While many rug manufacturers rely on fabric fibers such as polyester to weave area rugs, bamboo, sisal, and hemp are strong and renewable plant fibers. These natural plant fibers are finding an expanding market as an alternative to synthetic fabrics. Long used in Asia for a wide variety of fabric uses, bamboo and sisal fabrics are making a significant impact in the United States. Rugs produced from natural plant fibers offer all of the benefits of synthetics and then some.
All synthetic fabrics are made from plastic and most plastic is made from oil. Even though there is a significant market for recycled plastics, most plastic material is not biodegradable and will remain in your local landfill almost forever. Increased use of natural plant fibers such as bamboo, jute, and hemp can have a dramatic on reducing oil consumption. Most of these plant fibers can be produced locally, as can the finished rug product. Locally produced goods can further reduce the need for oil since the transportation cycle is greatly reduced.
Bamboo and Hemp Fiber
Bamboo rugs start out as plant fibers that have been spun into fabric. Bamboo fabric fiber is made from the pulp of bamboo grass. Bamboo is fast growing plant and bamboo fabric has many advantages over other types of fabric fibers. Bamboo has a natural and long lasting antimicrobial property. The antimicrobial property can last a very long time even after repeated washing. High quality bamboo fabric can be as soft as the finest cashmere wool and is long wearing.
Bamboo is a true member of the grass family of plants and grows in surprisingly diverse environments, from the jungles of Southeast Asia to mountain climates in China. Though not a native species, bamboo can be found growing in Europe, Africa and in North and South America. Depending on the location, bamboo can grow rapidly and does not require an extraordinary amount of care.
Bamboo is harvested as a hardwood and has a great many uses including a food source, since the young shoots and even the seeds, are often used in Asian cooking. Bamboo is also found in a wide variety of products, from window shades and flooring to cooking utensils. Depending on the growing environment, bamboo may grow more slowly. Slow growth results in bamboo that is denser in composition. This type of bamboo is finding its way into products like hardwood flooring.
Bamboo fibers are available from organic sources. For most bamboo cultivation, chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are not needed. In the proper environment, bamboo grows extremely fast. Bamboo is among several plant fiber sources that support the movement towards sustainable growing practices. Since bamboo cultivation does not require chemicals, proper cultivation can greatly reduce any adverse impacts on the environment. Although there is some debate about bamboo cultivation displacing native plant species, there is tremendous potential in bamboo fabric fiber.
Like bamboo, hemp is a very strong and versatile fiber with many uses including, paper, fabrics, and rope. Hemp also has many other non-textile applications from making plastics to producing bio fuels. Hemp fiber fabric is long lasting, often blended with cotton and other natural fibers. Hemp, like bamboo, can be cultivated without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. Hemp plants can be grown in very diverse areas of the world with little or no care.
Sisal and Jute Fiber
Sisal, often referred to as grass hemp, is another natural fiber material that is widely used for producing rugs. A species of the agave plant, sisal fiber has been used for thousands of years for everything from rope and twine to paper and other commercial uses such as backing for carpet. Sisal is completely biodegradable, like bamboo and hemp can be cultivated without chemicals. When processed, sisal can be fashioned into very durable fabrics and yarns.
Jute has many of the same fiber characteristics as sisal. Jute fiber is made from a close relative of the basswood tree. Basswood is lightweight, softwood that is fast growing tree found primarily in southern Asia. Like other types of natural fiber, jute has been used for many years to make fabric. When jute is combined with silk, hemp and other fibers, the result is a fabric that is longwearing and quite versatile.
The natural color of these fibers is somewhat plain and neutral. The good news is that, like most natural fabrics like cotton, these fibers accept dyes extremely well. Well before the widespread commercial use of these fabrics, vegetable and plant dyes were used to color them. Synthetic fabrics are often treated with chemical dyes that have a far greater environmental impact that natural plant based dyes.
Any one of these natural fibers makes an excellent choice for weaving durable and beautiful rugs. So if you are looking for quality, durability, and an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic fiber rugs, try bamboo, sisal or other natural fabric.