"ray - me"
It’s a linen-like fibre obtained from the cellulose of plants known as “China Grass” (Boehmeria Nivea), grass linen/cloth and rhea. Ramie is similar to cotton, linen and rayon. Boehmeria Nivea is a member of the nettle family but doesn’t sport the sting we all dread. It’s known as an alternative to linen. The fibre used to manufacture ramie fabric comes from the inner bark of stalks.
China Grass grows best in warm, humid weather. As the name suggests it’s a native plant to China. Nowadays it is produced across the world in China, Taiwan, Korea and Brazil. It grows without the need for pesticides and herbicides. As a perennial plant, harvests are usually made 2-3 times each year. In optimal conditions up to 6 harvests are possible. Growing this incredible plant does not erode soil and uses little energy and water.
Undyed Ramie is white in colour. Ramie is more absorbent than cotton but breathable and resistant to wrinkles. It holds shape well and doesn’t shrink. Despite being very absorbent it dries quickly. The fabric becomes smoother and more lustrous with each wash. Ramie is a very strong fibre – up to 8 times stronger than cotton and 7 times stronger than silk.
Ramie has been in use for over 6000 years. In some Eastern countries ramie has been used for longer than cotton. In Japan ramie is one of the most used fabrics. As silk was available only to the richer classes ramie was commonly used by working class people. Traditionally ramie is used for the Hanbok in Korea. It’s widely believed that these properties meant it was used for wrapping mummies!
In the 1980s ramie became more widely used in the USA. It is still a less common textile. This is due to the high cost of the complicated process necessary to treat the fibres for use. The production process is similar to that of linen. The cellulose requires more vigorous work to break down the sticky pectin holding fibres together. Improvements to this process over time and the resulting decrease in costs will surely lead to this sustainable fabric being used more frequently.
Here at Tiger Lily Crafts we recommend using ramie for garments with more structure. It's the perfect substitute for linen - but without the creasing! We've made the Hinterland Dress by Sew Liberated with Modelo's ochre ramie and it's fabulous.
Ramie fibres are also used for packing materials, parachutes, fire hoses and fishing nets. The shorter waste fibres are used to make paper. It’s a sustainable alternative where stiff, durable textiles are needed.
High temperature washing and ironing won’t shrink or distort ramie fibres. Avoid pressing sharp creases in ramie fabric as it is prone to breaking with repeated folding. We recommend having sharp scissors and regularly changing your sewing machine needle when using ramie as it’s quite a dense fabric!