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HEMP 101

Hemp 101: A Traditional Method of Hemp Textile Production


For thousands of years, cannabis has been grown and processed across the globe to produce high quality natural fiber full of applications for everyday life. I use the word “cannabis” because in multiple cases, we know cultures were using the same crops to produce medicine as well as food, fiber and oil.

 

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July 12, 2017


Cultures had little reason to distinguish marijuana from hemp, both widely used. In much the same way Lakota Sioux natives transformed the entire buffalo following a kill on the American Plains, industrious farmers of the old world were maximizing every part of the plant. The textiles that were created from cannabis (hemp) have traditionally ranged in quality from basic, homemade peasant clothing to high-end ceremonial garb worn by emperors and kings.

Cultural use of the hemp fabrics was widespread across Asia, going as far back as ancient Chinese pottery and cloth circa 800 BC. Traditionally, silk fabrics were worn by the wealthy, while hemp was considered the “textile of the masses.” In addition to hemp rope for bridling horses, which allowed mankind to mobilize, hemp fiber was used long ago to create bandages, bed sheets, corpse shrouds and woven with silk to produce high-end ceremonial clothing.

A gravesite discovered in far western China (dated to 700 CE) reveals hemp fiber was also a durable resource for weaving sandals and shoes in the area. Whether as ritual wear or an everyday item, hemp has done it all. Time and technology have done their part to make almost any garment you can imagine from hemp or hemp-blended fabrics.

America is no longer producing much in the way of textiles, especially from hemp, at least not yet: Most hemp fiber is grown and processed in China, supported by small pockets in other parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. The good news for U.S. hemp advocates is the 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp research, so states can begin to recover a forgotten base of agricultural knowledge.

Expect green industries and the overall cannabis economy not only to expand, but to begin specializing in niche sectors like hemp textiles and stalk fiber recycling programs. In North America, only Canada, Colorado and Kentucky are actively pursuing commercial hemp programs.

When educating the public on the best hemp fiber supply models, we follow a similar guide as below. It’s a traditional method of hemp textile production. To learn more, watch the videos that follow:

  1. Cultivation: Sow the seed densely to produce tall, slender stems that contain a greater amount of fine fibers.
  2. Harvesting: Takes place after flowering but before the seeds set, as fibers tend to become more coarse around the time of seed formation.
  3. Retting: The process whereby naturally occurring bacteria and fungi, or chemicals, break down the pectins that bind the hemp fibers to be released. Common techniques include:
    1. Water Retting: Involves soaking the stems in water tanks, ponds or in streams for around 10 days. Most effective is warmed water laden with bacteria.
    2. Dew Retting: Entails laying the crop on the ground for three to six weeks, turning the plants occasionally to allow for even retting.
  4. Breaking: The stems are then broken by passing them through a breaker or fluted rolls.
  5. Scutching: The broken stems are then beaten in a process known as scutching, separating the desired fibers from hemp’s woody core.
  6. Hackling: The fibers are the hackled (combed) to remove any remaining woody particles and to further align the fibers into a continuous sliver.
  7. Roving: This sliver is twisted and drawn out further to improve strength, then wound on spinning bobbins.
  8. Spinning: Generally, to produce a better, finer yarn, the fibers are then thoroughly wetted in a small trough of water as part of the spinning process, known as wet spinning. Fibers can also be dry spun, which often results in a coarser yarn. (Riddlestone et al., 1995)

+ The sort of hemp we refer to here is raw hemp fiber, not to be confused with a cheaper, semi-synthetic substitute known as hemp viscose – commonly referred to as rayon. This is an entirely different, somewhat contradictory fabric with various environmental and performance drawbacks in comparison to raw fiber textiles.

 

CREATING RAW FIBER FROM INDUSTRIAL HEMP via Hemp Australia TRADITIONAL WEAVING of HEMP FIBER

via Sapa O'Chau

Sources:

+ Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany – Robert C. Clarke & Mark D. Merlin (2013)

+ Kentucky Hemp Museum Archive

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