From rope to fine tablecloths, hemp has been used by industry and for textiles for many centuries. The earliest uses of hemp date back to the Chinese, in the 28th Century B.C. Shortly after the War of Independence, farmers could pay their taxes with hemp. Hemp could easily be grown in most fields and was usually rotated with crops of corn. An issue of Popular Mechanics ’38 describes hemp as being a billion dollar crop.
The development of the decorticator made it possible to easily extract fiber from the core of the plant. Hemp is making a resurgence in the textile industry as well as pulp and paper production. Hemp is being used in high fashion by designers such as Calvin Klein.
In the U.K. hemp cloth was woven for the first time in a century by the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. The first fiber was sent to a mill in Ireland and wetspun into a coarse yarn. A second sample was sent to Belgium, where it was scrutched, yielding a finer product.
In 1995, hemp was grown in Canada on a few experimental farms in Ontario. Recently, the growing of industrial hemp was legalized in Canada. Hopefully, this will mean that we will have the opportunity to experience weaving with this traditional fiber. It is exciting to see that hemp is making a comeback – and in Canada, too. Right now, farmers are growing the seed variety for food and as an alternative to the wood pulp industry. The hemp growers in Canada have not yet explored the textile market for this crop.
As I think about weaving with hemp, it amazes me how quickly our knowledge of a fiber and its processing can be lost. As the use of hemp was banned, and spinning mills destroyed, this unique resource is now virtually unknown to us.
As the demand for hemp products has grown, the quality of yarn has improved significantly. There is still quite a variance in the quality of hemp yarns on the market. Partly this is due to the quality of the hemp crop, weather and growing conditions, and partly due to the various processing techniques used. We, as handweavers, can make an important contribution to the development of this fiber. The processors of hemp yarns can use our input to develop their products. As we begin to again weave with this fiber, we can rediscover the many uses that hemp can provide. By weaving with hemp and displaying our woven products, others will gain an understanding and appreciation for this almost forgotten fiber.
Hemp, like flax (linen) is one of the bast fibers. When weaving with hemp yarns, you can treat it like a linen yarn, using similar setts. It improves and softens with age. Hemp is also mildew resistant, making it an excellent yarn for towels, bath linens and carpet warp as well as in fine table linens and clothing.
I hope that you will give it a try.
Handwoven items made with Hemp yarns
Hemp yarns and kits for knitters.