Jute is a long, soft, shiny fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. It is one of the cheapest natural fibers, and is second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses. Jute fibers are composed primarily of the plant materials cellulose, lignin, and pectin. Both the fiber and the plant from which it comes are commonly called jute. It belongs to the basswood family, Tiliaceae. It is of the genus Corchorus.
Jute is used chiefly to make cloth for wrapping bales of raw cotton, and to make gunny sacks and gunny cloth. The fibers are also woven into curtains, chair coverings, carpets, and burlap. However, jute is being replaced by synthetic materials for these uses. Very fine threads of jute are made into imitation silk. The fibers are used alone or blended with other types of fibers to make twine and rope. Jute butts, the coarse ends of the plants, are used to make inexpensive cloth.
Jute, a rainy season crop, grows best in warm, humid climates. China, India, and Bangladesh are the main producers of jute. To grow jute, farmers scatter the seeds on cultivated soil. When the plants are about 6 inches (15 centimeters) tall, they are thinned out.
About four months after planting, harvesting begins. The plants are usually harvested after they bloom, but before the blossoms go to seed. Workers cut the stalks off close to the ground. The stalks are tied into bundles and steeped (soaked). This process softens the tissues and permits the fibers to be separated. The fibers are then stripped from the stalks in long strands and washed in clear, running water. Then they are hung up or spread on thatched roofs to dry. After two or three days of drying, the fibers are tied into bundles.
Jute is graded (rated) according to its color, strength, and fiber length. The fibers are off-white to brown and 3 to 15 feet (0.9 to 4.5 meters) long. Jute is pressed into bales for shipment to manufacturers.