When I mention hemp fabrics in classes, my students often giggle and go shifty-eyed or else mutter about “sackcloth.” Hemp is in fact a versatile and sustainable crop, and I enjoy working with the fabric.
To the gigglers- THC is the compound in cannabis which some smoke to experience a high, and may also have medicinal qualities. Industrial hemp contains negligible levels of THC. I can not roll up my scraps of hemp fabric and smoke them. (If only, right?)
Those who think of hemp fabric as a rough sort of cloth, read on.
In the course of my research on fiber ethics and production practices, I kept returning to hemp for superior performance and sustainability. In fact, it sounds like a miracle fiber. Hemp:
- Uses no fungicides, pesticides, or herbicides. Though it does require fertilizers, this is often provided organically
- Crops help replenish nutrients lost to cotton and wheat farming
- Quick and prolific growth
- Resists mildew, sun damage, and insects. Clipper ships used hemp sails and ropes for these reasons.
- Has greater heat conductivity than other vegetable fibers which means it feels cool in the summer and keeps the wearer warm in the winter. When you lay your hand on good linen, it feels cool to touch. That’s heat conductivity at work. Hemp is more efficient than linen.
- Stronger and tougher than other fibers
- 100% biodegradable
The anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties interest me the most; I live in a tropical environment. Even when I wash it immediately, one good sweat will kill a t-shirt because bacteria dwell in the sweaty places and create a lasting stink. Don’t get me started about mildew.
How would the miracle fiber stand up to reality? First I tried hemp-cotton from fabrics.com, a sturdy bottom or suit weight with a soft drape. I made a skirt suit and a pair of shorts from this fabric. Hemp softens with repeated washing and reveals a soft luster akin to silk.
I learned not to make welts or bound buttonholes with hemp fabric because it ravels at the corners.