FAQ about Hemp Fabrics

FAQ about Hemp Fabrics

We are often asked about everything we know about Hemp Fabrics. We've compiled some of the most recurring questions into this FAQ about Hemp Fabrics.

What is Hemp Fabric?

Made from the cannabis sativa plant, hemp fabric is a robust fabric that has been used for manufacturing various types of clothing for ages. The stalks of the cannabis sativa plant are the prime source of raw material for this fabric and the textile is immensely durable. However, because of the psychoactive nature of cannabis, the cultivation of this versatile crop has been restrained in recent times.

For the last two or three thousand years, cannabis sativa has been grown by farmers to meet two specific objectives. The first is to obtain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and various other psychoactive compounds that fall in the category of cannabinoids. The second is to produce high-quality durable fibres to intentionally reduce the production of psychoactive cannabinoids that this crop can easily produce.

Why Hemp?

For ages, hemp was considered the king of textiles but cotton took centre stage when the American pro-slavery senator James Henry Hammond announced his unambiguous support for cotton in 1858.

Despite all the hype about cotton being the best textile, it is believed hemp will once again be considered a superior option to cotton. While the hemp textile industry was destroyed due to the prohibition of cannabis, the prejudices against hemp are already changing and the industry is expected to undergo a revival shortly in the future.

The wave of legalisation of cannabis across the globe is expected to pave the way for hemp to overshadow cotton as the textile of choice and enable it to regain its lost glory.

Is Hemp Better than Cotton?

Although not very popular now, hemp textiles have a long history going back centuries and millennia.

Before the 1800s, hemp was considered the primary raw material for canvas, ropes, and clothing used by people from all walks of life. However, when cannabis use was prohibited in the US in 1937, the popularity of hemp textiles also plummeted due to the close link between hemp and cannabis. Cotton textiles rose in popularity across the world. Hemp was almost forgotten as a result but it has returned to the limelight in the last few years.

There is no doubt that hemp is a better fabric than cotton for the following reasons:

  • Hemp from one acre of land generates more than two to three times fibre compared to cotton grown on the same amount of land.
  • Hemp helps in detoxifying and enriching the soil with nitrogen and oxygen. On the other hand, cotton cultivation harms the soil immensely.
  • Hemp requires one-third the amount of water that a cotton plantation usually needs.
  • Hemp is believed to be more than eight times stronger than cotton. This means hemp fabrics are more durable than cotton.

What is the Difference Between Knitted and Woven Fabrics?

As the names imply, both fabrics differ based on the way they are manufactured.

Pullovers are usually knitted, while T-shirts can be knitted or woven. Cotton fabrics used for regular clothing like trousers and shirts are usually woven. You may be surprised to know that denim, too, is woven.

The basic difference between woven and knitted fabrics is that the latter is made using a single yarn that utilises a wide range of needles to create interlocking loops. Knitted fabrics are usually stretchable, thick and comfortable to wear. Woven fabrics may not be so versatile.

Almost any fabrics in the world today is either woven or knitted.

Can Hemp Be the Textile of the Future?

Cotton requires a huge amount of water, pesticides, and fertiliser for cultivation. This makes cotton farming more resource-intensive than hemp. Durable and easy to grow, hemp is becoming increasingly common as a raw material for textiles. We could say it is the textile of the future.

Hemp textiles are longer-lasting compared to cotton leading to excellent value for money. Studies suggest that 60% of consumers globally buy clothes for long-term use. This opens up the possibility that people will prefer hemp garments over cotton because of the durability factor.

It is well-known that the apparel industry is a major contributor to environmental pollution including the spillage of waste into rivers and oceans. It is estimated that one truckload of garment waste is disposed of each second. This is where hemp comes in: to mitigate the dire environmental crisis we are facing today, hemp garments can provide a sustainable solution.

Hemp is a non-carbon plant which has the quality of absorbing CO2 naturally. It needs half the amount of water and land that cotton requires for cultivation. Furthermore, hemp fibres are stronger than cotton and they can be easily blended with other textiles to produce garments. Hemp’s antibacterial properties also make it a great option for garment producers. Opting for hemp clothing can be an important step toward saving the planet and also lead to value for money. Popular brands like Nike, Armani, and Calvin Klein have already started using hemp fabrics to create various products.

How to Tell Whether a Material is Cotton or Hemp?

Pure cotton and pure hemp are easy to tell apart. But differentiation between them becomes difficult when they are treated or mixed with other fibres. Hemp can feel like linen when it is treated or spun like the latter.

Both the fibres look different under the microscope. Hence, one way of differentiating between them is by taking them to a lab. A close look can reveal minute differences in terms of fibre shape. Hemp fibres have an inherent polygon-shaped cross-section with edges that are round, but linen fibres have about seven peaks with edges that are sharp. The tiny fibrils in both the fibres are oriented in different ways. Colour-wise, hemp fibres range from yellow and grey to dark brown while those of linen look much more pale.

Is Hemp the Most Natural Fibre or Fabric in the World?

