Coir mats are made of the most versatile material called ‘coconut fiber’ which is extracted from the Mother Nature. Coconut found in grocery shops is only the seed of the fruit of coconut palm tree. Before trading coconuts to market, it is stripped away the lengthy external fibrous pulp layer. The fiber that is extracted from the external pulp (the outer skin of the coconut) is called ‘coir’. This extraction of coir fiber is done by following the traditional method of soaking the coconut husks for six months in water and then beaten, washed and dried. Later these coir fibers are classified into two types. The first categorization is based on whether the coconut is healthy by being completely ripened or still unripe coconut husks. Here the husks that are completely ripen coconut produce brown coir and they tend to be very strong and highly resistant to scratches. Whereas on the other hand, husks of the coconut that are unripe comes as white coir or light brown in color. This is usually soft and lesser in strength. Sometimes these fiber classifications are also made according to the length of the fibers grown. Both brown and white coir obtains the length ranging from 10-30cms. Those that are at-least 20cms long are considered as ‘bristle fiber’ and the shorter fibers are considered as the ‘mattress fiber’. Usually, a 300grams of coconut husk yields only about 30 grams of fiber in which one-third of it is bristle fiber.
Basically coconut fruit takes a year to ripen completely and the tree always comprises fruits at twelve stages of maturity. The process of gaining brown coir require only fresh water whereas the production of white coir/light brown coir needs both fresh water and the sea water. This coconut coir is completely a natural character, which is very much durable and that has a good value. It is the only natural fiber that is resistant to salt water. Due to its durability, biodegradable ability and its hairy texture that helps in holding the seeds and soil and also the ability to hold water, coir is becoming the most prime choice for making geotextiles. In India coir fiber is chiefly used for making coir mats, coir ropes, coir yarns, coir net, coir brushes and other few coir fiber related products. Even though coconut palms are grown throughout the world’s tropical regions, the most commercially produced coir comes from India and Sri Lanka.
Coconut is the primary food crop. In the older days it might be cultivated in many parts of India and due to climatic and geographical changes it may have caused the confinement of coconut to coastal regions in the country. Since the Indian classics coconut is given the utmost prominence as ‘Kalpavriksha’ the giver of everything. It is used in the social and religious functions of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The history of coconut dates back to the Ramayan period which is firstly recorded in the references of coconut in the Kishkindha Kanda and Aranya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana. It is said that Ramayana was written during 3rd century B.C by Valmiki so it is considered that coconut was introduced to India during post Vedic period. It is also recorded that the famous Arab traveler Marco Polo who visited India in 13th century called coconut as the ‘Indian Nut’. Cordage and ropes made out of coconut fiber are in use from ancient times. The use of coconut throughout India makes it a symbol of national unity till the date. Today, one-fourth of the coconut produced in the world is produced in India every year, due to which annually India produces nearly about 280,000 metric tons of coir fiber. Through these brown coconut coir beautiful mats and other coir products are made. Both men and women gets actively involved in the production of Coir. Usually men mainly gets involved in the product-weaving sector and the women gets involved in the sector of yarn spinning.
As coconut coir mat making is one of the major products of coconut coir twine, a set of artisans at Vellore have made practice of making coir mats and have tried it as a source of their income. A group of artisans named Aruna, Tamil Selvi, Vaasavi, Vijaya, Parma and Muttu have involved themselves in making these coir mats since a year. These artisans are initially trained for 2 months in Tiruppattur under the guidance of Don Bosco NGO. The village consists of nearly 25 artisan groups in which the training is given only for 5 groups at a time in Don Bosco NGO. After taking the training, a group of artisans set up a small-scale industry of coconut coir mat making. In the beginning stages of this small-scale industry nearly 15 members worked as a coir mat makers. But due to the lack of marketing, coir mat industry could not meet the expectation of their income and found itself transformed as a ‘non-achieving society’. Thus the production of coir mat making has stopped since 6 months. Though the production is stopped completely still these 6 artisans among the 15, works on mat making when the orders are given.
The raw material like coconut coir twine is bought from the local market and to beautify the coir mat some coir twines are dyed in color. A 100grams of powdered color is sufficient enough for dyeing 21kg coir twines. A set of 5 colors like red, green, maroon, pink and blue are only used usually for coloring the coir twines. The cost of raw materials used for making colored mats is Rs60 whereas the cost of raw materials needed for making natural (uncolored) mats are Rs50, keeping the minimal profit these coconut coir mats are sold at reasonable rates in local market of Tiruppattur, Vellore.
The making of coir mat is purely handmade product, which is done in four layers. The first three layers of coir twine is wound to the wooden frame, on which the 4th layer comes in the form of ‘x’ pattern knots throughout the area to form a complete coir mat. Usually it takes 4 hours for the artisans to complete a single coir mat. These artisans during their free time try and finish/make at least two mats per day and supply them to the customers as per the order!