurious fabrics weaved from the most exotic plants. To
celebrate the Year of Natural Fibers, we take you on a little trip
around the world to highlight some of our favorite discoveries. Whether
you're a designer or simply a fashion addict, you're going to love
these fibers and fabrics!|
To begin, we asked ourselves the questions: what exactly is a “natural fiber”? First, we distinguish between natural animal and vegetable fibers. Animal fibers are largely those that cover mammals such as sheep, goats and rabbits with well-known examples such as alpaca, merino, wool, fur and mohair. One innovation in ethical animal fibers is the production of cruel-free silk or peace silk. Conventional silk is made by boiling the intact cocoons, thereby killing the silk worms; after which a single silk strand is unwound onto reels. Peace silk allows the silkworm to emerge from its cocoons to live out its full life cycle. The silk is then degummed and spun like any other fiber, instead of being reeled. Silk, like other protein fibers coming from living beings such as sheep and alpacas, can easily be created according to organic guidelines but as with any ethical fibers knowing the facts helps us ask the right questions! One exemplary company in this domain is the Ahimsa Peace Silk project, which is working to help develop the peace silk industry in India, train local artisans in the manufacturing of peace silks and raise global awareness for this product.
Vegetable fibers are derived from the stem, leaf or seed of various plants. In many cases, the technique is ancient and is now being rediscovered as an ecological alternative to the polluting cotton industry. Within the vegetable fiber group we find many mouth-watering variations like piña, made from pineapple leaves and originally turned into wedding attire in the Philippines. The fiber is scraped from the pineapple leaf using a piece of broken plate or coconut shell: a fast scraper can extract fiber from over 500 leaves per day. Piña fiber was the key material for a sustainable fashion show in Zaragoza, Spain in October last year
What about some delicious banana fiber? Like piña, banana fiber originates from Southeast Asia but is gaining rapid fame in other banana-growing countries like Ecuador. The raw materials come from the stem that farmers leave in the garden after a banana harvest. Different layers of the stem yield fibers for specific uses: the outer layers can be hand-knotted into silk-like Nepalese rugs while the inside layers can be used for the finest Japanese kimonos. To see how banana fiber finds its way to contemporary design, take a look at the outdoor collection of German designer Caroline Raffauf and the marvelous creations of Filipino designer Dita Sandico Ong.
Stepping away from the fruit bowl, we went to discover what else is out there on the natural fiber market. We then encountered the grey area of “natural man-made fibers” such as viscose, rayon, lyocell, modal, lenpur (from wood pulp) and bamboo to which we devoted our China issue a few months back. All these fibers are of cellulose origin and created in a technical process that is not always as environmental friendly as we think. The excellent Organic Clothing Blog offers several educational articles on these so-called regenerated fibers. Within that same category we find fibers of protein origin such as soy, corn (Ingeo), peanut and even milk fiber (yes, we’re back to the edibles)! To create this fiber, liquid milk is dried and its proteins extracted. The separated proteins are then dissolved in a chemical solution and placed into a machine that essentially whirls the fibers together. They can then be spun into yarn and woven into fabric. Milk fabric holds dye, is breathable and it captures moisture to make skin hydrated and smooth as if you just stepped out of a milk bath. Eager to get that sensation? Take a look at Corsican label Machja, which offers a range of casual chic basics in this fabric.After our world tour of innovative natural fibers, we end where we started: with nettle fabric. Nettle or nessle fabric is developed from the vermin and parasite resistant Brennessel plant. Upper-class ladies in the Middle-Ages preferred it to silk because of its fine weft and glossy look, but it lost its position to cotton. Dutch company Brennels is the first to revive this fabric by growing its own nettle in the lowlands. Their collaboration with eco designer Rianne de Witte has led to a casual feminine collection that you can find in Brennels shops in The Netherlands. You can see how Brennels grow and harvest nettle on their farm, an ecological heaven open to visitors. Besides their own Brennels label, their webshop also offers pieces from other eco fashion brands such as organic cotton casuals from Ideo and Inti knitwear.
If you feel inspired by all these innovative fibers and you can't wait to get your hands on them, check out these books on the subject: The Natural Knitter or Alt Fiber, the new book by Shannon Okey, with instructions on how to knit these fibers to create your own eco-chic sweater. Finally, don’t miss our glossary, where you can read more about all these exciting fibers!
written by charley, April 01, 2009
stinging nettles? really!
written by RemyC, May 25, 2009
banana fiber supplier
written by nova manuel, February 23, 2010
written by kala, March 30, 2011
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