We had a Design Materials rep, Mark Palovick, visit us the other day with new samples of their products containing sisal, and he indulged all our questions about this material – where is it native to, how do they gather the fibers, etc. Below are some examples of the most common natural flooring materials and a smattering of information about them. We hope that you will find them as interesting as we did.
Originally from Mexico, sisal is now grown widely in China, Northeastern Brazil, and East Africa. The fiber, which is found in the agave-like leaves, is extracted by a process known as decortication, where the leaves are crushed, beaten, and brushed. The fiber is then dried and baled for export. Proper drying is important as fiber quality depends largely on moisture content. Artificial drying has been found to produce better results than sun-drying but is not always feasible in the developing countries where sisal is produced.
Once the fibers are extracted and dried, they are used to in a variety of products such as rugs, rope and twine.
*photo from The Library of Congress
Softer to the touch than sisal, jute is made from the fibers located within the stalks of the Corchorus plant. This plant is native to India and is widely produced there, as well as in other regions with tropical climates such as Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
After harvesting, the plants are “retted” (placed in slow moving water), the non-fibrous material scraped off and the fibers extracted from the remaining part of the plant.
Jute has been used in a wide variety of products, from textiles and clothing to grain storage sacks, flooring and erosion control material, etc. On account of its biodegradable nature, its ability to be recycled more than once, and its ease of production (it doesn’t require the heavy pesticides that cotton does), it is one of the most “eco friendly” materials on the planet.
Print from "Cotton and other vegetable fibers: their production and utilization" by Ernest Goulding, 1917
Grown in salt-water marshes, Seagrass (Alismatales) is the only flowering plant that grows completely underwater. The grass, when harvested, is dried and spun into a yarn that is slightly shiny and completely non-porous, which makes it a good water-resistant alternative to more porous fibers such as jute. It has good stain resistance and is softer under foot than sisal.