Hemp is a more natural fabric than many other textiles owing to a variety of reasons. First, it requires limited processing as far as industrial fabrics are concerned. The bast fibres that grow on the peripheral part of the stalk can be used as they are. They are usually 3-4 meters in length and can be easily interwoven into raw or rough fabric that is ideal for industrial use (rather than clothing). They are commonly used for industrial purposes because of their inherent properties such as strength, length, pliability, absorbency, elasticity, and abrasion-resistance. Natural hemp fibres are also used for making beds for horses.

Is Hemp the Most Sustainable Fabric?

Hemp fabric for clothing is a sustainable option for several reasons. First, hemp clothing tends to last longer than clothes made from other fabrics. Second, it is much more environmentally-friendly compared to cotton thanks to the fact that it is less water intensive. It also requires less pesticides and fertilisers. Third, opting for hemp clothing could be a healthy lifestyle choice. In particular, hemp inner wear could be highly beneficial thanks to the plant’s anti-odour and anti-bacterial properties. On the whole, switching to hemp clothing will help you save the planet and stay healthy at the same time.

What Exactly is Hemp? Is It a Species of Cotton Plant?

There is no relation between hemp and cotton. ‘Hemp’ includes all varieties of plants under the cannabis genus that contain THC compounds in negligible quantity. The cannabis family boasts various types of plants, the most infamous of them being marijuana (‘weed’). Hemp which is used for industrial purposes is actually the non-drug variety which is cultivated for its fibre and seeds.

What is Hemp Fabric? What are the Benefits of Hemp Fabric?

Hemp has been used by humans since 8000 BC. This miracle plant is both easy and affordable to cultivate. Since ages, it has been used for making sails, clothing, paper etc. It is also used to make parachute webbing. History says that the ships used by Christopher Columbus were outfitted with various types of hemp products. Apart from being environmentally-friendly, hemp fabric has several benefits as listed below:

  • Hemp fabric is stronger: Hemp fibres are five times firmer and about 2.5 times more damage-resistant compared to its synthetic counterparts like polypropylene plastic. It can also be the perfect outdoor fabric owing to its light weight and UV resistant property.
  • Hemp clothing is safer: Hemp fibres are safe and easier to work with because they can be used by implementing a simple injection moulding machine and that too, without modifying the fibres.
  • Hemp fabric is biodegradable: Hemp fabric takes just about six months for biodegradation whereas plastic fibres may take up to 600 years to decompose. The production of hemp fabric is much more cost-effective compared to conventional synthetic fibres.
  • Hemp fabric is antibacterial: This property makes hemp fabrics especially useful for people who are into sports. The antibacterial nature of hemp means you can wear hemp clothing without worrying about bacterial or fungal infections.
  • Hemp clothing is comfortable to wear: Hemp apparel is as comfortable, if not more than cotton and they also won’t wear down as fast as cotton. Gradually, with more and more washing, hemp fabric gets softer and more comfortable to wear.

How Do Cotton and Hemp Differ?

Hemp and cotton have been grown by humans for thousands of years and both have similar uses. These crops are cultivated for production of fabrics, though hemp is also grown for its health benefits (from hemp seeds).

A great deal of water and pesticides are required in cotton cultivation which imposes huge costs on the environment. Hemp, on the other hand, requires less water, pesticides, and fertilisers. Hemp doesn’t need herbicides, and grows at a much faster rate than cotton. The best thing about hemp cultivation is that it aerates the soil and extracts very little soil nutrients. This means that more crops can be grown in succession.

Hemp fabrics are sturdier, more durable, and more absorbent than cotton. Hemp is a popular upholstery fabric because it doesn’t get stretched and retains its shape.

Cotton’s softness and stretchability makes it ideal for garments like jeans and T-shirts whereas natural hemp fabric has a textured feel to it which softens with each round of washing. Hemp fibres can absorb a lot of water which makes them able to retain dye colour longer than other types of fabric like cotton and linen.

Is Hemp a Good ‘Performance’ Fabric for Sports?

There is no doubt that hemp has a lot of potential when it comes to athletic wear. It is much superior to polyester outfits. Naturally produced hemp fabric is increasingly used these days to meet the demand for high performance garments like sportswear. Though synthetic sportswear is built to address the problem of sweating, it is not very healthy for the body. There is no such problem with hemp.

Hemp sportswear will outlast almost all other fabrics by many years due to its durability and ability to stay in shape. They stretch less, hence, they don’t become distorted like other fabrics. The biggest advantage of hemp clothing is that it is long-lasting and comfortable to wear. Naturally resistant to UV light and mould, hemp’s porous nature lets it breathe and stay cool even when the temperature is high. On the other hand, it traps warm air near the human body which keeps a person naturally warm during cold weather giving it a temperature-moderating property.

Does Hemp Fabric Get Creased Easily?

Though hemp fabrics can get creased, it does not happen as easily as cotton or linen. The naturally robust nature of hemp doesn’t encourage reshaping. It is mostly not necessary to iron hemp garments, but you can opt for steam ironing whenever you want.

