The Versatility of Bangladeshi Jute Crafts

Bangladesh is one of the world’s top producers of jute, a type of fiber derived from plants in the Corchorus genus. Jute is amazingly versatile and is relatively affordable, as it has a fast growth rate and is not overly fussy about the terrain in which it is grown. It has long been used for industrial, agricultural and household purposes and is prized as a raw material for use in various crafts in Bangladesh. One of the traditional uses for jute is in the manufacture of the shika – a multi-purpose storage bag that is hung from the ceiling in the home, making the most of available space. Small shikas are used to store bottles, jars and even pots in the kitchen, while larger shikas containing quilts and blankets are hung from the ceilings during the summer months when these are not needed. Beautifully decorated dolnas – a type of hammock – made from jute are used as cradles for babies.

In the late 1960s groups of women in the villages surrounding Dhaka started to make shikas for the local markets. These were so popular that they soon started making these items for the Dhaka market. Tourists visiting these markets would buy these beautifully-crafted items to take home as souvenirs and the market for these crafts grew, the crafters became more creative, finding more uses for the items they made.

Following the War of Independence in 1971 the need for alternative sources of income became urgent, and thousands of women tried their hand at creating products from jute. Very often the new item is named after the village where it was produced, or even after the person who made it. Strands of jute were deftly woven, twisted, plaited and knotted into bags, table mats, plant holders (macramé), wall hangings, hammocks, floor coverings and more. Colors are woven into the design in different patterns. The creativity and skill of the women who make these crafts seems to be endless.

Unfortunately, the availability of cheap synthetic products has reduced the demand for hand-crafted jute products. However, with the world becoming more conscious of the need to use natural products that are sustainable, such as jute and bamboo, there is hope that the demand for jute crafts will increase again, providing much needed income in rural villages.