Hemp: Textiles and Fabrics

Unless you planned on getting arrested today, I’m betting you left the house with clothes on.  Such an integral part of everyone’s daily life yet how much thought do we give about where the fabric for our clothes comes from.

Good Industry

Proponents of hemp as textiles have a litany of good reasons to tout their merits.  Aside from being hugely less intrusive to the environment to grow than cotton or flax, hemp has a far greater yield as well.   According to the Ecological Agriculture Projects at McGill University, an acres of land will produce 2 to 3 times more fiber than cotton and do not require the application of herbicides, fungicides or insecticides.  Up to 50% of all agriculture pesticides used in North America are applied to cotton crops.  That a huge amount of poison we could be keeping out of the air, water and soil. (1)

Hemp fabric

Good Material

In addition, hemp is up to 8 times stronger than cotton, naturally resistant to UV and salt water deterioration, moulds and mildew all the while being hypoallergenic.  Hemp fabrics are porous in nature and therefore breathable allowing the clothing to be cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather.  

Cotton tends to be grown in dry areas of the world where water is scarce and the fields rely on irrigation.  As we become increasingly more concerned about fresh water reserves,  I’m not sure how much longer we can get away with irrigating fields that are not being used for food.  Hemp is a lot more drought tolerant requiring a fraction of water to grow!  

So why isn’t this stuff being grown everywhere.  Lords knows the economy could use expanding and the environment could be cared for better.  Well….as with all things good for us, hemp is a victim of ignorant government interference.

Hemp textiles

Such rich, luxurious appearance.

Bad Politics

The hemp industry was sullied years ago by competitive propaganda designed to shut down the organic hemp industry in favour of big business and chemical companies wishes at the time.  And it worked.  The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made it illegal to possess or transfer cannabis throughout the United States.  Differentiation between hemp and marijuana was not made and all were lumped in the same category.  The US government did see fit to temporarily lift the laws banning farmers to grown hemp, though, as long as it served the World War II war effort.

Up until the 1820’s, 80% of textiles used by man were made primarily from hemp.  (1)  Christopher Columbus’s ships used rigging made from hemp, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, Betsy Ross made the first US flag out of hemp and the first pair of jeans were made were hemp.  And suddenly, with the stroke of some dick’s pen in Washington DC, it was bad and it had to go.

Sword and Pen


Will Travel

So naturally, as a result of these decisions years ago, most hemp textiles are manufactured in China with the most hemp grown in India.  Although hemp is grown across Canada, at the moment, we do not have any manufacturers of hemp fabrics.  There are several designers and manufacturers of hemp clothing in Canada, however it appears they struggle to stay here, resisting the temptation to take the operation overseas.


What is called dirt to shirt, the process for turning a hemp plant into a clothes, is relatively simple.  It starts with growing the plant.  Hemp is known to grow tall and the long stocks are preferred for textiles.  Once the hemp plant reaches maturity it is cut down and left to lie in the field for 4 - 6 weeks called retting.  The stalks are turned several times and the large fan leaves are left to decomposed into soil.  The natural glue or polysaccharides in the stocks break down during this time making it easier to decorticate, remove the outer husk, which is the next step.  One method of decorticating  the stalks is by putting them through a chipper.  (2)

Then the pulp is processed with sodium hydroxide or sulfur and is dyed and placed under heat and pressure for a period of time.  There are other natural methods using protease enzymes and microbes that do the job, too.  The pulp is thoroughly dried and the threads are spun into yarn.  The fibres are tested for tensile strength and fineness.  The fibre colour is noted and then they are weaved into textiles and fabrics.  All that left is to find yourself a tailor and say good bye to old navy and the gap!

Now you know

Now you are an informed consumer.  We see the hemp industry struggling to return in North America as governments struggle to return to their senses.  I consciously choose to help revitalize a by gone industry lost to propaganda.   Now I’m off to find a hemp beach cover up.

(1)   http://eap.mcgill.ca/CPH_3.htm
(2)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cWp7qSJXTA