Types of Straw
Sisal – Sisal straw constitutes stiff fiber used mainly in making rope and cordage. It is also a good looking yet strong fiber used for making hats. Sisal is a Mexican and Central American plant from the Agave Sisalana species. Sisal is named after a port and town in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Sisal cultivation began in the 19th century and its popularity quickly spread throughout the world. Nowadays, Brazil’s production of sisal straw is the largest in the world. Brazil commands approximately forty percent of the world’s market of sisal straw production. Note: Sisal straw is also obtained from the Abaca plant.
Raffia – It is native to Madagascar and grown naturally in the eastern coast of Africa. It belongs to the species monocarpic and genus Raphia. Its name is derived from the Greek word raphis meaning needle. It is in reference to the pointy needle-like fruit it bears. Its leaves are dried, stripped and used for weaving mats, baskets, bags, hats, etc. Its natural color is light brown. Raffia straw is also very flexible, strong and will not crack when it is dry. Also, raffia straw is very light weight, yielding very fashionable and comfortable hats.
Rush – Rush straw comes from marsh plants of the genus Juncus. The stem is used in making mats, baskets, bags, chair seats, hats, etc. Rush is abundant and commonly found in swamps and moist areas in the Northern Hemisphere. Rush straws generally have hollow stems and its natural colors are dark green to brown. It's straw is naturally accented with a fresh scent of grass.
Buntal – Buntal straw is used in mainly making bags and hats. Its use originated in the early 20th century in Baliuag, Philippines. The buntal straw comes from the largest palm species known as Buri. Known locally as “buntal” is the large petioles of the Buri. Its natural color is a light brown color, but after being pressed in a hat pressing machine and dipped into hat lacquer, its color changes to a beautiful golden-brown color. The buntal fiber can be stripped into very fine straws and the finished hat can fetch a handsome price. It is sought after by a number of hat enthusiasts because of it incredible fineness and grade when produced by experienced weavers and hatters.
Abaca – Abaca straw is mainly obtained from the Manila Hemp Plant (it is not actually a true hemp) from the species Musa Textilis. It is native to the Islands of the Philippines. Abaca can also be found in other parts of the world such as Borneo, Central and South America, Australia, and Indonesia. The bulk of the world’s production is from the Philippines. Abaca has been cultivated since the 16th century and is commonly used for cordage, paper, matting, rope, and also for hats. Because of its strong resistance to the waves of salt water, it is widely used for marine cordage. Some of Abaca’s characteristics are light in color, very flexible, and strong.
Seagrass – There are numerous species of seagrass (approximately 60 species) and they habitat the shallow sea coasts of every part of the world. Most seagrass straws that are woven into hats are derived from the reed-like marsh grass growing in the Chinese coast. The orients use the seagrass straw to make rugs, furniture, bags, hats, etc. The natural color is dark green to brown and its outer texture is smooth. Seagrass straw is less durable than other natural fiber such as sisal straw.
Jute – Jute straw is derived from the plants in the genus Corchorus. Natural jute fiber is a golden color with a silky shiny surface. Jute is the second most widely used fiber in the world, only next to cotton. It is used in making industrial yarn nets, fabric, bags, furniture, hats, etc. The most fertile and abundant source of Jute is from the Bengal Delta Plane in the Ganges Delta. (It is mostly occupied by Bangladesh.)
Shantung – Sometimes referred to as Shantung Panama. (Note: There is no such thing as Shantung Panama.) In actuality, Shantung is a man-made high performance paper yarn. The Japanese people named this high performance paper "Washi," which literally means "Japanese Paper." Originally three plants were used in making washi in Japan. The three plants are Kozo, Mitsumata, and Gampi. Because of quantity, availability, and tensile strength, washi is now mainly made from the Manila Hemp Plant. (Musa Textilis, Abaca) Its most amazing characteristic is that it can absorb thirty percent moisture without having the feeling of wetness. It has high tear strength and is considered to be the strongest of all natural fibers. It is great for making hats. Shantung is light weight, durable, and beautiful. It is very similar, by looks, to genuine Panama Hats.
Bangora – Bangora straw is sometimes referred to as Bandera straw and Bangkok weave. Bangora straw hat bodies are actually made out of paper of a lower grade "Washi," usually made in China. Most of the times, the Bangora hat bodies are unglazed and tend to be less durable. (Note: many times, hat companies will simply call these Chinese paper hat bodies, Shantung because they are similar to the Japanese paper hat bodies.) Bangora hats are unique because they are one of very few woven hats to be woven with a machine. This is why all Bangora hats have a perpendicular weave pattern.
Ramie – (Boehmeria Nivea) Ramie is a flowering plant native to the Eastern Asia region. Ramie is one of the oldest fiber crops and has been used by ancient civilizations for producing various fabrics. Ancient Asian and Egyptian civilizations have been using Ramie for over six thousand years. Ramie is a very strong natural fiber and retains great strength when wet. Ramie is also know for its ability to retain its shape. These are great qualities for making straw hats. [Currently, China is the leading producer of Ramie].