Monday, April 22, 2019

Preparing fibers from Agave sisalana

Wetting the ends of the untwisted sisal

First twist of half of fibers

Second twist with both halves of fiber bundle

Reversing the twist to get the string

 Kamba Sisal String
Sisal, Agave sisalana, or konge in Kamba, was brought from the Americas to Kenya in the 19th century and is grown in both large plantations and around homesteads. The sisal from the agave plant is the material used in the Kamba baskets for which Kenya is famous. The sisal is grown and harvested on plantations throughout Kenya, but it is also grown and harvested on a smaller scale.
At the village level, the women harvest leaves from near the center of the plant, where the leaves are still soft and white. Each leaf is first split into three pieces. Each piece is then repeatedly drawn through two bladed anchored in something like a tree trunk. Once one side is stripped of the fleshy tissue, what remains are sisal fibers, ndii in Kamba. This process of stripping away the fleshy tissue is repeated on the other side of the leaf until there are only the white parallel fibers. An alternative way of stripping away the flesh is to draw the leaf between a rock and a machete (panga) blade. The woman applies pressure to with her foot to the panga and pulls the leaf between the rock and blade. Freshly harvested fibers are tied together with an overhand knot until they are used later. The waste, fibers and sap, are used for mulch or cattle fodder.
The fibers to be twisted into string are wetted either by dipping the fibers in a bowl of water or by passing the fibers through the spinner’s mouth. The women traditionally squat on the ground to spin or twist the fibers on their knees. The sisal fibers are first divided into the appropriate bundle diameter for the function needed: smaller diameter bundles are for baskets, thicker bundles are for braids for ropes for carrying.
First, the spinner selects half of the bundle of fibers and rolls them on the her thigh, from the knee towards the hip, and in a fluid movement. These twisted fibers are then picked up and moved forward towards the knee, and again rolled towards the hip, but this time, the other half of the sisal fibers is also rolled towards the hip. The second set of fibers being rolled is farther from her body, but parallel to the first set of fibers being rolled.  The two sets of fibers are kept separate during this twisting. The result is one half of fibers with two times the twist as the second half. Then the two sets of twisted fibers are then rolled back towards the knee. The spinner does not lift the threads between these last two steps. The result of the reversed rolling is a twisted string. The spinner then moves her hand up the string and holds it tightly near the still untwisted fiber. The fibers beyond the twist are split it again, and the twisting process is repeated. When the thread is completed, or the woman wishes to quit, she makes a loose overhand knot on the untwisted end of the fibers. The new thread holds its twist without any further actions being taken.
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