Russian Matting

Mats of lime (linden) bast form in Russia the object of a considerable trade. It is no unusual thing at Riga, Archangel, and Petersburg, for English and German vessels to take in a complete cargo of them. The consumption in the country is also very large; they are made into com sacks, coverings for cases in which goods are sent, floor mattings, corn sieves, nets in which carters carry a supply of hay, etc. On the Russian river and canal vessels, the rigging, and even the sails, are made of lime bast. Over a large extent of the country this material is used for shoes, and for roofing purposes, and in olden times it was even employed to write and paint on. In the months of May and June, when the rising sap renders it easy to peel off the bark, the peasants go out to the forest for this purpose with their wives and children. The lower part of the bark is usually employed for roofing, being first warmed and pressed so that it may not roll up; they get in this way pieces 5 ft. long and 3$ ft. wide, costing 4d. each.

The bark from the upper part of the stem and the branches is tied up in bundles, which are laid in water, where they are allowed to macerate till September.

They are afterwards dried in artificial heat, and divided into thin fine strips, which are woven into mats of different strength, according to the various purposes for which they are to be used. They weigh 2-7 lb. each. The heaviest and strongest are sold at the market of Nischni-Novgorod, at about 95s. per hundred. The number of mats made annually is estimated at fourteen millions, amounting in value to about 300,000/.

If we add to the estimate other articles made of lime bast, the total will amount to about 472,500/.

In order to obtain this result, about a million lime trees are felled annually, a consumption of trees which would appear to decrease the Russian forests at too rapid a rate for nature to restore the waste.

Chinese Matting

The United States Consul at Canton reports that the manufacture of matting is extensively carried on in China, especially towards the south, where it is one of the most important industries engaged in. Enormous quantities of matting are made both for export and home use, much being used as sails on the native sailing craft, as it is cheaper, if not more durable, than the ordinary canvas or sailcloth. It is also used as coverings for boxes and packages in which tea, sugar, cassia, etc, are exported; also in making money bags, it being a very convenient mode of handling dollars, especially when broken up into small pieces by the constant stamping or "chopping" of the dollars, as is the custom in China. The plant from which the mat sails, etc., so extensively used in China, is obtained, is known as "aquatic grass," also as "russ." It is cultivated in the Shui-hing department on the West River, about 75 miles in the interior from Canton. It is grown in the same way as rice, in fields flooded with water. It requires very little care in its cultivation, as it propagates itself by shoots from the root, and attains a height of 6-8 ft.

It is brought to market in bundles of about 12 in. in diameter, and if of proper length and good quality, sells at about 10d. per bundle, each bundle being sufficient to make 4 bed mats, or 6 such as are used for making sails. The district of Tung Kuan produces large quantities of this grass, but of a species used almost entirely in the manufacture of floor matting. It is said to grow better in the vicinity of salt water, where the water flooding it is somewhat brackish. It is planted usually in the month of June from slips. These are allowed to grow for about 2 months, when they are replanted in rows. The soil being plentifully manured with bean cake, it requires nearly 12 months to mature, when it is cut, the shoots or straws are split with a knife, and, when partially dried in the sun, packed in bundles, and manufactured into matting at the city of Tung Kuan, or brought to Canton, where there are several extensive manufactories. When brought to the factory, the grass is carefully sorted, it is then made into bundles of 2-3 in. in diameter, and placed in large earthenware jars, holding about 10 gal. of water; it is allowed to remain thus in soak for 3 days, when it is taken out and dried in the sun for a day.

If it is to be dyed in the ordinary red colour, which has been for years much in vogue, it is placed in jars containing a liquid dye, made by soaking red sapan-wood chips in water. It remains in these jars for 5 days, then dried for a day, afterwards again immersed in the dye for 3 days, when it is usually ready for Use. It is only within the past 2 or 3 years that other colours, such as green, yellow, and blue, have been used to any extent. The solution for colouring yellow is produced from the seeds and flowers of a plant common to China, the hui fa. A yellow colouring matter is also made by boiling, for several hours, 25 lb. of the dried flower-buds of Sophora Japonica in 100 gal. of water, and adding, when cooled, 1 lb. alum to each 10 gal. of the solution. Green and blue are produced from the twigs and leaves of the lamyip, or blue plant, which grows in abundance near Canton. To the solution thus produced a small quantity of chemical dye is now usually added. In dyeing these colours, the straw is soaked in water for 7 days, and then immersed in the colouring matter for a few hours only, the solution being hot. Consul Lincoln states that in a recent visit to one of the largest manufactories, he found 50 looms being worked, 8 of which were large.

