Straw is a plant-based material made from dried stalks and leaves of cereal plants and palms; this material is increasingly being used in the fashion industry as a sustainable thin lightweight material to make different types of accessories including hats and bags. The environmental advantage of using renewable plant fibers has to lead to an increased interest in materials made from straws.
The disadvantages of straw materials are that when they are made of structural fibers of a plant, they can be more coarse, hard, brittle and weaker than those made from bast plant fibers (eg- linen). But things made of straw have many advantages – other than the obvious visually pleasing country-chic look.
Straw cloths are usually valued for their natural colors but also can be dyed in beautiful colors.
Straw cloths are used to make a variety of things today – rugs, hats, bags. Straw fibers can be made into cords and plaited or braided. Boater hats and Panama hats are the 2 popular hats made with straws. The word Panama is today used synonymously with a straw hat.
Most of the straw fabrics are used as foundation materials which can be modeled, pleated, layered, and manipulated into different shapes. They usually retain their shapes when molded. They can also be stiffened with special stiffeners and made very stiff and sturdy.
A very big consideration in favour of using straw material is that it is eco-friendly. The plants used in the straw making are fast-growing and renewable. They are also grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
Flexible but strong
Straw is lightweight and very flexible. But at the same time it is strong. A characteristic feature of most of the straws is that even when they are dry they remain flexible and do not crack. The straw is woven usually with an open airy weave which makes it comfortable to wear in the summer but at the same time quite stiff and strong.
Straw is also very long-lasting.
Straw materials are harvested from plants at specific periods in the life cycle of a plant. They are then cleaned and the fiber has to be separated from the unnecessary parts. The stripped fibers are then dried and stored for production. Some of the straw fibers made from plants can be woven just like other fibers, on a traditional weaving loom.
Different types of Straw cloth
Here are a few of the different types of straws available today
Abaca Straw cloth
Also known as manila hemp, abaca straw is made from the stalks of Musa textillis, a Filipino palm tree (it is called the Abaca plant). This plant produces long stalks and as a result, the fibers are long too, which is very useful in a lot of projects especially in making accessories like hats and bags. In millinery(hat-making) these straws are invaluable.
Straw fabrics like Sinamay, Jinsin, Linen buntal, Tinalak are variants of Abaca straw. Paris cloth is a blend of abaca and polyester. Abaca silk is made by blending straw fibers with silk fibers.
Made from Talipot palm, a very large long-living fan-leafed palm, baku straw is a fine, expensive machine-made straw cloth used in hat making.
As it is very delicate, the weaving is often always time-consuming. Very lightweight and refined like sisal, authentic baku straw hats are one of the most expensive of the lots. The cloth is highly susceptible to water and rough handling.
This straw cloth is made from the leaves and stalks of Buri palms. The resultant material can be very fine but very strong at the same time. It is usually used in hat making.
This is made from Pandanus leaves
This is a straw made from the hemp plant (which is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth); It is used extensively to create rope, yarns, canvas, paper and serves to replace many wool-based products. Most of today’s straw hats are made of materials made with hemp.The thin and long hemp straw fibers can be woven in different attractive patterns and textures. Hemp can also be seen mixed with other fibers like cotton.
Jute straw materials are made from a shiny brown somewhat-coarse fiber obtained from a leafy plant Corchorus olitorius. Compared to other plant fibers this straw material is softer.
This straw is made from Hala tree leaves, which are found in the South Pacific and the Philippines. This straw is usually used to make mattings by weaving. Bacbac is a matting made by weaving wide and flat dark and light lauhala philippine straws resulting in a multi-hued chequer board effect
Original Milan straws are made from wheat stalks. This is not the same as the Milan straw available today which is mostly a blend of synthetic fibers.
Paper straws are not purely natural straws – they are viscose made from pulp of plant matter. Paper straws can be made from mulberry (Kozo) or banana bark, gampi plants in Japan, wheat straw, twigs, or even grass. Newspapers may be recycled and can be combined with other materials to make paper straws which can be used almost the same way as the other straws. Paper pulp is made into a yarn to imitate natural straw.
Paper straws are fast making their mark, because of the fact that it is a recycled product and also because of the scarcity of natural straws and the economic viability of paper straws. They are very lightweight and so flexible that you can even do crochet with them but they are not as strong or durable as the natural straws
Washi is a low grade paper used to make straw cloth. Bangora is a paper straw material made using washi. Toyo straw is a Japanese paper straw made of rice-paper yarns from Japan. Shantung is a lightweight paper straw that is used to make fine lightweight hats.
These straws are woven from the fiber of the raffia palm of Madagascar. The fibers taken from leaves of raffia palms are loom-woven into a strong fabric. The material is strong but flexible. Another straw also called raffia is made from the Philippine palm, Buri.
This is straw made from the stalks of the Ramie plant found in eastern Asia.
Rice straw & Wheat straw
These materials are a by-product after harvesting wheat and rice cereals. They are mostly used as animal feed. But they can also be made into viscose and converted into paper straws.
A stiff and strong straw made from sisal hemp, Agave Sisalana, a succulent plant found in South American countries. Parasisal is a thin fabric made with sisal straw. The fabric has a very tight but flexible weave.
True to its name, it is made from the Seagrass found in the seacoasts all over the world and is often always green-hued. Smooth, papery, and fairly durable seagrass tends to be the more economical option when compared to Baku, but may not be as durable as other plant fibers. It is usually made into rugs, hats, and bags.
These are used to make Panama hats; made from fiber taken from a palm tree found in Ecuador and Columbia. They are characterized by a tight weave that radiates out from a circle in the center of the crown.
Artificial straw cloths
Natural plant fiber straws are much in demand and this high demand has led to the proliferation of a lot of other materials that simulate almost every property of natural straws. Synthetic fibers are used on their own or blended with plant fibers to create durable staw materials that look exactly like the natural straws but do not have their eco-friendly advantage.
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Updated on October 21, 2022 by Sarina Tariq
Musa textilis is a banana species, not palm.