The Golden Fiber
Bamboo (courtesy of Art Factory); spray paint; nylon monofilament
In 1881, the Dolphin Manufacturing Company, also known as the Dolphin Jute Mill, was the largest jute factory in the United States. It processed over two thousand tons of jute, used 3,376 spindles to produce yarn, 86 looms to weave cloth, and employed 600 men and women. The mill was in operation until the late 1950’s.
Jute grows in a moist, warm climate. It needs neither pesticides nor fertilizer and is planted close together for a tall and straight crop. Farmers harvest the 8-15 foot tall green leafy plants after they flower and before they go to seed. They cut the stalks at ground level or pull them up by the roots, bundle, and tie them into big groups. The tall plants are left in the field a few days where the leaves drop and then set in moving water to soften the pectin, which enables the separation of the fiber from the woody core.
The vast majority of the jute crop grows in Bangladesh and India. Called the “golden fiber” because of its commercial value and light color, the market for jute bottomed out in the 20th century with the advent of synthetics and plastic bags. Interest in renewable resources and staunching the flow of plastic into the waste stream, has regenerated interest in jute, bolstering the economy in Bangladesh. Thirty percent of the country’s population participates in the production of the jute crop.