Hemp was once considered to be one of the most useful fibres known to men, because so much could be made of it. It was used for making garments as well as for making ropes and sails, the filling of cushions, feeding of live stock etc. In fact this versatility hasn’t changed: new applications include the use of hemp in biodegradable composites, interior and cosmetics. Hemp is generally seen as one of the most sustainable materials for fashion.
Hemp is a so called bast fiber and is made from the stems of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). It is one of the oldes fibres used for textile production. Before cotton became a mass product and conquered the European markets, hemp was one of the most used and beloved natural fibres. Even in the beginning of the twentieth century it was grown all over Europe. Today the market is dominated by Chinese hemp. It is a highly valued natural product that is applied in fashion, interior design and because of it's strength also in bio-composites.
Hemp yarns and fabrics are very suitable for apparel. The fibre has specific properties which distinguish it sharply from most other materials and make it unique. Hemp doesn’t enclose much air and has relatively poor insulation properties. In this it resembles linen: hemp fabrics feel fresh and cool, a distinct advantage for summer clothing. In addition hemp is highly absorbent. It takes up water rapidly and also releases it quickly. On hot days this helps in regulating the microclimate between body and clothing. Hemp is well supported when worn directly on the skin even though it is stiffer, harder and less elastic than cotton and is therefore less supple. These properties also cause the crinkling of the material, when used in woven fabrics, although this property may also be considered as part of its ‘natural charm’.
Hemp is considered to be one of the most sustainable textiles known. The plant doesn’t require irrigation during growth, has almost no natural enemies (insects) and therefore needs no treatment with pesticides. Because it grows very fast (up to four metres in just a couple of months) weeds don’t stand a chance, don’t hamper the growth of the hemp, and herbicides are not necessary. Hemp is a natural product, it is 100% biodegradable and recyclable and feels very nice on the skin.
Hemp almost disappeared in Europe and Northern America in the 1930’s, not only because of the competition of cotton and synthetic fibres, but also as a result of anti drug legislation. The ‘industrial’ hemp that is now used in textile applications hardly contains any of the psychoactive component THC. Because hemp is today widely appreciated as a sustainable fiber, it is now making a slow come back in Europe. One of the problems is that, together with the machines used in the different stages of the textile making process, much knowledge has disappeared.
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