Montrose and District Probus Club enjoyed a fascinating and entertaining talk about the jute industry at their last meeting on March 6.
The guest speaker was Sandra Thomson, assisted by David Wilkie who amazed members with the uses jute can have. Most people think of it as a rather rough and humble material suitable only for sacking purposes, but it has many other uses and has a long history.
Jute is first mentioned around 700 BC and its leaves were prized for their medicinal properties. It has been called ‘The Golden Fibre’ and is the next most common fabric used worldwide after cotton. It is grown mainly in the area around the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra in Eastern India and Bangladesh. The plants reach a height of 12 –15 feet, and after the outer bark is stripped, the fibres are spun in mills and woven in factories to produce many diverse products.
For many decades, Dundee was the world’s ‘Jute Metropolis’. Flax had once been spun there, the city had a history of engineering and mechanical expertise and because the city was also the biggest whaling port in Britain, a ready supply of whale oil needed to lubricate the fibres, was readily accessible.
After a crippling jute strike in India, many Scottish factories switched to polypropylene, and no jute was manufactured here after 1999.
There are 650 uses for Jute and Sandra has been adept in her role as an entrepreneur, and has persevered in adapting this product in the most amazing ways. It can now be used to make carrier bags for supermarket shopping; bird houses, biodegradable flower pots, hats, shrouds, nappies, incontinence pads and even coffins can all be made from jute. It can even be used to make soup. And perhaps equally surprising the mountains which appear in the Harry Potter films are made from nothing less than jute.