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Discovering Natural Fibres: Sources of Natural Cellulose Fibre

Fibres are long and very thin. They can be spun into yarn which has many uses.

Some examples are natural fibres from plants such as cotton and animal fibres such as wool and goat hair.

Natural fibres are used for paper, ropes, string, baskets and cloth. (Please note: Fiber is the US way of spelling fibre.)

A sandal from a cave in Kentucky, USA
Fig 9 from Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States, by William Henry Holmes
Full text available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19921/19921-h/19921-h.htm

Humans started to use fibres about 10 000 years ago, and as agriculture developed, plants such as flax were grown for their fibres.

Otzi the Iceman had a woven grass mat with him when he died in the Alps about 5000 years ago.


The History of Fibres
You can read more about this at:
Getting the Fibres from the Plants

Figure 1. Beating
Picture: Adrienne Allen, UniServe Science

Figure 2. Reed fibres
Picture: Adrienne Allen, UniServe Science

This requires hard work beating the plant materials to soften them and often soaking in water for days or weeks to remove the unwanted parts of the plants.

Windmills and watermills were used to drive hammers to beat the fibres.

Retting is the method of soaking fibres to free them from the unwanted parts of the plant
Read more about this at:
Using Fibres

As Otzi's grass clothing tells us, humans have been using fibres for a very long time.

To start with they would have been gathered from wild plants and animals then later they were grown as crops.

Cords and string from stems, for nets for baskets, then finer threads for weaving were developed and later technology developed to spin fibres, first whorls, then spinning wheels and later complicated looms were developed.

Figure 3. Rope net, from http://www.bigfoto.com/sites/galery/photos1/net_rope.jpg

Tree bark can also be used to make shelters and canoes.

Natural Plant Fibres
Seed   Cotton Kapok Coir  
Bast Jute Flax Hemp Ramie Abaca
Grass Sisal Wheat Bagasse Bamboo Kenaf

BAST FIBER APPLICATIONS FOR COMPOSITES - report on Bast fibers from Hempology

The word "bast" refers to the outer portion of the stem of these plants. This stringy, vascular portion comprises 10 - 40% of the mass of the stem depending upon the species of bast plant, as well as the particular variety, or cultivar, within a bast plant.

Plants and Textiles

Plants and Textiles: A legacy of technology - an excellent set of activities about indigo dyeing, mat weaving, net knotting, paper making and rope making, from Cornell University

Each activity has four primary components:
  1. Tools - make a tool.
  2. Technology - use the tool in a traditional activity.
  3. Research - use the Internet to learn about comparable technologies and products in today’s market and to further explore plant fibers and textiles.
  4. Connections -involve others from your community, particularly museums and historical associations.

Australian Plants used for fibres

Aboriginal Use of Native Plants- a resource developed by UniServe Science: inlcudes Webquest, teacher resources and gallery of images as well as desciption of the various plants

Spinifex Baskets - from Fabric of Life Gallery (image)

Twined Together - exhibition of Aboriginal fibre art, Museum of Victoria


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Last Update: Monday, 30-Apr-2012 14:08:44 AEST
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