With the call for a greener planet, some innovative textile solutions are being explored and alternative natural fibers are being sought and brought back to life. In this article we are looking at banana and pineapple fibers.
Cloth made from banana fiber
Bananas are grown and cultivated as a natural resource in many tropical and sub-tropical countries. The banana fruit is one of the most popular and is harvested throughout the year. Banana leaves are frequently used in food processing and food packaging. What might be lesser known is that shiny yarn is made from the leaves and stalks of banana plants.
There are around 200 different varieties of banana plants and the one that is used for fiber is not the same as the fruit producing variety. Banana fibers are obtained from the pseudostem of the plant. The pseudostem is formed by overlapping leaf sheaths that are tightly packed and looks like a trunk. Banana pseudostem is used as pulp and raw material for paper, fibers for textiles and also as a filler in some composites materials.
Banana fibers are natural fibers and are obtained from an agricultural residue. Fibers from the pseudostem leaves are extracted by a machine that is used to strip bark and skin from stalks, wood and grain. As soon as the pseudostem’s leaves are cut, the extraction process takes place. The common method is a combination of water retting and scraping.
- The first step is to separate the fiber bundles from the remaining parts and that is called tuxing which can be done manually or mechanically. The tuxing process produces fiber bundles that are 5 to 8 cm wide, the same as the length of the leaf.
- The second step is to remove gum and non-fibrous residues by washing the fibers thoroughly. It is then dried, this is traditionally done in the sun.
The banana fibers can then be spun and woven. The quality of the fibers inside the stalk varies with the inner strands being smooth and fine and the outer strands being courser. The smooth fine fibers are used for textiles and the thicker and courser fibers for products like baskets, rope and mats. Banana yarn for hand crafts is a chunky hand spun yarn with a soft texture and pearly sheen. The production of banana textiles is eco-friendly and sustainable.
Banana stems, for many years considered to be a waste product, is now being used to produce a silky fiber. Banana-fiber cloth comes in different thicknesses and weights, depending on what part of the pseudostem the fibers were taken from. Thicker and sturdier cloth is made from the fibers that are obtained from the outer sheaths and silky fine cloth is produced from the innermost fibers.
Pina: cloth made from Pineapple fiber
Another innovative textile solution that is being brought back to life is pineapple fiber. The cloth that is made from pineapple fibers is called Pina, which means pineapple in Spanish. Pineapples are mainly grown in subtropical countries, such as the Philippines, Hawaii, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, the West Indies, Brazil and Bangladesh.
Pineapple fiber is obtained from the leaves of the pineapple plant, so what is an existing byproduct of the pineapple harvest, can be converted into cloth.
The credit for making cloth from pineapple fiber goes to the Philippines where pina weaving dates back to approximately the1500s. Pina was commonly used by handcraft artisans in the Philippines and was traded as far away as Greece and Egypt.
During the 19th century pina was in high demand worldwide, but with cheaper cotton fabrics becoming more available, the production of pina almost stopped.
Production of pina is a laborious process and takes place in 5 stages.
- Pagkigue: mature pineapple leaves are harvested and the outer coating is stripped off by scraping them with a blunt instrument, often a coconut shell.
- Two grades of fiber are extracted from the leaves: Bastos is strong and course and used for string or twine while Liniwan or washout is much finer and used for fabric. To get the Liniwan the leaf has to be scraped vigorously to lift it away. By washing the green epidermal layer away from the fibers, white opaque threads are left.
- Pagpisi and pagpanug ot are the stages where the individual fibers are hand knotted and trimmed to create one long and seamless filament.
- Pagtalinuas is the stage where the filaments are warped and spun onto spools and when it is not being manipulated, the loose fibers are mixed with sand to prevent them from getting tangled.
- The final stage is paghaboe and is the weaving of pina on an upright 2-treadle loom.
Pineapple fibers are naturally glossy and ivory-white, making the cloth translucent, fine and soft and with a high lustre. It is hand woven by only a few weavers, making it precious and therefore expensive. The hand woven fabric is dyed using vegetable dyes from leaves and bark from different trees.
Pina is used to make wedding dresses, Barong Togalong and other Philippine formal dress. Pina is often blended with cotton, silk or abaca to make it more affordable.
It has been difficult to re-establish the pina trade as training new weavers is difficult, very time-consuming and requires a lot of practice. The pina industry is creating local jobs in the Philippines and the opportunity to improve the lives of people in areas where they would not have other employment.
As pina production increases, it has a lot of potential and can lead to economic rewards for the indigenous weavers and their communities, thereby benefiting the whole country.
Pinatex is a natural fiber leather alternative that was developed over a period of several years.
After the pineapple harvest has been brought in, the leaves are gathered and goes through a process of decortication to extract the fibers. Decortication is the removal of the external layer of the leaves to expose the fibers.
The fibers are degummed and goes through an industrial process to become a non-woven mesh that forms the basis of pinatex. Pinatex is strong, versatile, breathable, soft and light and can easily be printed on, cut and stitched. It is being made into footwear and fashion accessories and can be used in interiors, furnishings and the automotive and aeronautical industries.
Biomass is taken back to the pineapple fields where it can be used for fertilizer. The use of an agricultural waste product like pineapple leaf fiber, provides the opportunity to build an industry for farming communities, with minimal environmental impact.
There is a demand for leather alternatives and pinatex is a suitable alternative for this growing market. Bangladesh is one of the pineapple producing countries that has the potential to become a big producer of pineapple leaf fiber to be used in pina or pinatex, both innovative textile sollutions.