Given the increasing fragility of the earth, opting for green designs makes both aesthetic and ecological sense. However, choosing from a plethora of natural materials can be bewildering if you don’t know what you are looking at. Here are some “green” materials and their uses.
This grass species is an extremely versatile material with more than 1,500 documented uses. Being one of the fastest growing plants in the world, it takes three-five years to mature compared with most wood species, which take between 12 and 20 years. Another advantage is that bamboo can grow even on infertile land. It is a viable alternative to wood, with certain species exhibiting strength and physical characteristics comparable with wood. Its extensive roots bind soil together and its rapidly growing green cover releases the much needed oxygen into the air. Bamboo can be worked on easily and is used to craft a wide variety of home products. New technological innovations have resulted in hi-tech industrial products such as laminated bamboo flooring, reconstituted bamboo board and corrugated bamboo mat roofing. Slats of bamboo, in varying degrees of thickness, are woven together to make the ubiquitous chiks (blinds) so common in hot and humid climates.
Commonly known as cane in India, this palm species is found in abundance in tropical forests across Asia and Africa. There are more than 600 species, with most differing from other palms in being more vine-like. Rattans grow to enormous lengths, sometimes to several hundred metres. Often confused with bamboo, rattan is a palm and not a grass. Unlike bamboo, which is generally hollow, rattan stems are solid. Lightweight, flexible and strong, rattan lends itself to many uses. It can be used whole for furniture or split into strands and then woven. Rattan furniture, made from sections of rattan cut like wood and joined, is attractive and light on the pocket. Rattan splits can be woven into baskets as well as lamps, planters, table mats, coasters and napkin rings. Coiled cane products are another stylish option. Narrow canes are coiled together to make breadbaskets, clothes bins, trays, mats and coasters. As with bamboo, rattan can be polished and coloured.
That this is a material for home decor may sound surprising, but water hyacinth has, of late, discarded its reputation of being an unmanageable weed to turn into a haute design option. It’s a rapidly growing plant, which can double in biomass in less than two weeks, and is being harvested for use in basketry and woven furniture and is a popular environment-friendly material for home and office. The furniture panels are made from braided hyacinth fibres mounted on wooden frames and look smart. Opt for the natural golden sheen of the hyacinth fibres or dye it in any colour for furniture—the result is stylish and elegant.
Virtually all parts of the coconut tree can be used. Coir, the coarse fibre extracted from the fibrous outer shell of a coconut, is water-resistant and takes abrasion well. Coir doormats and carpets are some of the most hard-wearing options available. Traditionally, coir is prepared by soaking the husk in water for months and then beating out the fibrous strands manually with wooden mallets. Coir, when harvested, is brown but can be dyed into various colours. Interestingly, coir can be used as a growing medium for potted plants in the form of coco-peat, mostly exported from Kerala, which has natural rooting hormones and antifungal properties. Polished and smoothened coconut shells make attractive serving bowls, candle stands, napkin rings, cutlery and decorative artefacts. Coconut wood can be used to make furniture; and accessories for the home and workplace.
This is a fibrous grass indigenous to India. Traditionally used to make ropes in rural areas, today sabai grass fibres are being used to fashion a multitude of products such as laundry baskets, footstools, storage baskets, pen stands and rugs. Typically, for products other than rugs, wooden or metal frames are used, around which sabai grass ropes are woven into interesting designs. Pale gold in its natural state, sabai grass can also be dyed.
Literally meaning “cool mat”, this material is made from a variety of water reed found in Assam and West Bengal, which is boiled before being woven into mats. They have a beautiful natural sheen and make great floor coverings, especially in summer.
This long, soft and shiny vegetable fibre has moved far from its image as coarse sackcloth. Jute is one of the cheapest natural fibres available and can be used in a multitude of ways. It is plaited, knotted and coiled into containers of all kinds, from bread baskets to magazine holders. Jute fabric can be used for upholstery, lamp shades, curtains and wall hangings. Jute can also be fashioned into carpets, rugs, throws, doormats and hammocks. Balconies and gardens can have hanging planters made of knotted jute.
This is another natural material with great potential. Banana fibre is extracted from the pseudo stems of the plant and can be woven into beautiful products. It is also used to craft handmade paper of excellent quality that can be used for blinds and lampshades.
Screw pine mat weaving is an old craft and a major cottage industry in parts of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
•Bamboo and cane products can be wiped with a wet cloth to remove dust and dirt. Wash the product only if waterproof adhesives have been used or if bindings are present
• Most natural fibre products benefit from regular dusting. Rugs should be shaken vigorously and even vacuumed occasionally for thorough cleaning
• Avoid spreading natural fibre rugs in damp areas as they tend to absorb moisture rapidly, encouraging mould
• With the exception of coir products, which are water-resistant to a greater degree, do not wash natural fibre products
(Text: Minhazz Majumdar; Photographs: Shiresh R. Karrale)
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