Burlap: From Jute to Hessian
One of the most rugged of the natural fibers, jute has a long history of agricultural and industrial applications. The production of jute has occasioned enormous industrial development. It provides a livelihood for millions of people. Today, stabilized economically, established in its traditional markets, its technology advanced, the jute industry looks to broader utilization of its products.
For centuries, the people of India used jute in small quantities to make rope, paper, and coarse hand woven fabrics for matting and bedding.
Noting these products, English traders early saw the potential of jute as a substitute of hemp and flax. In 1793, the East India Company exported the first consignment of jute. This first shipment, 100 tons, was followed by additional shipments at irregular intervals. Eventually, a consignment found its way to Dundee, Scotland where the flax spinners were anxious to learn whether jute could be processed mechanically.
Success was not immediate and, until the 1860's, only hand woven jute goods found their way into world markets. Starting in the 1830's, however, the Dundee spinners learned how to spin jute yarn by modifying their power-driven flax machinery and, before long, they were producing jute goods in large quantities.
The rise of the jute industry in Dundee saw a corresponding increase in the production and export of raw jute from the Indian sub-continent which was then, as it is now, virtually the sole supplier of this primary commodity.
Start of Mechanical production in India
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, efforts would be made to establish machine production of jute goods at the source of the fiber. Calcutta had the raw material close by as the jute growing areas were mainly in Bengal. There was an abundant supply of labor, ample coal for power, and the city was ideally situated for shipping to world markets. The first jute mill was established at Rishra, on the River Hooghly near Calcutta in 1855 when Mr. George Acland brought jute spinning machinery from Dundee. Four years later, the first power driven weaving factory was set up.
A Period of Growth
By 1869, five mills were operating with 950 looms. Growth was rapid and, by 1910, 38 companies operating 30,685 looms exported more than a billion yards of cloth and over 450 million bags. Until the middle 1880's, the jute industry was confined almost entirely to Dundee and Calcutta. France, America, and later Germany, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and Russia, among others, turned to jute manufacturing in the latter part of the 19th century.
In the following three decades, the jute industry in India enjoyed even more remarkable expansion, rising to commanding leadership by 1939 with a total of 68,377 looms, concentrated mainly on the River Hooghly near Calcutta. These mills alone have proved able to supply the world demand.
The earliest goods woven of jute in Dundee were coarse bagging materials. With longer experience, however, finer fabrics called burlap, or hessian as it is known in India, were produced. This superior cloth met a ready sale and, eventually, the Indian Jute Mills began to turn out these fabrics.
The natural advantage these mills enjoyed soon gave Calcutta world leadership in burlap and bagging materials and the mills in Dundee and other countries turned to specialties, a great variety of which were developed.
In the years since the Second World War, jute has faced increasing competition from substitute packaging materials as well as from bulk handling and new packaging methods. As a result, the Indian Jute Industry, like the Dundee industry before it, has been compelled to consider ways and means to diversifying the pattern of its production.
New Raw Material Sources Developed
With the partitioning of the Indian sub-continent, and the emergence of Pakistan as an independent nation, new problems arose.
As three fourths of the jute was grown in areas which are now in Pakistan, the Calcutta mills were cut off from their raw material supply. However, India embarked on a vigorous campaign to attain self-sufficiency in jute. The drive proved remarkably successful and by 1958 more than 90% of the raw jute consumed by the Indian Jute Mills was produced within India. On the other hand, Pakistan emerged as a competitor in the manufacturing field and, by 1958, had 12 mills operating 6,762 looms.
Diversification and Expansion
In contrast with the newer, man-made fibers, relatively little basic research was done in new applications of jute until after the Second World War.
The Indian Jute Mills Associations has been conducting such a development program and has further undertaken a broad program of experimentation and promotion around a multitude of possible practical uses for jute goods.
The remarkable physical properties of the jute fiber, the availability of skilled labor in India, and the comparatively low cost of jute products offer probabilities for technological development sufficient to assure a growing and continuing world demand for jute products.
Jute is an annual plant of the genus Corchorus, grown entirely for its fiber. It is a rainy season crop, sown from March to May according to rainfall and type of land, and harvested from June to September depending on whether the sowings are early or late. It thrives best in damp heat, and the climatic conditions obtained in West Bengal in India and East Bengal in Pakistan. The other Indian States of Bihar, Assam, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh are also ideally suitable for the cultivation of jute.
Mesta, or Kenif, botanically known as Hibiscus Cannabinus, is also grown in these areas as a textile fiber. Mesta is a coarser, more brittle fiber, and is used by the jute mills in a mixture with jute to obtain certain desired properties.
Jute plants are ordinarily ready for harvesting about four months after sowing. The plants, from 8 to 12 feet high, are cut with sickles close to the ground, normally after the plants have shed their leaves. The stems are then made up into bundles for steeping.
The jute fiber is in the outer layer of the stem, between the wood on the inside, and the cortex on the outside, surrounded by soft tissues. During retting, these tissues are softened with the results that the fiber can be separated readily in the subsequent process of stripping. The quality of the fiber depends greatly on the care exercised in retting.
When retting is complete, the bundles are taken out of the water and the stripping process ensues. The stripped fiber is then made up into small bundles which are washed in clean running water. The bundles are then dried in the sun for two or three days. When dry, the fiber is tied up in bundles known locally as morahs.
The major portion of the marketable surplus of jute is sold by the growers in the villages.
This fact has led to the establishment of a chain of middlemen between the growers and the manufacturing mills. In addition to purchasing and selling the raw jute, these middlemen often perform such essential functions as assembling and storing the crop, transporting it to the secondary market, and financing the various transactions.
