What is hemp fabric and how is it made? Everything you need to know about this eco friendly fabric and how to sew with it.
Hemp is often hailed as cotton’s superior cousin for its strength, durability, versatility and sustainability–in fact, there’s a common saying about the differing lifespans of each of these similar fabrics: “cotton wears out, hemp wears in.”
But what is hemp fabric, where does it come from, and what makes it (reportedly) better than cotton?
What is Hemp?
Hemp is a natural fiber that is derived from the cannabis sativa plant (don’t worry, it doesn’t contain high concentrations of THC, the psychoactive compound in consumable cannabis).
It’s legal to use in all fifty states despite previous concerns over its relation to the intoxicating properties of the other version of the plant. Hemp fabric comes from woven fibers sourced from the stalk of the plant. Hemp grown for fiber can also be used to source CBD oil and hemp hearts, a vegan source of protein.
Hemp is similar in texture to cotton and can be used as a stronger and more durable, eco-friendly alternative to many cotton products. It doesn’t have as much stretch as cotton, but makes up for it with prolonged life. Hemp even surpasses organic cotton and linen in terms of ecological friendliness.
Hemp has a ton of desirable properties that makes it an attractive fabric for any number of projects. Hemp is:
…among other things!
How is Hemp Fabric Made?
The cannabis sativa plant generally goes through a four-step process to go from seed to fabric.
As with any other plant-derived fiber, the first step in making hemp fabric is growing the plant the fibers come from. Hemp is grown in temperate climates in several countries around the world, from the UK, South America, Middle East and Asia. As of right now, the US doesn’t produce much of the world’s hemp fiber supply.
When the plant has reached maturity, hemp is cut, dried, and raked in the fields to separate the stalk from the leaves before being baled for the next step of the process.
Next, the plant undergoes a process called “retting” (spraying or soaking the stalk in water and bacteria or an enzymatic solution) to separate the fibers from other plant materials. The fibers can then be combed, cut, spun into threads to be woven into fabric or left as yarn and rope, depending on the final destination for the product.
If the hemp fiber is intended for textiles, it’s woven or knit into yards of fabric to be dyed or printed and used to make things like clothing and blankets.
Jute vs Hemp: Are They the Same?
Jute and hemp are often confused because they can look similar, they’re both plant based, and they’re both fairly strong, however, they’re not the same. For starters, they come from entirely different families of plants. Hemp is also stronger than jute and used to make a variety of fabrics, whereas jute is mostly used in rugged applications like rope, all-weather rugs and heavy-duty bags.
What Can You Make With Hemp Fabric?
Hemp is incredibly tough but gets softer over time while still remaining durable, making it ideal for all kinds of projects. Hemp can be used to make:
- Jackets and outerwear
- More sustainable “denim” and cotton alternatives
- Paper towel alternatives and other absorbent cleaning equipment
- Home goods like sheets, curtains, and rugs
Environmental Impact of Hemp
Hemp is one of the most sustainable fabrics on the market today. The hemp plant can grow (and thrive!) with little human intervention, and there’s no need for fertilizer or pesticides as it’s naturally resistant to many pests. No chemicals required.
Hemp requires far less water than cotton for growth and processing. It also produces twice as much fiber per acre than cotton.
This wonder-fiber is known as a highly renewable resource and ready to harvest from plants between four and six months after being planted, making it possible to plant several successions each year.
Hemp is also a major carbon sequequestering crop, absorbing CO2 from the environment and is a beneficial crop to any environment it grows in. Not only that, but hemp actually returns a majority of the nutrients it takes back to the soil.
Tips for Sewing With Hemp Fabric
- Prewash your hemp fabric
Prewashing hemp softens the fibers, making it more pliable and easier to work with, and pre-shrinks the fabric. Hemp will shrink if exposed to hot water so shrinking it prior to manipulating it makes it easier to
- Press seams and folds as normal
Hemp fabric can withstand heat levels similar to cotton, okay to press seams and don’t need to be as careful as you do with more delicate fabrics like silk and synthetics.
- Use hemp thread for like-durability
If durability is your main priority when using hemp, using hemp thread will ensure the seams have a similar lifespan to the body of the finished garment.
- Finish edges to prevent unraveling
Fraying is a major problem with raw-edge hemp, so make sure you’re immediately taking steps to protect the edges after cutting them or risk unraveling the entire thing. Use heavy-duty, freshly sharpened scissors and work slowly to make sure you aren’t encouraging fraying at the edges.
- Work on pieces individually
Because of the high fraying factor, hemp isn’t a great fabric for large-scale batch projects as pieces of the pattern will fray in between steps when being moved around. If you’re making multiples during a hemp project, work on them one at a time to reduce the risk of ruining one or more of the pieces in the process.
Interested in learning more about different fabric types? Check out my other posts about fabric including: EcoFriendly Fabrics | What is Wool Fabric? | What is Linen Fabric? | What is Silk Fabric? | What is Cotton Fabric? | What is PUL Fabric? | What is Polyester Fabric? | What is Tencel Fabric? | What is Minky Fabric?
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