Coir is a natural fibre that comes from coconuts. Found in the layers that surround the seedpod also known as the husk, coir fibre cells have thick walls that are made up of cellulose which are narrow, and shallow. Derived from the Malayalam word “kayar”, the use of coir dates back to ancient times. Indian sailors who travelled to Malaya (Malaysia), Java (Indonesia), China, and the Gulf of Arabia used coir to make ropes for their ships.
Depending on whether they are pulled out of a ripe or an immature husk, coir fibres are eminent in two ways. Fibres extracted from ripened husks are usually dark brown in colour whereas immature husks generate white coloured coir. When compared, brown coir is stronger and long-lasting. As a matter of fact, the way it’s processed results in protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. White coir, on the other hand, is weaker and softer in texture making it easier for it to be spun into yarn. Another way coir fibres are distinguished is by their length; both brown and white coir measure between 4-12 in (10-30cm). Strands that measure up to 8 in (2ocm) are termed “bristle fibre”. Fibres that are shorter and finer are called mattress fibre.
The process through which coir is made is time-consuming and needs a range of techniques. It starts when the palm trees contain fruits that go through twelve stages of maturity since it takes a year for the fruit to ripen. Farmers harvest during a 45-60 day cycle with each tree producing 50-100 coconuts every year. Once removed from the tree, the husks are then divided into two piles. Half-grown coconuts are left to dry for a month or so till it reaches a point where the removal of the husk is easy. Coconuts that are ready to be husked, are sent to the machinery where a sharp tip with opposite ejecting handles is inserted to draw out the fibre.
The decomposition of the husk’s pulp is followed next; this uses a natural and chemical process to separate the coir called retting. Two ways to ret include either fresh or salt water. Ripe husks are soaked in fresh water for a 6 month period after which the process of retting eases in due to the reaction of the microbes. Green husks are put in artificial salt water and left for 8 months to finish retting. The pulp extracted is then beaten using heavy machinery to separate the pith from the fibre. Later, its washed with water and dried under the sun to bring out the clean fibre.
The fibres are then spun into yarn that creates long coir strings. These are then loaded onto huge handlooms ready to be weaved into floor/doormats and rugs.