After reaching the secondary markets, the jute is assorted and graded in accordance with the commercial standards which have been fixed and agreed upon by the trade. It is then packed into "kutcha" bales, the form in which the fiber reaches the mills.
Kutcha bales weigh 1 1/2, 3, 3 1/2 or 4 maunds (1 maund equals approximately 82 2/7 lbs.). Kutcha bale packing is used extensively in the internal trade, the jute being compressed by steam presses.
Raw jute destined for export is usually packed in "pucca" bales measuring 10 1/2 cubic ft. and weighing 400 lbs. in which the jute is compressed by hydraulically operated presses.
The manufacturing mills buy most of their jute through Calcutta brokers who act as intermediaries between the local sellers (kutcha or pucca balers) and the mills. These transactions are made in accordance with standard forms of contract prescribed by the Indian Jute Mills Association. Purchases can also be made in the terminal markets in Calcutta, the price being fixed after on-the-spot inspection. In addition, some mills have established their own buying agencies at the large baling centers inland, where all quantities purchased are selected, baled and shipped by agents direct to the mills.
In jute manufacturing phraseology, the steps involved in the manufacture of the yarns are carried out in the "mill," those of weaving and finishing in the "factory." The word "mill," however, is also commonly used to denote the manufacturing establishment as a whole.
As jute grown in different areas varies in strength, color and fineness, the first step in preparing the fiber is "batching," consisting of blending the various fibers to obtain uniformity in strength and color to give the precise quality of yarn for spinning.
In the first mechanical operation in the mill, the jute is fed into a softener in which the jute, treated with an emulsion oil and water, passes between sets of heavy spiral fluted rollers. This process renders the fiber thoroughly pliant and removes any barky portions adhering to the fiber.
The fibers are then carded in machines, known as breaker cards and finisher cards, which reduce the average length of the fibers by teasing and combing, and deliver them in the form of a long continuous ribbon, 5" or 6" in width, called sliver.
The carded jute is next fed into drawing machines which draw out and attenuate the sliver, parallelize the fibers, and by means of a doubling process, produce a smoother, more even sliver.
The last operation in the preparing department is roving, a process which imparts a slight twist to the sliver and delivers the material on to bobbins in the form of rove, a loose yarn ready for spinning. Other spinning machinery known as sliver spinning, an extra drawing operation is substituted for the roving step. This machine delivers a crimped sliver which can be fed direct to the sliver spinning form.
Spinning frames convert the rove to finished yarn. After spinning, the yarns are wound into the form required - spools for warp yarn and cops for weft yarn - for subsequent processing. Jute yarn is processed much like other textile fibers, the yarn itself being dressed (i.e. sized or starched), before being passed on to the warp beam ready for weaving.
Jute fabrics are of simple construction and are woven on a variety of looms. Woven fabrics are inspected, damped and calendered to produce the desired smoothness of finish.
Burlap is then folded in the desired length, packed in bales by hydraulic press, covered with gunny cloth for protection and stored in godowns (warehouses) to await shipment.
More than 90% of the fabrics produced by jute mills in India are of standard constructions for which there is world demand. For general utility purposes, jute products fall into four classes of manufacture.
BURLAP - Also known as Hessian, a plain woven fabric of 5 to 12 ozs. a yard, made of good quality jute yarn. Burlap is used for a wide range of applications and is exported all over the world both in cloth form, and in the form of bags. Both cloth and bags are made in a wide variety of fabric constructions, frequently to conform to the buyer's specifications.
SACKING - Known in the trade as "heavy goods," made from lower grades of fiber, sacking is heavy, loosely woven cloth, in plain or twill weave, weighing from 12-20 ozs. per yard of different widths. The bulk of all sacking produced is used for bags of all types, with a portion being exported.
CANVAS - The finest jute product, closely woven of the best grades of fiber. Jute canvas is widely used in India for protection from the weather. It is a fabric of fine quality, relatively inexpensive compared with canvas made from other fibers.
JUTE YARN and TWINE - Most of the single strand jute yarn produced is consumed by the mills themselves in fabric and twine manufacture. Jute twine in varying weights and thickness is, however, used extensively both in India and abroad for sewing, tying, and for a variety of industrial applications such as packing pipe joints, cable binding, etc.
Strength - Burlap is exceptionally strong in proportion to construction, both in tensile strength and tear resistance.
Resists Weathering - Burlap stands repeated wetting and drying with minimum loss of strength.
Versatility - Burlap is available in a wide variety of widths, weights and constructions. It may be dyed or printed, sewn, treated for rot-proofing, laminated, coated to meet any special requirement.
Burlap has many applications. Its great strength and low cost make it the ideal textile for inner construction, for industrial packaging, and as the supporting fabric for many materials which lack the intrinsic functional strength required.
The burlap bag affords low packaging cost for many commodities. This cost advantage stems mainly from the rugged strength of the burlap bag which can stand up to rough handling in transit - this often means additional economy as freedom from breakage reduces handling costs and avoids loss of contents from destruction of the bag.
Burlap spread over fresh cement and kept wet prevents cement from drying too quickly and checking.
Burlap wind-breaks protect small evergreens in winter and makes an ideal barrier against cold or sun.
When planting a lawn on a difficult slope or where seeds may be washed or blown away, cover ground after seeding with burlap and tack it down.
Burlap wrapped around the trunk of a young tree will protect bark from field mice, rabbits or during the shipment and handling of trees.
Burlap baling protects wool for shipment. In sheet, bag or tube foam, burlap is used for packaging many commodities, especially where abrasion resistance and strength are needed.
Burlap is the perfect container for balling roots and earth when transplanting trees and shrubs.
In furniture, rugged burlap inner construction, around springs and over frame, adds strength and long life. Burlap webbing is also widely used to support springs in upholstered furniture.