Screw Pine craft is a traditional cottage industry in Kerala. Considered a tool for empowerment of the women in the region, screw pine craft is an eco-friendly craft form. Produced in the Malappuram in Malappuram district, and Lokamaneswaram in Thrissur district, the screw pine crafts range from tablemats to beach hats.
The Screw pine is a plant that grows along the banks of the rivers and streams of the region. Its leaves are soft and fibrous, protected by small, sharp thorns on both edges.
The first step in processing the screw pine fiber is collecting and cleaning the leaves. The leaves are rubbed with scythes or coarse coconut fiber to remove the thorns. The screw pine yields two types of fibers – a shorter one and a longer one. The shorter fiber is weaker than its longer counterpart and can be tied together in clumps, and bleached or dyed directly. The longer fiber is stronger and takes a bit more effort and time in separating from the leaf.
The raw fibers are boiled with some milk to soften them. Cooking the fibers also makes them more flexible and silky enough to be used for weaving. The leaves are also rolled repeatedly in opposite directions to make them more flexible and to extract maximum fiber.
The strips of fiber are now woven in an interlocking pattern. New threads of the fiber are introduced by locking them with the ends of the old threads. Weaving of the screw pine threads into fabric requires great attention and expertise.
Expert craftsmen may be able to work with 8 to 10 threads at the same time. The mat is woven with two threads through its body and with one thread at the ends. The Thazhapaya or the traditional mat is known for its quality due to the closeness of the weave. The Mettapaya is a two side mat has a coarse base, a fine upper layer, and is stitched at the edge with a strip of screw pine thread.
The threads are dyed and motifs are stenciled on them to make them more attractive. Some commonly used dyes are Sappangam (made from Brazilwood), Kasavu (made from leaves of the ironwood tree), and other chemical dyes. Additional embroidery and patch work may also be done to make the products visually appealing.
Mats woven with screw pine have been used through history as an affordable bedding alternative. The crafts have long provided their woman-crafters with steady employment and economic independence. Bags, hats etc. are also crafted out of screw pine nowadays.