The large ones are exactly the same as the ordinary silk loom, and are used in making the very wide, and also the damask or carpet patterns; 3 men are required to work each of the large looms, their wages being Is. 3d. to Is. 8d. a day; 8 yd. of matting from each loom is considered an average result of a day's work. The small looms are rude and simple, each being worked by 2 small boys, who are paid from 7d. to lOd. per day each, and who daily weave 5 yd. of most perfect matting of the more ordinary patterns. The loom is composed of 2 uprights, driven into the ground, about 5 ft. apart, and about 4 ft. in height, 2 cross-bars fit into sockets in the uprights, one at the top, the other about 8 in. from the ground. The warps, which are strings of Chinese hemp, 2 1/2 yd. in length, are then passed over the upper, and round beneath the lower cross-bar, through the holes in the weaving bar, and, being drawn taut, are fastened by both ends to a long, thin piece of bamboo, placed parallel with, and just below the lower crossbar.

The weaving bar, and the most important part of the loom, consists of a piece of wood, varying in length according to the width of the matting required, and about 2 in. square; through this, small holes are pierced at different intervals, into which the warps are passed; the bar can thus be worked up and down in the warps by means of handles near the extremities - these holes vary in distance from each other according to the pattern desired - alternately on top and bottom. The holes are enlarged, or formed into slots, converging at the centre of the stick. When the warps have been thus arranged, and bundles of different coloured straw, sufficiently damp, deposited near the loom, one of the boys raises the weaving bar to the top of the warps, tipping it forward, the slits in the bar allowing the alternate warps to remain perpendicular, the holes carrying the others forward, thus separating them sufficiently to admit of a single straw being passed between them. This is done by a long flat piece of bamboo, a notch being cut near the end, into which one end of the straw is placed, and then used as a shuttle.

When the bamboo is withdrawn, the weaving bar descends, carrying the straw to the bottom; the bar is then raised again and tipped down, thus carrying the warps backward which had just before been passed forward, the work of the shuttle being repeated. As the weaving bar presses the straw down, the weaver gives the ends of the straw a half-turn round the outside warps, the operation being repeated until the warps are full, the edges trimmed, the warps untied, the matting now 2 yd. in length removed, and a new set of warps put on. The matting thus woven is then dried in the sun, and over a slow fire. The shrinkage consequent on this drying is nearly 4 yd. in 40. When dried it is stretched on a frame and worked down tight by hand, then sent to the packinghouse, where men are engaged in fastening the 2yd. lengths together, it requiring 20 lengths to make the ordinary roll. The fastening together is done by taking the projecting ends of the warps of one piece, and by means of a large bamboo needle, passing them backwards and forwards through the reeds of another piece, in fact, sewing them together; each roll of 40 yd. is then carefully covered with a coarse, plain, straw mat, marked and numbered ready for shipment.

The following remarks by Dr. Hance may be taken as supplementary to the above. The plant used for sails of native craft, or for covering boxes, and described in the United States Consul's report as an "aquatic grass" or "rush," is a cyperaceous plant, known to botanists as Lepironia mucronata. It is recorded as a native of the Indian Archipelago, Australia, and Madagascar. Of the matting made from this plant, Dr. Hance says the natural colour is a pale brown, nor is he aware that it is ever dyed, nor, so far as he knows, is it ever exported to foreign countries, except, doubtless, in the form of bed mats for Chinese residing in Australia and California. It is certainly remarkable that a plant of comparatively limited geographical distribution, and in none other apparently of its native localities turned to any account, should furnish the raw material for a vast manufacturing industry, and, perhaps, still more strange, that the source of this should not before have been discovered. As in the case of Hydropyrum latifolium, which supplies thousands of tons of a favourite vegetable, it shows how much we may have still to learn, even at the oldest and most frequented marts of trade, concerning the uses to which many apparently insignificant plants are put.

The attention of the authorities in our possessions in the Straits of Malacca, and of those of Netherlands India might be advantageously directed to encouraging the cultivation of this plant, and so developing a large and profitable manufacture.

Regarding the floor matting, which forms such an important trade with America that it ranks in point of value about sixth or seventh of all articles shipped to foreign countries from Canton, the whole of this matting is woven from the culms of Cyperus tegeti-formis. It does not seem to be known what the hui-fa plant is, from the flowers and seeds of which a yellow dye is prepared, but Dr. Hance is of opinion that the lam-yip, or blue plant, is referable to the natural order Acan-thaceae.

From a table showing the export of matting from the port of Canton from 1870 to 1877 inclusive, it seems that, next to North America, Hong Kong takes the largest quantity, Great Britain taking third. During the years as stated above the largest quantity was exported in 1872, when 115,220 rolls were sent away.