From Coconut to Coir Doormat – Part 2 Fiber Production
Welcome back! With the last blog post, we started a conversation on how a coconut goes from a simple fruit to a functional coir doormat. In part 1 of our series, we talked about the round, brown coconut and its thick protective layer or husk. This outer layer of husk has to be removed from the coconut before it can be processed into coir. The fibers range from sturdy strands suitable for brush bristles to filaments that can be spun into coarse, durable yarn. In today’s blog post, we talk about how this husk becomes coir fibers. Let’s get started. Harvesting and Husking: Coconuts that have ripened and fallen from the tree may simply be picked up off. Coconuts still clinging to the 40-100 ft (12-30 m) tall trees are harvested by human climbers. Once harvested, the coconuts are de-husked by driving the fruit down onto a spike to split it. A well seasoned husker can manually separate 2,000 coconuts per day. Machines are now available which crush the whole fruit to give the loose fibres. These machines can do up to 2,000 coconuts per hour. Retting: Once the entire husk has been removed, it is soaked in water (freshwater or saltwater depending on type of husk) for a period of time, which encourages natural microbial growth – a process called Retting. The bacteria eat away softer parts of the coconut, only leaving raw coir. The raw coir consists of both usable fibers and loose material called coconut dust, or coir pith. This filler material is not suitable for coir matting and is usually discarded or made into fertilizing mulch. This traditional process can take anywhere from 6-10 months. Mechanical techniques have recently been developed to hasten or eliminate retting. Ripe husks can be processed in crushing machines after being retted for only seven to 10 days. Immature husks can be dry milled without any retting. After passing through the crushing machine, these green husks need only be dampened with water or soaked one to two days before proceeding to the defibering step. Defibering: Once the retting process is complete, the retted pulp undergoes intense beating process to loosen and separate the fibers from the pith and the outer skin. Traditionally this is done by workers who beat the retted pulp with wooden mallets. In recent years, motorized machines have been developed with flat beater arms operating inside steel drums to replace manual labour. The loosened fibers are then placed through a slower rotating drum, which separates the fibers by length. Small length fibers are still too short to be made into mats, so these lengths of fibers become mattress padding material. Only medium length coir fibers are made in to coir doormats, while the longest fibers are reserved for making durable twine and rope. The clean fibers are spread loosely on the ground to dry in the sun. Finishing: Cleaned and dried coir fibers that are suitable length for door mats are gathered and spun into yarn using a simple one-handed system or a spinning wheel. This process in India is done exclusively in coastal villages as a household cottage industry. This can be completed by hand (very rare today) but is commonly done using a spinning machine called a Ratt. This yarn is then wound into bundles and is shipped to doormat manufactures where they are then assembled into a variety of coir mats of all shapes, sizes, and designs! Here ends our Part 2 of our series on Coconut to a Coir Doormat. Come back next week for our final part of how our gorgeous doormats are assembled. Catch you later.