Ramie (Boehmeria niveau) is made of natural fibers and is an everlasting kind of the Nettle family. Ramie is also called China grass, grass linen, grass cloth or China linen. As these names reveal, Ramie was cultivated first in Eastern Asia. Ramie fibers are one of the oldest fibers in the world and have been cultivated now for more than 5000 years. It is even assumed that the fabric has been processed in Egypt mummy cloths thousands of years ago.
It was only from the 1930s onwards that ramie fabric gained commercial interest in Europe. Around 1980, Ramie gained more popularity because of new processing methods which improved the qualities of the fabric. Nevertheless, ramie fabric has never really been widely used in the textile industry because the fabric is expensive and its processing is highly complex. However, in some countries such as Japan, ramie textile fibers are very popular.
Ramie textile is very strong, durable and highly absorbent. The fabric is even more absorbent than cotton. Ramie is breathable and bacteria-resistant. It wrinkles easily and has almost no elastic properties. It has many similarities with linen. The appearance of ramie looks a bit like silk since it is shiny and lustrous.
The biggest producing countries of ramie nowadays are China, India, Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.
The production process of ramie is highly labor intensive, especially the process of extracting and cleaning the fibers.
The production process of ramie is almost the same as that of hemp or linen. However, ramie is much more difficult to process compared to other bast fibers because of its sticky pectin (liquid of plant cell walls) which holds the fibers together. The pectin of ramie fibers has a high level of stickiness is and does not easily decompose. The usual process of “retting” (dissolving the pectin) which is used during the production of linen or hemp, does not work for ramie fibers.
The processing of ramie fibers needs to start immediately after the plants are cut or else the pectin hardens and this makes it almost impossible to remove. The retting process of ramie involves lots of chemicals and is labor-intensive. After retting, “decortication” starts. In this process, the woody core is removed from the stem. This process happens directly after the retting process and is also labor-intensive. When decortication is completed, the hemp fibers will be turned into yarns and these will be ready to be spun, woven or knitted.
Ramie fibers are easy to dye because the fibers are highly absorbent. The impact on the environment of the dyeing process depends upon the kind of dyestuff which is used.
Ramie fabric is relatively expensive because of its high level of labor-intensity during the cultivation- and production process. Cheaper alternatives to ramie are cotton and linen.