Native to China, ramie is a linen-like fibre made from nettles and which is classified as a cellulose fiber, just like cotton, linen and rayon.
Ramie fibers comes from the stem of a nettle plant called China grass (Boehmeria nivea). It looks similar to European nettle but it does not have prickles.
What does Ramie feel like?
Ramie fibre is lustrous, looks like silk and sometimes mistaken for linen. It’s extremely absorbent, much more so than cotton, and also breathes well (much like linen), making it especially comfortable for warm and humid summers.
Left is a blouse of 100% ramie from SUKii
It’s known especially for its ability to hold shape, reduce wrinkling, and introduce a silky lustre to the fabric’s appearance, Ramie is not as durable as other fibers and so is often blended with cotton or wool.
Ramie fabric is easy care, increases in strength when wet, and does not shrink or lose its shape. It dries quickly and like linen becomes smoother and more lustrous with repeated washing.
Naturally resistant to bacteria, mold, and mildew as well as light damage, rot and insect attack, Ramie is often touted as an eco fabric!
Left is 100% ramie shirt from BabaKud
Is Ramie a highly sustainable & eco-friendly fibre?
Ramie does not require pesticides or herbicides to grow and it can be harvested up to 6 times in a good year. It is very strong with some research suggesting that it is 8 times stronger than cotton.
It’s one of the oldest fiber crops, having been used for at least 6,000 years, but unlike other bast crops, ramie currently requires chemical processing to de-gum the fiber. That was surprising to find out, because it raises the question- how did they de-gum the fiber before harsh chemicals?
As with all fibres, you have to make a judgement call for yourself about what you’re most concerned about. The fibre is vegan (unlike silk or wool), it doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides (like cotton does), but it does use chemicals in the process (which your linen will too unless it is unbleached or processed in a closed-loop process), and if you’re buying ramie which is dyed (instead of unbleached and undyed fabric or bleached and dyed in a closed-loop process) then that could also be another environmental concern.
Where can you buy Ramie fabric?
Armed with that knowledge, if you’d like to give ramie a go, then here are a few places that currently have the fibre in stock
Mood Fabrics in the US stocks some, there’s quite a bit on Etsy, Minerva in the UK stocks this cotton/ramie blend, Metermeter in Europe has an amazing selection of colours, Textile Express in the UK has a selection, I bought mine from Backstreet Bargains in New Zealand, Drapers Fabric in NZ has this linen/ramie blend,
AS Fabrics from NZ has this cotton/ramie blend and the Fabric Store currently has this 90% cotton, 10% ramie pineapple print fabric
Do you have a great source for ramie, or other unusual natural fibres? I’d love to hear about it!