Hemp fabric, as some might already know, is a versatile textile made from fibres from the stalks of the Cannabis sativa plant. Used for tens of thousands of years by countless ancient cultures, hemp fabric has consistently proven as extraordinarily tensile and durable, making it ideal for diverse applications. Female Cannabis sativa plants – the primary plant that hemp is derived from – specifically bred for hemp production do not generally have pronounced, sticky buds, and are hence very low in THC. There’s far more to this fabric than its infamous association, however, so in this article we take a look at what makes hemp such a good fabric in textile manufacturing.
Made up of rope-like bast fibres, it is primarily the outer layer of hemp that is used for textile purposes. While the inner, woody layer is unsuitable for use as a textile, it nonetheless finds use as fuel, building materials, and animal bedding. After being stripped from the plant, the bast fibres are processed in order to be made into very strong rope or yarn to be made into things like hemp bags. After being separated from the woody pulp, there are actually a few ways that the bast fibres can be processed – once formed into strands and cleaned of impurities, manufacturers may use pulping to produce paper products, matting to make mats and fleeces, or steam explosion to turn raw hemp into a weavable fibre. Once processed as a yarn, hemp has a textural resemblance to cotton in spite of its otherwise canvas-like feel and is ready to be spun and woven into textiles. It’s an incredibly good material as well, due to it being lightweight, extremely hardy, not susceptible to shrinkage and resistant to pilling.
Uses of hemp
The primary use of hemp fabric is apparel, where it is used to make items of clothing that include dresses, skirts, pants, jackets, T-shirts, socks and jumpers. It is a particularly desirable clothing fabric due to it being breathable, so humid climates won’t get people wearing hemp clothing too hot and bothered due to the superior passage of moisture. It’s also very easy to dye hemp to help offer customisability to clothing. Due to its hardiness hemp is also an excellent material for making home textiles that need to endure constant wear and tear, such as tablecloths, upholstery, and tea towels. It is towel-related products in particular where hemp shines, as its high absorbency and durability means it can used in products that see very regular use. Although it is not as soft as cotton on first use, hemp fabric softens with each wash, and the fibres don't degrade in even the most aggressive wash cycle. Finally, hemp is also ideal in blends, where it works well with things like cotton and silk, which can increase durability of the paired textile.
Look out for hemp in the future
The production of hemp is actually far more efficient than producing cotton – in addition to needing considerably less water, more hemp can be planted per square metre, making it a much more sustainable option. While cotton is still the predominant material grown for textile manufacture, social attitude and legislation shifts may help make hemp manufacturing more widespread in the future. Who knows – it may even completely replace cotton in the future!