Banana plant not only gives the delicious fruit but it also provides textile fiber, the banana fiber
. It grows easily as it sets out young shoots and is most commonly found in hot tropical climates. All varieties of banana plants have fibers in abundance. These fibers are obtained after the fruit is harvested and fall in the group of bast fibers. This plant has long been a good source for high quality textiles in many parts of the world, especially in Japan and Nepal.
Extraction of Banana Fiber
The processes for making yarn from banana fibers vary from region to region. Most popular methods among these are those followed in Japan and Nepal.
The cultivation of banana for clothing and other household use in Japan dates back to the 13th century. In the Japanese method of making banana fiber, the care is taken right from the stage of plant cultivation. The leaves and shoots of the banana plant are pruned periodically to ensure their softness. The harvested shoots are first boiled in lye to prepare the fibers for making the yarn. These banana shoots give away fibers having varying degrees of softness. This further results in yarns and textiles with differing qualities that can be used for specific purposes. The outermost fibers of the shoots are the coarsest ones. They are therefore, more suitable for making such home furnishings
as tablecloths. The softest part is the innermost part that gives soft fibers which are widely used for making kimono and kamishimo, the traditional Japanese apparels. The banana cloth making process is a lengthy one and all the steps are performed by hand.
In Nepal, the trunk of the banana plant is harvested instead of the shoots. Small pieces of these trunks are put through a softening process for mechanical extraction of the fibers, and then bleaching, and drying. The fiber obtained thus has appearance similar to silk which has become popular as banana silk fiber yarn. This fiber is refined, processed and skeined mostly by the Nepalese women. Only the aged bark or the decaying outer layers of the banana plant are harvested and soaked in water to quicken the natural process. When all the chlorophyll is dissolved, only the cellulose fibers remain. They are extruded into pulp so that they may become suitable for spinning into yarn. The yarn is then hand- dyed. They have high textural quality similar to silk and as such employed in making high end rugs
. These traditional rugs are woven by hand-knotted methods again by the women of Nepal.
Characteristics of Banana Fiber
Banana fiber is a natural bast fiber. It has its own physical and chemical characteristics and many other properties that make it a fine quality fiber.
Applications of Banana Fiber
- Appearance of banana fiber is similar to that of bamboo fiber and ramie fiber, but its fineness and spinnability is better than the two.
- The chemical composition of banana fiber is cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.
- It is highly strong fiber.
- It has smaller elongation.
- It has somewhat shiny appearance depending upon the extraction & spinning process.
- It is light weight.
- It has strong moisture absorption quality. It absorbs as well as releases moisture very fast.
- It is bio- degradable and has no negative effect on environment and thus can be categorized as eco-friendly fiber.
- Its average fineness is 2400Nm.
- It can be spun through almost all the methods of spinning including ring spinning, open-end spinning, bast fiber spinning, and semi-worsted spinning among others.
In the recent past, banana fiber had a very limited application and was primarily used for making items like ropes, mats, and some other composite materials. With the increasing environmental awareness and growing importance of eco-friendly fabrics, banana fiber has also been recognized for all its good qualities and now its application is increasing in other fields too such as apparel garments and home furnishings. However, in Japan, it is being used for making traditional dresses like kimono, and kamishimo since the Edo period (1600-1868). Due to its being lightweight and comfortable to wear, it is still preferred by people there as summer wear. Banana fiber is also used to make fine cushion covers
, table cloths
, curtains etc. Rugs made from banana silk yarn fibers are also very popular world over.
Innovation in Extraction Process of Banana Fiber
The essentially hand driven process of extracting banana fiber is now set to change with the invention of the Banana Fiber Separator Machine. The machine has been developed in India by Tiruchirappalli Regional Engineering College - Science & Technology Entrepreneurs Park (TREC-STEP). One more interesting fact associated with the development of this machine is that it uses the agriculture waste of banana harvests to produce silk grade fiber. These silk grade fibers are of immense help to the handicrafts and textile industry. What was previously considered an agricultural waste is now converted to a raw material for good quality silk grade fiber yarn.