Hemp fibers found their origin thousands of years ago. Hemp fabric is made of natural fibers, coming from the Cannabis plant which is known for its production of marijuana. However, hemp fabric is made from the Cannabis sativa sativa plant whereas marijuana comes from the Cannabis sativa indica plant. When we speak of hemp originating from the Cannabis sativa sativa plant, it is often called“ industrial hemp”.
Hemp fibers are very strong and hemp is in general a durable fabric because of its high abrasion resistance and tensile strength. Hemp clothing can often be worn for a much longer time than other textiles. Hemp fabric is less stretchy than other natural fabrics so it holds its shape for a long time in general. It is quite a rough fabric, but the longer you wear it, the softer it gets. Hemp is breathable, absorbent and feels cool when the temperature rises and the other way around. Further, hemp can be easily recycled and is biodegradable.
China is the world’s biggest producing country of hemp fabric.
Hemp grows very fast. After the crop is planted, it is ready for harvesting after only 4 months. This is a short period of time compared to other crops or trees. Hemp grows twice as fast as cotton and only needs a small amount of space in order to grow. Therefore, less land is needed for the production of hemp compared to the cultivation of, for example, cotton. Besides, the cultivation of hemp needs hardly any pesticides because the crops are rarely troubled by insects. The production of hemp does not deplete the soil and its long roots even prevent the soil from erosion.
The production of hemp is very labor intensive, especially the stage in which the fibers are being separated. However, new technologies have been developed such as steam explosion and ultrasound which reduce the labor intensity.
The cultivation of hemp crops requires only a small amount of water, especially when you compare this with the cultivation of cotton. In general, hemp grows very well without water irrigation systems.
The bast fibers of hemp crops are used to make hemp fabric. First, the plants are cut. After cutting, the “retting” process starts. Retting is a process of a few weeks in which the pectin (this is a liquid of plant cell walls) dissolves. The pectin holds together the fibers but during the retting process, the fibers will be exposed.
After retting, “decortication” starts. In this process, the woody core is removed from the stem. This process happens directly after the retting process. When decortication is completed, the hemp fibers will be turned into yarns. This can be done without further processing. However, there are some chemical treatments which improve the hemp properties such as its softness or elasticity. These treatments determine how much the process impacts the environment.
Next, lignin is removed from the fibers. Lignin is a material which makes the fibers very rough and gives it a tough feel. Removing the lignin results in softer fibers. When the lignin is removed from the fibers they are ready to be spun, woven or knitted into fabric.
Hemp fibers are easy to dye since they have a high absorbency level. Hemp also keeps its color better compared to other fabrics such as cotton.
Hemp is neither expensive nor cheap. However, its market price is higher than the market price of linen, although these two fabrics are quite similar.