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How is ramie fiber made?

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Ramie belongs to the family of nettle plants. It is a hardy perennial plant. From underground rhizomes, it produces a larger number of unbranched stems. The plant can grow to a height of 1-2.5m. Using rhizome or stem cuttings, the crop is generally propagated vegetatively. Once the roots become overcrowded the production begins to decline.

• HARVESTING
Normally ramie is harvested around two to three times per year but under good growing conditions, the plant can be harvested up to six times a year. The harvesting process is done just before or soon after the onset of flowering. The reason behind this is, at this stage maximum fiber content is achieved and plant growth tends to decline. The harvesting is done by cutting the stems just above the lateral roots or in order to break the core the stem can be bent and the cortex to be stripped from the plant. Although mechanical harvesters are developed on a commercial scale, this process is done manually. After harvesting, while the plants are fresh the stems are decorticated because, after that, the plants start to dry out which will make the process difficult. Then to prevent attack by bacteria or fungi, the bark ribbons are dried as quickly as possible.

• EXTRACTION OF FIBER
The extraction of the fiber is done in three stages.
• De-corication: In this stage, either by hand or by machine, the bark or cortex is removed.
• In the second stage, most of the outer bark is removed which contains the parenchyma, some of the gums and pectins and the scraping process of the cortex is done.
• In the third stage, the residual cortex matter is washed, dried, and de-gummed to extract the spinnable fiber.

• RETTING
The Retting process is done for the stems which involves the controlled soaking of ramie stems in water and allowing bacteria to attack the stems. Then by a mechanical process, the fibers are separated by scutching or beating. These fibers are the bundles of many overlapping cellulosic cells.

• SPINNING
The retted fibers are much stiffer and longer than cotton which is combed. For spinning the fiber through a hand spinner the process of treating fibers is similar to that of flax. Hence the fibers can be either wet or dry spun. The yarns produced by wet spinning are smooth, softer, and have high luster while the yarns produced by the dry spinning method have a harder feel, have less luster, and a harsher handle. Then the fibers can be blended with other natural fibers such as wool and silk.

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