Fiber Optics: Give Your Home That Extra Touch of Sisal

One of the strongest organic fibers available, sisal is a beautiful, durable and healthy choice for rugs and carpet.

| July/August 2001

  • Product samples provided by Merida Meridian

  • Photography By Joe Coca
  • Seagrass
    Photography By Joe Coca
  • Jute
    Photography By Joe Coca
  • Hemp
    Photography By Joe Coca
  • Paper
    Photography By Joe Coca

  • Photography By Joe Coca

When sisal first became popular on the home scene some twenty years ago, it was as the signature statement of designers looking to make their mark in upscale dwellings. These days, the average homeowner is turning to this fiber—and not only because it looks good.

Sisal fiber comes from several species of the agave plant, which is native to Central America and is now grown primarily in Brazil, east Africa, and Mexico. For decades the material was used primarily for utilitarian purposes such as floor mats and rope. But in recent years, sisal, considered one of the strongest fibers available, has been recognized as a natural for area rugs, carpet, and even wallcoverings, surpassing other plant fibers—coir, jute, and seagrass—on nearly every count.

But its advantages as a resource begin long before it shows up in anyone’s home. “Sisal is grown on plantations, so it’s controlled,” says Jennie Wood, who does product development for Boston carpet specialist Merida Meridian. “And when you harvest it, you’re not tearing down the rainforest. It’s processed in a fairly simple, non-chemical way, and they have machines that do that out in the field. It doesn’t require trucking to some big mill in the city.” Environmentalists note, however, that it wasn’t always so. From the late nineteenth century to the late 1950s, when synthetics replaced sisal in many applications, the forests of Yucatan were clear-cut to make way for sisal plantations. Today, abandoned fields have been recovered and are providing work for local people again. Also in its favor, sisal requires no fertilizers or pesticides to grow well. Because sisal is a natural product, it contains few, if any, allergens and chemicals when manufactured properly. Finally, sisal wins high marks for appearance and durability.

Sisal: Is it For you?

The key to answering that question, says Susan Jones, spokesperson for Sisal Rugs Direct, lies not so much in the “who” but the “where.”

Given its tendency to stain, sisal is not a good idea for places where there’s likely to be water, such as a bathroom, and you certainly want to think twice before installing it in a room where Junior is likely to be dropping food from the high chair. Likewise, sisal is tough on the skin and not the material you want toddlers crawling around on.

Otherwise, it’s purely a matter of personal taste— and effort.

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