Ramie is a natural fabric that has been around for thousands of years. It is mostly used in clothing but, also found in industrial applications such as canvass materials, rope, yarn, and other uses. Ramie is not as common as linen and cotton but it’s mostly used in countries where it is grown and produced into fabric, such as China, Taiwan, and Brazil.
Here is everything you need to know about ramie fabric:
What is Ramie Fabric?
Ramie is a natural fabric made from the stalks of the ramie plant. It is also known as China grass, grass linen, and grass cloth. It is considered to be one of the oldest vegetable fibers and has been used for thousands of years for all sorts of applications.
Ramie fabric is also considered to be a fabric used in wrapping mummies in Egypt due to its natural antibacterial and antiparasitic properties. Additionally, it is also one of the oldest fiber crops and has been used in fabric production for at least 6000 years.
The fabric is made from the fibers of the inner bark of the ramie plant. Its outer bark is too woody to be used for fiber.
It is classified as a cellulose fiber and is mostly used in fabric production for clothing. It is most often manufactured as fabric blends, such as ramie and cotton, or ramie with linen, or wool blended. And because of the extensive process involved in the production of ramie fabric, it is touted as expensive, more expensive than cotton, but less expensive than linen.
History of Ramie
Ramie fabric has been grown and used in China for many centuries. Farmers in China have been known to use the fiber to weave into clothing. It has also been noted in Egypt, as mentioned earlier.
In Taiwan, its aboriginal people have used ramie for hundreds of years in fabric production, and ramie is still being used today to create traditional garb worn in festivals.
In the 30s, Brazil began manufacturing ramie fabrics and its production and popularity peaked in the 70s. Since then, production has steadily declined due to the availability of alternative crops like soybeans as well as the production of readily available synthetic fabrics.
The ramie fibers are derived from the ramie plant. This is a flowering plant that’s native to Eastern Asia and belongs to the nettle family Urticaceae. It is a bast fiber, which means the fibers come from the inner bark of the vegetable stalks.
The ramie plants are best grown in areas where there is loamy and sandy loam soil. In terms of climate, ramie is best grown in a warm and humid climate, which is essential for cultivating the plant. The herbaceous perennial grows to about 1-2.5 meters tall and grows like a shrub.
There are two types of ramie, which are the following:
White ramie is also known as true ramie and China grass. This is what most fabric producers use when making ramie fabric. The plant is characterized by having leaves that are heart-shaped, the underside is white, and features small and dense hairs that give it a silk appearance.
Green ramie is also known as Rhea and originated in the Malay Peninsula. It is characterized by having smaller leaves, the underside is green rather than white, and the plant is best grown in tropical climates.
Properties of Ramie Fabric
Ramie is often confused for linen. This is because ramie fabric looks similar to linen, in the way that the fibers look visible on the surface of the fabric. However, ramie is completely different from linen as the latter is derived from fibers extracted from the flax plant.
Ramie is an expensive fabric but linen fetches more, making ramie a great alternative to the aforementioned fabric.
Ramie is considered to be one of the strongest natural fibers. It shows great strength when wet, and it is known for its ability to hold shape and its beautiful silky texture.
It is similar to linen in its breathability, absorbency, density, and surface appearance on the fabric.
Extraction of Ramie Fabric
Ramie fabric production is extensive and expansive, which explains why it’s not a very popular fabric for many clothing manufacturers. It is more expensive than cotton, but less expensive than linen, but features characteristics that are not as favorable as cotton.
Though it is not a top choice for clothing manufacturers, many still produce ramie fabric domestically, as it is a traditional fabric used in many local cultures, such as in India, Taiwan, and China.
When it is used by international producers, it is mostly blended with other fibers, such as cotton, wool, and linen, as well as synthetic fibers.
The process of transforming ramie fibers into fabric is similar to the production process of linen. The resulting fiber is a very fine, naturally white, and silky fiber. Here are the three stages of extraction that takes place with extracting fiber from ramie:
1.The bark of the ramie plant is mechanically removed or done by a machine. This process is called decortication. The outer bark of the ramie plant is too woody to be used, and therefore, the inner bark is used to make ramie fiber.
Although the fiber is all-natural, a few chemicals are needed to de-gum the fibers from the inner bark.
The right time to harvest the ramie plant is when it begins to flower. This is the stage where the plant has the most fibers and is cut above the lateral roots. It has to be debarked when it is still fresh because when it dries out, it will be difficult to get the fibers from the extracted barks.
2.The cortex of the bark is extracted to remove the fibers in the base layer, as well as some of the gums and pectins.
3.The residual cortex material is washed, dyed, and de-gummed to extract the spinnable fiber, with the use of certain chemicals.
Once the fibers have been removed, they are then spun into yarns, and the yarns are then woven by a loom to create the ramie fabric.
Uses of Ramie Fabric
Ramie is a stiff and coarse fabric. It is lustrous and fine, making it great for clothing, but because it’s stiff, it’s ideal for structured pieces, such as a ramie blazer, skirt, pants, shirts, and other pieces of clothing that need some natural stiffness.
It is a versatile fabric that becomes soft and silky when spun wet. It becomes hairy and stiff when it is spun dry. This means that there may be different properties of ramie fabric depending on the manufacturing process.
Other clothing that is great with ramie includes dresses and blouses, as well as jeans. Outside of clothing, ramie fabric is used on drapes, towels, linens, and even electrical insulation.
