Tropical fabrics, optimum blends

MAGUEY, saluyot and the water hyacinth take center stage as new raw materials for the textile, garments and crafts industries.

Then comes the leaves of the pineapple and abaca and the trunk of the banana. All these are currently discarded and are agricultural waste products.

“Imagine if we can process all those leaves from pineapple and the trunks stems from banana plantationsmost of which are in Mindanao,” said Dr. Carlos C. Tomboc, Director of the Philippine Textile Research Institute. “It takes P400 million to start-up a textile mill that can process these waste materials, and it means half a million more jobs.”

The optimum blend is 20 percent of tropical fibers although up to 60 percent content is still viable, cost-wise.

It can even go as high as 100 percent tropical fiber – like the pure piña barong and terno – but then these are very costly.

With 100 percent tropical fiber content, fabrics are hard to maintain and launder – although it can still be done with ordinary detergents and manual washing. Only pure piña barongs and dresses require dry cleaning.

“We’re not only concerned about the technology, we have to think of the economics,” said Tomboc. “There’s a certain point when the economics reach the maximum,it doesn’t work out, after which the product is not affordable or too expensive and not so easily maintained.”

Synthetics are still cheaper than tropical fibers, he said. “That’s why the law requires only a 5 percent minimum content.”

A sampler of Philippine tropical fibers and fabrics:

Maguey (Agave cantala Roxb). The leaves are used in making ropes, nets, specialty paper, cordage, carpets and crafts; it is a source of the alcoholic drink mescal.

PTRI has studied the potential of maguey fiber as raw material for the production of home and industrial fabrics. Processing of the fiber with polyester staples (80/20 and 65/35 polyester/maguey) produces cotton-like maguey blended yarns for upholstery bags, table linens and curtains.

Saluyot (Corchorus olitorius). A rich source of beta-carotene, iron, calcium, protein and vitamin C, saluyot has been processed into flour and instant noodles. It can be made into chic apparels; home textiles such as curtains/drapes, beddings and table runners; and raw material for nets, ropes and farming tools.

Fiber from saluyot stalks blended with polyester produces yarns used as filling during weaving in the powerloom. Each fresh bundled stem of saluyot, soaked in water for about 21 to 24 days, yields at least 5 percent fiber. Chemical treatment through degumming, or removal of the glue-like content from the fibers, reduces the gum to the desired level without adverse effects on tensile strength, thickness and fineness.

Spinning of the treated fibers with polyester blends produced ratios of 80/20, 70/30 and 60/40 polyester/saluyot yarns of acceptable properties. Protruding fiber ends on the surface of the fabrics were removed by enzyme finishing, which resulted in smooth and unblemished fabric ideal for apparel and home textile applications.

Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). An invasive and damaging aquatic plant, the water hyacinth thrives in fresh waters. In the Philippines, its proliferation affects irrigated rice and is a major cause of floods when it clogs waterways. It is a natural wastewater purifier and an indicator of water pollution level (the more polluted the water, the thicker the water hyacinth grows.)

The stalks have been used in making baskets and matting. Processing of the fibers with polyester staples initially produced blended yarns with 20 percent to 35 percent water hyacinth component.

At PTRI, the water hyacinth went through a series of chemical and mechanical processes to achieve the crimp property of wool for better processing, reduce the plant’s glue-like or gum content, and soften the fibers to make them fine and fit for knitting and weaving into apparel and other home textiles.

Blends of 80/20 and 65/35 of polyester/water hyacinth fibers are ideal.

Banana (Musa sapientum). Although the banana is grown abundantly in the Philippines, there is no commercial production of fiber because the fruit is given more importance than the fiber. One reason is the lack of an efficient fiber extracting machine for banana fiber.

PTRI researches reveal that a polyester/banana blend ratio of 75:25 is suitable for apparels, suiting materials, draperies and linens.

PTRI has developed a banana fiber pretreatment technology (along with piña and abaca fibers) that enables the conversion of the banana fiber into textiles that blends with other textile fibers to manufacture fabrics in mass quantities out of yarns spun by machines. The resulting fabric is fit for conventional garment and home textile manufacturing. This caters to the mainstream market in contrast to the existing specialty or niche markets for the handwoven fabric utilizing natural fibers.

Pineapple/ Piña Fiber (Anana sativa). Piña comes from the leaves of the pineapple plant. It is a herbaceous plant with long narrow stiff leaves, usually spiny except in a few varieties. Although extensive plantations of pineapple could be found in almost all parts of the country, production of this particular variety is mainly confined in Aklan.

Pure (100 percent) pineapple fabric can be used to make high-end and high-quality barongs and other apparels, whereas a polyester/piña blend of 60/40 and 80/20 can be used for apparels, suiting materials, draperies and linens.

Abaca/Manila Hemp (Musa textilis). Abaca fiber, known worldwide as Manila hemp, is a preferred material for ropes and in the production of pulp for specialty papers like tea bags, meat/sausage casings, cigarette paper, filter papers, currency notes, stencil papers and a host of non-woven product applications.

Abaca fibers are obtained from the leafsheath of the plant. A polyester/abaca blend ratio of 65/35 can also be used for apparels, suiting materials, draperies and linens. A nonwoven polyester/abaca with a blend ratio of 90/10 is found to have industrial uses specifically as wall covering, sound proofing, insulating and carpet material. Paul M. Icamina



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