How Is Hemp Fabric Used?

Hemp fibre is extracted from the inner part of its bark. It has been used by human beings since ages. Hemp fabric dates back to 8000 BC as surmised by its discovery in ancient tombs.

Hemp fibre was used for garments, ropes and ship sailcloth in past eras owing to its durability and strength. The bast fibre is very versatile. It can be a great source of raw material for clothes, bags, shoes, carpets, ropes, and nets of all types. Hemp is a regarded as a ‘super fibre’ because of its numerous applications.

How is hemp turned into a fabric? OR How is hemp fabric produced?

Hemp grows well in mild climates with high humidity. The soil in which it is grown has to be non-acidic, rich in nitrogen and well drained. Fabric production from hemp goes through 3 stages – harvesting, retting and separation.

The quality of the finished hemp fibre also depends on whether the plant has been raised exclusively for fibre or it has a “dual purpose”. Dual purpose hemp crops are left on the ground to mature longer. These fibres also produce lignin which makes it unsuitable for textile use. However, they can used in the creation of non-textile products such as paper and pulp.

The first stage of harvesting can be commenced when the plant begins to shed pollen. This is the ideal time to start harvesting for high quality fibre. Harvesting usually takes place with the help of machines known as combines which are modified so that machine parts do not get entangled with bast fibre. This entire process takes places after 70-90 days of seeding. The plants are cut two to three inches of the ground and allowed to dry for 4-6 weeks.

The second stage of the production process is known as retting. After the crop is cut, the stalks of the plant are allowed to rett (the process by which it becomes easy to separate the outer fibrous core of the hemp stem from the inner wood-like core. Retting can be done in three ways – naturally leaving the hemp to decompose in the fields over a period of 4-6 weeks, using water or by using enzymes. The stalks are tossed and turned many times using a special machine so that the retting is even and then baled with hay harvesting equipment. These bales are then stored in dry places such as sheds, barns and other storage places which are covered.

The final process is called separation where the dried, retted and baled stalks are brought to a centralised place for processing. In a mechanical process called breaking, stalks are passed between fluted rollers to crush and break the woody core into shorter pieces known as hurds. The remaining hurds and fibre are again separated using a process called scutching. Finally, you have hemp which is now ready to be woven into fabric. While these methods are time consuming and capital intensive, efforts are underway to bypass them using methods such as steam explosion and ultrasound.

How is hemp used for textiles? Why is it better than cotton?

Hemp has been historically used for producing clothes and used as fuel. The outer layer of the Cannabis Sativa stalk (the bast) is used for making textile while the inner layer (the hurd) is made for producing rope and fuel. Hemp textiles range from clothes for everyday use such as dresses, skirts, jackets, hoodies, clothing for children and also tablecloths, upholstery and dish towels.

Hemp and cotton have been both used as textiles for thousands of years but hemp has an edge over cotton. Here are a few areas in which hemp leads over cotton.

Is Hemp is better for the environment?

Hemp as a plant is more suited for the rough and wild and doesn’t need much water and no pesticides to grow. Cotton, on the other hand requires a lot of pesticides, fertilisers and almost twice the amount of water required by hemp. Hemp also grows very quickly and uses minimum nourishment from the soil. Hemp doesn’t strip the soil of its essential nutrients which means that re-cultivation can be done on the same soil again. The yield per acre is also more for hemp when compared to cotton. Hemp produces 1500 pounds of fibre per acre, whereas cotton only produces 500 pounds per acre.

Hemp is a better fibre

Hemp fabrics have better insulation, absorbing power, more durable and they also don’t elongate. Hemp fibres also have a greater surface area which is very water absorbent. This translates to better dyeing and better retention of colours compared to cotton or linen.

Is hemp more absorbent than cotton?

Yes, hemp is more absorbent than cotton. In fact, it is almost 4 times more absorbent than cotton. Due to the larger surface area of hemp compared to cotton, hemp absorbs more water than cotton. In real life usage, this means that hemp absorbs dye better and colours hold faster than linen or cotton.

Why is hemp better than polyester and cotton clothing?

As far as quality is concerned, hemp is better than polyester and cotton clothing. This is because hemp is much more durable, absorbent, has anti-bacterial properties and moisture-wicking properties. It becomes softer with each wash and at the end of its life it becomes biodegradable. Hemp also does not need any pesticides to grow.

Compared to hemp, polyester is a synthetic fibre made from petroleum which is not eco-friendly as it takes almost 200 years to decompose.

Cotton clothing is of course the most widely used form of clothing today and while it is a natural fibre, it has its own set of issues.

Cotton takes almost twice the amount of water as hemp to be cultivated and strips the soil of its nutrients unlike hemp.

According to WHO statistics, 25 percent of the world’s insecticides are used by the cotton industry and 10 percent of the world’s pesticides.

According to the WHO, 20,000 individuals die of cancer and miscarriages every year due to the chemicals sprayed on conventional cotton.

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1 comment

  • Vanessa C Whittem

    Where is the hemp for your fabrics grown? Where are the fabrics and clothes

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