Hemp was one of the first plants domesticated by man for its multiple virtues: its solid fibers for textiles, its nutritious oleaginous seeds and the medicinal and therapeutic properties of its resin.
Hemp has also been used to make paper and in cosmetics.
In this article, we will focus on the use of Hemp in textiles but if you are interested in all the other uses and their history, know that there are many articles on the multiple uses of this plant.
A short history of hemp
The oldest hemp thread dates back to about 2300 BC, but hemp was already used years before that. In fact, the oldest archaeological evidence of its use found in China dates back to 8000 BC.
In 600 BC, hemp fibers were used in China to make clothes. In Europe, its textile use was attested in the Middle Ages and its fibers were used to make western royal clothes.
It was also during this period that Emperor Charlemagne encouraged its cultivation because he quickly realized that hemp was a rich and prosperous commodity because of its many uses.
Hemp fibers were also used to make sails, ropes and ladders for boats. Indeed, its fiber is so strong that it has allowed many explorers to sail the oceans. Christophe Colomb himself would have taken hemp with him in 1492!
The manufacturing process of hemp textiles
There are eight steps in the manufacture of textile hemp:
- Cultivation: this includes planting, maintaining and improving the crop
- Retting: This involves macerating the hemp stalks in water so that the pectin (a gel present in the cells) releases the hemp fibers.
- Hulling to obtain the fibers. This step can be very slow if done by hand as before. There are now machines that can speed up this step.
- Scutching : this step allows to remove the impurities from the material in order to make it softer
- Carding : the aim is to untangle the fibers and to mix them together to have a homogeneous result.
- Weaving the fabric
In the past the manufacturing process of hemp textiles was very traditional and all these steps were followed.
These methods have been replaced by more modern production methods especially since the 1980s. New processes have been developed to make hemp processing easier and faster. A fungus is now applied to extract the lignin and thus clean the fibers thoroughly. Thanks to this fungus, the fiber is softer and more supple which makes the final fabric very pleasant to wear.
The very low environmental impact of hemp
Hemp is a particularly ecological plant since it grows without insecticides, pesticides or fungicides. Moreover, the whole plant can be used, which leaves no waste.
At a time when it is important to consume sustainably and responsibly, hemp appears as a very interesting material for textile production.
Here are 4 reasons that make hemp a very interesting textile fiber at the ecological level:
- Its culture requires a very little quantity of water
- Its cultivation does not require any pesticide or insecticide
- Hemp is a plant that stores CO2 in the soil, which allows it to regenerate very quickly
- Clothes and accessories made from hemp are durable, resistant and above all biodegradable (provided that only natural processes and materials are used for dyeing and making), they avoid the accumulation of waste. Indeed, it is possible to keep clothes made of hemp for a very long time.
Properties and characteristics of hemp
- Strength – once used in the navy, hemp is a very strong fiber that can be used to make durable clothing.
- Softness – Hemp textiles today are very soft. This is partly due to the fungus that extracts the lignin. And know that if you wear hemp clothing, the softness will increase with each wash.
- Absorbent fibers – Although hemp textiles allow you to sweat less, the fibers can absorb up to 7 times their weight in water.
- Anti-bacterial – Hemp has the particular ability to delay or stop the growth of certain bacteria and fungi.
- Natural UV protection – Hemp fibers are very dense and provide good UV protection (up to 90% for 100% thick hemp fabrics) and other radiation.
- Thermoregulation – Like silk or wool, hemp is a good insulator. Hemp clothing absorbs moisture and keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer.
We hope this article has convinced you about the benefits and advantages of this 100% natural material.
Find 2 references of this material on the Eshop : Hemp Argentina & Hemp Vancouver.