Function with Beauty
by John Dunsmore
The fibre from the Nettle plant has been used as clothing in many cultures. In Nepal, the Himalayan giant nettle was processed and used for both fine clothing and for sailcloth. The fibre from the inner part of the plant was removed. The bark is stripped and can be used for basketry. To soften the fibre, the inner bark was simmered overnight in a solution of water and wood ash. The fibre is then beaten and rubbed with oil to make it easier to separate and tease for spinning. The fibre is dried in the sun and handspun with a hand spindle.
An exploratory study was done by FAIR-CT98 to reintroduce the cultivation of stinging nettle Urtica Dioica. The nettles are planted on trial fields of 10 hectares and the fibres will be spun into yarn and woven into fabrics to determine different applications.
Grado Zero Espace is researching the use of nettle as an environmentally friendly alternative textile. Nettle yarn was used in WW1 and WW2 as a substitute for cotton yarns. Stinging nettle has a hollow core making it a natural insulation. For warmer winter garments the yarn is spun with less twist so the hollow fibre can remain open. For summer wear the fibres are more tightly twisted, reducing the insulation . Nettles were also used as a natural dye. The leaves produce a green and the roots were boiled with salt or alum to yield a yellow dye.
Village women knit wild nettle yarn into scarves.
The Wild Swan
“Look at the nettle that I hold in my hand! Around the cave where you are sleeping grow many of them; only those nettles, or the ones found in churchyards may you use. You must pick them, even though they blister and burn your hands; then you must stamp on them with your bare feet until they become like flax. And from that you must twine thread with which to knit eleven shirts with long sleeves. If you cast one of these shirts over each of the eleven swans, the spell will be broken…”
Hans Christian Anderson
Spinning Nettles – You Tube
Gillian Edom writes about the historic use of nettles.
American Stinging Nettle
© Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary’s College
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