Harnessing the power of fibre

LIVELIHOODS

The ubiquitous banana plant is a popular fruit crop grown in many parts of Karnataka. Besides banana fruit, other parts of the plant like its flower and stem are also used traditionally for cooking. Leaves are used as hygienic dinner plates. The psedostem (bark) of the banana plant is the soul of many beautiful handcrafted banana fibre products.

Banana fibre was in use in India since ages for various purposes. One of the wide uses even today is for making flower garlands. No social or religious function goes without flowers. And the banana fibre is invariably used as a thread for making floral garlands. In many parts of Karnataka like Mangalore and Mysore, banana fibre thread is used in making jasmine garlands.

Other banana fibre and fibre-based products like handy craft items are quickly picking up during the last decade India. With increasing concern for environmental protection and pollution control, the demand for natural and biodegradable fibres and fibre products is increasing.

Self-help groups

Anegundi, on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, which was part of the glorious Vijayanagara Empire, is today famous for its banana fibre crafts.

Landless poor women of Lakkavanahalli and a cluster of villages in the surrounding areas of Hiriyur taluk of Chitradurga district make products out of banana fibre. The Natural Fibre Society for Craft, a self-help group, makes products using fibre extracted from the bark of the mature banana plant.

They are supported by Initiatives for Development Foundation (IDF), an NGO comprised of former bank employees. Earlier, women did not know much about natural fibre. They used to collect typha grass from the Cauvery basin and sell it to earn their living. The local availability of banana fibre combined with their experience of working with a natural fibre and training initiated by IDF has made them good artisans.

Process

The fibre is extracted from the bark of the well-matured banana plant. The bark is split into strips which are treated with water to make it smooth and supple. Then the pith is separated from the fibre. These strips are then hooked to the spinning wheel to make the yarn. The yarn made is used to make banana fibre products by hand-weaving.
River grass, hibiscus fibre, jute and wool are blended with banana fibre for innovation in design. The other natural fibres that are woven along with banana are sisal, aloe, screw pine and pineapple. The products made are tablemats and bags in different shapes and sizes.

Colouring of fibre is done with various dyes and required colours are obtained. The dye is added to boiling water and the fibre is soaked in boiling water and removed after some time. This is then dried for a day. This fibre extraction and colouring would require three to four days.

Wide range

Today, the product base has expanded from simple yarn to beautiful handcrafted range of utility handicrafts such as runners, window blinds, yoga mats, files, folders, bolster covers, coasters, table mats, dinner mats, floor mats, pillow covers, bedspreads, lamp shades, cushion covers, purse, home furnishings and interior decoration items, bags used for making shopping and conference bags and wine bottle holders.

The products are eco-friendly and bio-degradable. Often in the manufacture the products there is no consumption of electricity as it is made on the handlooms.
Also, no chemicals are used in the manufacture. It is an excellent substitute for plastic and paper.

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