Ramie is commonly known as China grass from which the ramie fibre is derived. The ramie plant is a hardy perennial, which can be harvested up to 6 times a year. It produces a large number of un-branched stems from underground rhizomes and has a crop life from 6 to 20 years. The fibres need chemical treatment to remove the gums and pectin found in the bark. The process of transforming the ramie fibres into fabric is similar to the process used for manufacturing linen from flax.
The true ramie or ‘China Grass’ is also known as ‘white ramie’ and is the Chinese cultivated plant. It has large heart shaped, crenate leaves covered on the underside with white hairs that give it a silvery appearance. The fibre is very fine like silk, and being naturally white in color does not need bleaching. Long before cotton was introduced in the Far East, it was used for Chinese burial shrouds over 2,000 years ago. It was used in mummy cloths in Egypt during the period 5000 – 3000 BC. Ramie’s popularity increased in the mid 1980s with a fashion emphasis on natural fibres.
Chemically ramie is classified as a cellulose fibre, just as cotton, linen, and rayon. The leading global producers of ramie are China, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and Brazil. Ramie is often blended with cotton to make woven and knit fabrics that resemble fine linen to coarse canvas. Ramie is commonly used in clothing, tablecloths, napkins and handkerchiefs. It is often blended with cotton in knit sweaters. Outside the clothing industry, ramie is used in fish nets, canvas, upholstery fabrics, straw hats and fire hoses. The main producers of ramie today are China, Brazil, Philippines, India, South Korea and Thailand. Only a small percentage of the ramie produced is available on the international market. Japan, Germany, France and the UK are the main importers.