ALSO KNOWN AS RAMIE
Ramie is a plant belonging to the nettle family (a non-stinging variety!) also known as China grass and native to eastern Asia. The main species is Boehmeria nivea but there are several varieties and many closely related species.
WHAT DOES RAMIE LOOK LIKE
Similar to European nettle but it does not have prickles. It grows as a shrub up to 2 (6'7") metres tall, with heart-shaped dark green crinkly leaves. The underside of the leaves is covered with white hairs, giving it a silvery appearance and the stems are about 1.2 cm thick.
HOW DO THEY MAKE RAMIE
The plant can be harvested 3-6 times a year as it grows very easily and in abundance without the need for fertilisers nor pesticides. It doesn't require irrigation and drainage. Only the stems above ground are cut and used. The thick roots are left for up to 20 years.
First, the stem is stripped of its cortex, the outermost section of the plant. What is left is washed, dried, and de-gummed, making it a spinnable fibre.
WHAT ELSE RAMIE IS USED FOR
Nettle plants have been harvested for thousands of years. Being the strongest natural fibre it has been/still is used for making ropes and sails for ships, parachutes, sewing thread, fishing nets, upholstery, paper and even food.
Because of its anti-bacterial properties it is also used in cheese making ('cheese cloth' is a fine grade of ramie)
and for preservation of corpses. It is even known to have been used in mummy bindings in Ancient Egypt. Still today ramie is used in Korea in funerals.
WHAT ABOUT RAMIE CLOTHING
Ramie production has expanded since then, and the fabric is now valued world-wide for its strength, its ability to hold its shape and not wrinkle. The silky lustre that it presents, along with its antibacterial properties, which means it does not absorb smells easily.
Ramie clothing is ideal for working, travelling, gardening (nothing sticks to it easily). Initially clothing of ramie will feel slightly stiff, but within a day of wearing already the weave will loosen up and the fabric look more 'relaxed'.
Ramie is still not much used by the textile industry. Largely because it is a high cost fibre due to its complex processing requirements. Ramie is a premium plant fibre with several useful characteristics. Improvements in processing methods may well result in ramie becoming a more popular fibre in the near future.
A ramie field
Spun ramie yarn