Only a few weeks left to left observe the official International Year of Natural Fibres (yes, we’re sticking with the international spelling here). For browngrotta arts and many of the artists we represent, of course, promotion of natural fiber in art and otherwise is a lifelong pursuit. In 2009, however, we had the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, which declared this year the International Year of Natural Fibres
If you haven’t been there, the website naturalfibres2009.org offers a wealth of material — informative videos, lush images of natural fiber sources and production methods, interviews with producers and more fibre facts than you can shake a spindle at. The website even includes images of 15 natural fibres under the microscope. (I don’t know why they are there — but I found them interesting in a nerdy way.) Mostly, I just enjoyed the photographs of rice fields at sunset; workers knee deep in cotton and angora bunnies and cashmere goats, just being themselves, but I learned a couple of things.
In case you’ve ever wondered:
• ramie is a natural fibre, one of the strongest in fact and its grown mainly in China, Brazil, the Lao PDR and the Philippines.
• Hemp fibres are also used to reinforce molded thermoplastics in the automobile industry; abaca yarn is used in automobile parts by Mercedes-Benz.
• The biggest producer of mohair is South Africa, but Texas is also important, too, with 200,000 head of mohair goats. Just 20% mohair added to a wool blend provides crease resistance.
Why is the UN urging us to choose natural fibres? Because they are:
• a healthy choice. As most people know, natural fibres provide natural ventilation. Coconut fibres used in mattresses have natural resistance to fungus and mites. Hemp fibre has antibacterial properties, and studies show that linen is the most hygienic textile for hospital bed sheets.
• a responsible choice. Natural fibres are vital to the livelihoods and food security of millions of small-scale farmers and processors. They include 10 million people in the cotton sector in West and Central Africa, 4 million small-scale jute farmers in Bangladesh and India, one million silk industry workers in China, and 120 000 alpaca herding families in the Andes. By choosing natural fibres we boost the sector’s contribution to economic growth and help fight hunger and rural poverty.
• a sustainable choice. Natural fibres are a renewable resource. Growing one ton of jute fibre requires less than 10% of the energy used for the production of polypropylene. Natural fibres are carbon neutral. Processing produces residues that can be used in biocomposites for building houses or to generate electricity. At the end of their life cycle, natural fibres are 100% biodegradable.
• a high-tech choice. Natural fibres have good mechanical strength, low weight and low cost, which has made them particularly attractive to the automobile industry. India has developed composite boards made from coconut fibre that are more resistant to rotting than teak. Brazil is making roofing material reinforced with sisal. In Europe, hemp wastes are used in cement, and China used hemp-based construction materials for the 2008 Olympics.
• a fashionable choice. Natural fibres are at the heart of an eco-fashion or “sustainable clothing” movement that seeks to create garments that are sustainable at every stage of their life cycle, from production to disposal.
More Natural Fibre Fun to Come: Wood was intentionally excluded from this year’s promotion. The International Year of Forests will be in 2011.
Next post: The International Year of Natural Fibres through Art