The ancient Mexicans and Aztecs clothed themselves in fabric woven from the fiber known as sisal. This is a leaf fiber that comes from the plant Agave Sisalana, which is indigenous to Central America. It derives its name from the Yucatan port of sisal on the Gulf of Mexico.
The sisal plant is now cultivated widely in East Africa, Mexico, Haiti, and Brazil and in other regions of South America. The world output is in the region of 550000 tons.
Production and Processing of Sisal Fiber:
Sisal plants send up huge leaves almost from ground level. The leaves are firm and fleshy and form a rosette on a short trunk. After six or seven years of growth, the sisal plant sends out a flower stalk that rises to some 6m. When it has flowered, the plant produces tiny buds which develop into small plants. These fall to the ground and take root and the parent plant dies.
Leaves are harvested when the plants are 2.25 to 4 years old and at intervals until the plant eventually die. A good plant may yield 400 leaves during its lifetime and each leaf may contain up to 1000 fibers. The outer mature leaves are cut away and treated in machines which scrape the pulpy material from the fibers. After washing, the fiber is dried and bleached in the sun or oven dried.
Dyeing of Sisal Fiber:
Sisal has a good affinity for direct cotton and acid dyestuffs which provide attractive shades of good light fastness. Direct dyestuffs are used in the same way as in the dyeing of cotton. Acid dyes are applied from a neutral or acid dye bath.
Basic dyes are commonly used for dyeing sisal which is used in ropes. They have poor light fastness and are less satisfactory than direct or acid dyes when the sisal is used for matting.