The “fast fashion” industry contributes around 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the world’s second-largest consumer of water. The microplastics in the synthetic fabrics used to make our clothes take hundreds of years to degrade and wind up in the oceans, our food, and even our own bodies. The energy costs associated with polyester production are enormous.
With the threat of climate catastrophe looming on the horizon, that new patterned button-up you just bought hardly seems worth it, even if you do look really good in it.
Want some new duds but don’t want to kill the planet to look stylish? Hemp is here to help.
Why Choose Hemp Over Other Fabrics?
Hemp, which was recently federally legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, happens to be one of the most sustainable cash crops on the planet. Not only does hemp require significantly less water than comparable crops like cotton, but it also sequesters more carbon than almost any other plant out there.
For those who need a quick biology refresher, plants capture the carbon in the atmosphere in order to fuel their food-making process known as photosynthesis. That’s the same atmospheric carbon contributing to global warming. The hemp plant captures around 11,000 lbs of carbon per acre through the growth cycle—which is only a few short months. That’s more than even an acre of rainforests.
The hemp plant could be used to replace all sorts of materials in our lives with a much more sustainable, eco-friendly version. Hemp paper would reduce deforestation. Hemp fuel could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Hempcrete, a hemp-based building material, could even make our architecture more sustainable.
Today we’ll focus on just one potential hemp application—one that humans have perfected over centuries: hemp-based textiles and clothing.
Processing Hemp For Textile Production
Turning hemp into spinnable fibers is a difficult, labor-intensive process. It’s why we’ve created machines to shoulder some of the hard work. If you want to find out how to make hemp fabric at home, get ready to use some elbow grease.
- Harvest: The very first step will be to harvest your hemp. This will occur somewhere around 100 days after planting and immediately after the plants begin to flower.
- Retting: Once you’ve harvested your crop, you’ll want to let the plant naturally get to a more pliable state. With time and water, the pectins binding the hemp fibers together will begin to break down. One way to do this is by soaking your hemp in a nearby water source like a pond or stream for around ten days. Alternatively, you can leave your hemp out in the field and allow it to decompose naturally in the dew. This will take around a month, and make sure to turn the plants over occasionally so that the retting process occurs evenly.
- Breaking: Here, you’ll want to transform your stiff hemp stalk into one that’s limper and rope-like. Industrial hemp farmers would typically perform this at a textile mill where the hemp could be placed between fluted rollers or run through a decorticator. If you don’t have access to this machinery, essentially, you’ll want to make several “breaks” throughout the stalk until it becomes pliable. This could be done using two flat stones.
- Scrutching: Scrutching removes the fibers from the plant’s woody core. This is done by repeatedly beating the stalks with a piece of wood or running them through a textile machine.
- Hackling: Next, you’ll comb the fibers, making sure to remove any remaining particles leftover from the core, as well as any other imperfections.
- Roving: During this process, the hemp is twisted and stretched before being wound on spinning bobbins.
- Spinning: Now, it’s time for the final step. Attach your hemp fibers to a spindle to twist them into a usable yarn. Now you can craft your own hemp clothing!
The Easier Cheat Way
Knowing how to make your own clothing from scratch can be an incredibly useful tool, but the process isn’t for everyone. If you want to make your own hemp clothing but live in a city and don’t have access to the necessary resources, you can simply purchase a bundle of hemp yarn and skip straight ahead to knitting, sewing, or crocheting your own hemp clothes.