Ramie: Old Fiber - New Image
Ramie is a term appearing with increased frequency in the labeling of
sweaters and some linen-look textiles. It is a plant fiber that has been
used since ancient times. There are at least two acceptable pronunciations
for the word. Some authorities call it ra-me (RAY-mee) while others are
saying ram-e (rah-mee). It is also known as China grass.
Interest in ramie articles in the U.S. market resulted initially from
increased trade with China and importers taking advantage of a loop-hole in
the U.S trade laws. These laws limited the import of wool, cotton and
man-made fiber textiles but did not limit the import of silk, ramie and
other minor natural fiber products. Import quota regulations now include
ramie and should create a leveling off of imported articles made from this
fiber. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea are considered the leading
producers of ramie but Brazil, the Philippines and some Indonesian countries
are also important producers.
Ramie is one of the strongest natural fibers and exhibits even greater
strength when wet. It possesses little elasticity and is somewhat brittle
and stiff. This causes fiber breakage and abrasion where creased or folded
repeatedly. To reduce possible damage, avoid ironing sharp creases in
fabrics such as napkins or skirt pleats.
The long, fine ramie fibers are naturally white and lustrous with an
almost silky appearance. It is a cellulosic substance as is cotton, linen
and other plant fibers. The inner structure of ramie differs from the other
plant fibers in that the physical form of the cellulose is rigid and
crystalline like linen but is a more porous sieve-like form providing it
with even better absorbency than other cellulose fibers. The unevenness of
fiber has a strong resemblance to the thick and thin appearance of linen but
at a reduced cost. In addition, it is softer with better dyeability.
Like linen and cotton, ramie has poor resiliency and wrinkles easily.
Application of wrinkle-resistant finishes or blending with synthetic fibers
can reduce the problem in woven fabrics. Because of its high absorbency,
ramie is comfortable to wear, especially during warm weather. Other
properties include resistance to alkalies, rotting, light and mildew.
Resistance to insects is good unless the fabric is heavily starched. Ramie
is not harmed by mild acids but can be damaged by concentrated acids.
The fiber has some natural stain resisting ability with ease of
stain/soil removal similar to that of linen, which is better than cotton.
Dyes appear to have good wet-fastness in laundering but there can be a
tendency for crocking in dark or saturated colors. Precautions such as
wearing dress shields can reduce crocking problems. Dark colors may lose
their vibrancy over repeated launderings.
Some variation exists in the appearance of fabrics containing ramie.
Light-weight fabrics of 100 percent long, fine ramie fiber resemble fine
handkerchief linens that are somewhat silk-like, while 100 percent coarser
ramie fiber produces the appearance of coarse linens.
Blends are more common than pure ramie with the most typical being 55
percent ramie/45 percent cotton. The uneven linen texture is generally
apparent in the blend, but the luster is lost. Blends are readily available
in woven and sweater knit form. When polyester is included in the blend, it
improves wrinkle resistance and helps provide easy care and shrinkage
Care Recommendations for Ramie Fabrics
Care procedures prescribed on the care labels of ramie products vary.
Items of 100 percent ramie should not require special care. Generally, they
may be laundered or drycleaned depending on individual dyes, finishes and
design applications. High temperatures will not harm the fiber itself,
making washing in hot water and ironing at high settings possible; however,
color retention, shrinkage control or properties of blended fibers may
dictate lower temperatures. Recent laboratory testing done at The Ohio State
University has led to the conclusion that the best performance results when
gentler or more special handling is used in care. For example, fabrics
retained the best color and shape with the most wrinkle-free appearance when
they were drycleaned.
Machine washing in cold water on gentle cycle with line drying was better
than machine washing in warm water with tumble drying on permanent press
cool down cycle. Hand washing in cool water with flat drying is the most
strongly recommended home care method for both knits and woven fabrics.
Until the recent influx of ramie in the apparel market, uses were in
products requiring high strength especially wet strength such as ropes,
twine, sails, canvas, table linens and home furnishings. Ramie is extremely
versatile and can also be made into fine yarns for apparel. The range of
apparel items includes dresses, suits, sportswear and sweaters. Fashion
cycles emphasizing use of natural fibers will affect the popularity of
ramie. The consumer who knows the strengths and limitations of the fiber can
receive maximum service and enjoyment from ramie products.