Jute is a natural fibre that is mainly grown across West Bengal in India and in Bangladesh with some also grown in, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Thailand and China. The jute is taken from the stem and the skin of the stem, which is called the ribbon.
It is a crop that has been used for centuries and there is evidence that the Chinese were using jute fibres as the basis for early paper. The picture below is of a letter enquiring after a person’s health and is thought to be the earliest example of Chinese calligraphy. It is about 1,700 years old and is written on jute paper.
The industry really began to develop with the building of large scale mills during the time of the British East India Company. The jute was initially exported to the UK and to Dundee in particular, where there was a well-established flax industry. Initially the fibre could only be processed by hand but it was discovered that whale oil allowed to be processed by machine. The jute industry went through a boom time and the factory owners in Dundee became known as the Jute Barons. This is yet another example of the value being added to the product outside of the “colonies” for the greater good of the colonial powers. Following the decline and fall of the British Empire and the discovery and mass production of artificial fibres the mills began to close. The industry has been in decline for some years, and although the demand for natural fibres has improved things, the increase has not been as great as hoped.
Jute is known as the “golden fibre” in Bangladesh and is an important source of income for the farmers.
I took these photographs during my recent trip to northern Bangladesh, around Saidpur. It was the end of the growing season and the harvest was just beginning.
The jute is harvested and then allowed to soak for a few days in water before the fibres can be stripped off and left to dry. It is then transported, often by bicycle rickshaw, to collection points before being taken to the mills where it is processed and turned into the familiar fibres found in sacks, carpet backing and bags. Jute can also be processed into finer, more delicate yarns which occasionally are turned into clothes.
Jute awaiting harvest
Jute being harvested
The jute is then bundled and left to soak in water. Here it’s soaking next to a partially flooded Hindu graveyard
After the jute has soaked for a few days, the fibres can then be stripped from the stems
The fibres are then dried, often on the side of the road before being taken to the collection points and then the mills