Sustainable fabric choices – Hemp

Before the United States decided to outlaw the Cannabis plant in 1937 its fibres were used for many purposes. A much-misunderstood plant, there are both male and female versions. The female version produces THC – the chemical that gets you high whereas the male doesn’t (at least not in the quantities that female plants do). This male plant used to be a staple crop in the United States. Why you ask? The male plant or Hemp as it was known produces fibres that can be turned into fabric. There is evidence that hemp was used to make fabric 9000 years ago, so since about the time of the last ice age, humans have used it for fabric. It was so highly valued that Henry VIII of England passed a law in 1535 forcing every landowner to plant a patch of hemp.

What can Hemp be used for?

Hemp fabric is strong and salt resistant. It was used to make the heavy canvas for sails on ships. In fact, the word canvas is derived from cannabis. It was also used to make ropes and loose hemp fibres were used to fill the space between deck planks. Levi Strauss’ famous denim was made originally made from hemp. It can be used to make paper – the constitution of the United States was written on hemp paper and Thomas Jefferson was a hemp. It can be used for fuel – Rudolph Diesel used hemp bio-fuel for his first diesel engines. Henry Ford even made a car that ran on hemp biodiesel and had a hemp resin body!

 

Why use Hemp fabric?

  • Hemp is three times stronger than cotton and the fibres don’t break down with washing, they just get softer.
  • It wicks moisture away from your skin. Sportswear manufacturers have released synthetic fabric that does this, but hemp is far more environmentally friendly.
  • It is an insulator, so keeps you warm in winter.
  • It is naturally anti-bacterial so prevents odours developing even if you are sweaty
  • It won’t grow mould or mildew when it’s wet
  • It naturally filters UV light – offering you protection from UV rays on sunny days. It also means the colours won’t fade.
  • It is wrinkle resistant, meaning you can roll it away in a bag without worrying about ironing it.
  • It can be used to create different textures and weights and colours of fabric.
  • It’s stronger when it’s wet than when dry, so it is easy to care for and can be washed at any temperature or hand washed.
  • It can be washed without bleach and can be ironed with a hot iron, even when wet
  • It is far more environmentally friendly compared to. It uses less water, land pesticides and herbicides when compared to cotton, jute or linen. For example, Flax cannot be planted in the same place for 4 years because of a fungus it leaves in the soil.
  • It is hypoallergenic and biodegradable.

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