Phibers from the Philippines
October 21, 2011 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Manila folders (the common paper good, not the Filipino contortionists) are made from the fiber of the abacá plant. Sometimes called "Manila hemp" due to its origin in the Philippines, it is not a true hemp because the fibers come from the leaf petiole, not the bast fibers (sourced from the phloem or inner bark) of the plant. The petiole layers, called "tuxies", are stripped off using a tuxying knife and separated either by hand or mechanically. Abacá (Musa textilis) is a relative of bananas and plaintains (both also Musa species). Other than its utility for making the aforementioned common cream-colored office product (also available in non-folder form as "oak tag" or "tag board"), abacá is resistant to salt water and therefore valued for cordage (especially hawsers) and nets. It is also used to make a fabric called Sinamay (often used to make hats) and other common products like rugs and twine (with the coarser outer fibers) and tea bags, filter paper, vacuum cleaner bags, and other papers (with the finer inner fibers.)
posted by nekton (26 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great post, but you neglected to mention that manila folders are a staple of today's modern paperless office.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:01 AM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is abacus an abaca male?
I tried to awake my inner fibrophile, but all I got was this.
posted by hat_eater at 7:01 AM on October 21, 2011


I had always thought that the 'manila' referred to the color, not the material. Learn something new every day.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:10 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


While researching some of the links I learned that a lot of people apparently thought (and perhaps still do think) they are called "vanilla folders" due to the color.
posted by nekton at 7:14 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, I thought it was oat tag instead of oak tag. But it's possible I thought that because that's what all the teachers called it.
posted by briank at 7:17 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


High fiber post. Zero twist.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:29 AM on October 21, 2011


Huh. I just assumed that they were card stock or something and never thought too much about where they came from.

"Vanilla folders" makes me cringe, although I completely understand why someone might call them that. Y'know, if they wanted to disappoint their families.
posted by dismas at 7:38 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, yeah, how else are you going to tote around your MacBook Air?
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:38 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think oak tag is a regional term. I always called it posterboard growing up in the South and the West Coast. I was very confused the fist time a parent asked me for oak tag when I worked at OfficeMax in NY.
posted by postel's law at 7:42 AM on October 21, 2011


I don't think Manila folders, or at least most Manila folders, are still made from abacá fibers. Are they?
posted by caddis at 7:45 AM on October 21, 2011


This is good Metafilter, by which I mean it's bad for those of us who love long rabbit trails involving this sort of thing. I had work to do today, dammit.
posted by jquinby at 7:55 AM on October 21, 2011


This is the first time I've heard oak tag, oat tag, or, FFS, vanilla folder, and I'm less familiar with manila folder than with manila envelope.

But is a plain brown envelope (the kind they promise to use when they ship your racy mail-order purchase) the same as a manila envelope?
posted by pracowity at 7:58 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I was planning on finishing this project, but I spent the day reading about jute instead."

caddis, some of them still are, although apparently some are also made from kraft paper (which I always though was a goofy spelling of "craft", but is apparently a paper processing method. )
posted by nekton at 8:01 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


caddis: "I don't think Manila folders, or at least most Manila folders, are still made from abacá fibers. Are they?"

Some are. Some are made from Kraft paper, which is easier to tear.
posted by zarq at 8:01 AM on October 21, 2011


(Or am I conflating it with plain brown wrapper?)
posted by pracowity at 8:01 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every time I see or hear the term "Manila Folder" I'm forced to recall the Cryptic Crossword clue that, when solved, produces the name of the actor Alfred Molina.
posted by TDavis at 8:13 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Love 'vanilla folders', but then, in the privacy of my bedroom as a kid, I used to chew hunks of them all the time.

Interesting to hear they aren't wood pulp or cotton based, because they are so much tougher than papers from wood or cotton.

I pity the poor fool herbivores who try to eat that plant.
posted by jamjam at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


What a nifty post. Thanks nekton for the education.

Full of amazing information about something that seemed banal and I always took for granted. Whoda thunk that plain old manila folders were that exotic, that interesting?

Thanks for the wonderful eye opening and the message that what may appear to be the simplest things in life are worth examining closely.
posted by nickyskye at 10:20 AM on October 21, 2011


As to all of you who cringe at "Vanilla Folders," I may have referred to the cookie as "Manila Wafers" in my childhood.

Good post, and thanks for spelling both the Philippines and Filipino correctly.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:25 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


how do we tell the difference from one made of abbaca fibers and one made of paper--also this is an amazing post
posted by PinkMoose at 10:50 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Full disclosure; I pinched the "Filipino contortionist" gag from Mad Magazine.

As an aside, I've played an amusing game from time to time by googling "strongest natural fiber." I've found claims for manila, hemp, coir, spider silk, and linen.

I love posts like this.
posted by Tube at 11:19 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But is a plain brown envelope the same as a manila envelope?

I've always understood the plain brown envelope/wrapper to be Kraft paper. (But nowadays it seems to be white paper or opaque poly.)

Anyway, great post!
posted by hattifattener at 1:08 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is great, thanks for posting it!

I've also never heard of oak tag or oat tag.

pracowity, manila folders are file folders, stiff like card stock and pale peach/yellow/beige colored: image search for 'manila folder'.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:21 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a cool post. I worked in an office where the BOSS called them vanilla folders. I had no idea they were so special!.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:44 PM on October 21, 2011


Wait, if you guys didn't know what oak tag was, what did you cut your ring binder divider label inserts out of? That perforated paper they came with was sorely inadequate.
posted by Earthtopus at 6:35 PM on October 21, 2011


We had the material, just not the name, Earthtopus. To me, that stuff was either cardboard (plus specifiers to distinguish it from other kinds of cardboard) or tagboard.
posted by hattifattener at 7:22 PM on October 21, 2011


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