Because of its coarse and stiff nature, ramie fabric is ideal to use on pouches, brush holders, soap wash bags, filter fabrics, fishing nets, and even totes and bags.
Ramie is also used in the industrial setting, being used on parachutes, canvas for tents and other heavy-duty uses, as well as fire hoses.
Pros and Cons of Ramie Fabric
Ramie fabric has features that are great and not so great about it. Here are some pros and cons of the fabric:
- Ramie is naturally resistant to bacteria, stains, and mildew.
- It is highly absorbent, dyes fairly easily, but not as absorbent as cotton.
- It is strong and durable.
- It gets smoother with further washing.
- It doesn’t shrink nor loses its shape when washed.
- Its tensile strength is 8 times that of cotton and 7 times that of silk.
- The fabric can withstand high temperatures when washed or ironed.
- It looks similar to linen but less expensive, making it a great alternative to the fabric.
- It is stiff and coarse, making it a great material for structured clothing, such as blazers and jeans.
- Wrinkles easily like linen.
- Not a good material for traveling because it creases easily and would need frequent steaming or ironing.
- The productive process is labor-intensive and costly.
- The fabric does not have elasticity, making it uncomfortable if used on fitted clothing.
- Should not be folded since folded areas on the fabric can cause the fibers to break.
- Garments that are made with 100% ramie fiber are not ideal.
- Not readily available internationally, as its production is limited domestically in China, Taiwan, the Philippines, or Brazil.
Just like any kind of fabric, ramie has its own pros and cons that make it ideal and not so ideal for a wide variety of applications.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ramie Fabric
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about ramie fabric:
- Is Ramie Fabric Eco-Friendly?
Yes, ramie fabric is one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics in the market. The ramie plant grows quickly and can be harvested anywhere from 3 to 6 times a year. It is generally grown without the use of pesticides and rainfall alone can be enough to water the plant.
However, the process of making ramie fabric is quite extensive. It is labor-intensive and requires a lot of energy. It requires extracting the gum from the fibers and must use chemical alkaline treatments or a microbial process.
As more and more people value sustainability today, ramie fabric is becoming a popular material to use on clothing for eco-conscious shoppers. As people are looking into alternatives to synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, ramie fabric is being seen as one of the natural materials to take center stage in the coming future of fashion sustainability.
- Is Ramie Fabric Breathable?
Yes, ramie fabric is incredibly breathable. It is a lot like cotton and linen in terms of breathability. It makes for a great material for warm weather, as it helps you cool down when the temperature is high.
Ramie is also highly absorbent, which means it absorbs sweat in your body efficiently, making you warm and comfortable even in hot and humid climates, such as in South East Asia, where it is a popular material for summer clothing.
Despite being absorbent, it also dries out quickly, which adds to the comfort and convenience of wearing the fabric in warm weather.
- Is it Ideal for Those with Sensitive Skin?
Absolutely. Ramie fibers naturally have antibacterial and anti-germ-fighting properties. Because of this, ramie plants generally don’t make use of pesticides and fertilizers when they are grown. When worn, these natural properties make it a very healthy fabric to wear for those who suffer from different skin ailments such as eczema, psoriasis, and other skin irritations.
- Is Ramie Fabric Itchy?
Ramie fabric is stiff and coarse, and it’s natural that people might think wearing it is itchy. But ramie fabric is not itchy to wear, unlike linen.
- Will Ramie Fabric Get Softer After Several Washes?
Unfortunately, ramie only gets rougher and coarser after several washes. This is because the fabrics get rough when wet. This is one of ramie’s several disadvantages over other fabrics.
When folded, the area where the fold creates lines or creases will eventually get damaged. Folding the ramie fabric breaks the fibers, which means ramie clothing must not be folded inside a closet. It must be hung at all times to prevent breakage of fibers and ruining your garment.
And also because of this, it is more ideal to buy ramie fabric that has been blended with other fibers such as cotton and linen, or wool. When you wash these blended fabrics, there is less tendency for the material to get rougher, and there’s a high probability that the material will get better afterward.
Caring for Ramie Fabric
When washing or caring for ramie fabric, it’s always important to look at the fabric care labels in your garments. This is because your ramie clothing may be a blend of other fibers and specific manufacturing processes that require special care.
When it comes to 100% ramie material, there is not much special care required. Washing, drying, and ironing in high settings are fine and should not harm the fibers. Ramie does not shrink or lose its shape, so there’s no need to use special settings in your washing machine, dryer, or iron.
However, when the ramie fabric is blended with other fibers, such as linen it may be prone to shrinking and even color fading, which means you should follow special care instructions that come with the garment when this is the case.
If unsure, use a washing machine in cold water on a gentle cycle. But for the best results, handwashing the garment is the best method to care for ramie clothing.
Ramie fabric has been around for over 6000 years. The earliest use of ramie fabric was recorded in Egypt, as ramie was used in wrapping mummies. It is widely grown and produced in China and has since been used for hundreds of years, as well as in Taiwan.
The fabric is made using ramie fibers from the ramie plant of the Chinese nettle plant and is characterized as being lustrous, coarse, and stiff. It is used mostly in clothing, such as dresses, jeans, blouses, and even blazers due to its stiff nature.
It is easy to care for as it has a high temperature, but creases easily, and is not ideal for travel. It is also quite expensive because the process to produce ramie fabric is labor-intensive. It is more expensive than cotton but less expensive than linen, despite having similar appearances. It is best used in humid and hot weather, making ramie fabric a great material for summer wear.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.