What Is Hemp Cloth?
Hemp cloth is a fabric created from the fibrous tissues of the hemp plant, specifically the stalk. However, the term hemp “cloth” is easily interchangeable with hemp fabric or hemp textiles. This fabric is durable, lightweight, and has been used for millennia to fashion hemp rope, sails, paper, and various other goods. A sustainable fabric, hemp cloth, even holds its own against other fibers such as organic cotton.
But if hemp fabric possesses so many positive qualities, why isn’t it as popular as other textiles? To understand hemp cloth, we must first look briefly at the history of hemp and its role in society throughout generations.
The History of Hemp Textiles
The history of hemp dates back to 10,000 BCE, but the first known use of hemp cloth dates to around 8,000 BCE. In Mesopotamia, considered one of the most advanced ancient civilizations, archaeologists discovered remnants of hemp fabric, signifying that hemp was likely one of the first plants cultivated for textile fiber in human history.
Between 8,000 BCE and 1000 CE, we see an abundance of ancient uses for hemp textiles:
- 5000 BCE: hemp rope used to fashion netting in China.
- 1300 BCE: hemp cloth used to bury Pharaohs in Egypt.
- 800 BCE: a variety of hemp fabric technologies spread around Europe, Asia, and the Middle East by the nomadic Scythians.
- 100 BCE: hemp textiles used to create hemp paper in China.
These are just some of the many examples of ancient humans utilizing hemp as a sustainable fabric. However, hemp’s worldwide importance emerged around 1000 CE: hemp sails began to replace flax sails on ships.
Flax sails would rot after about three months. Hemp sails, on the other hand, were durable, lightweight, and didn’t rot. The word “canvas” actually derived from the word “cannabis,” as hemp cloth was the only sustainable fabric around this time.
And while everything from hemp sails to hemp rope was used to power ships for centuries, the cotton gin's invention in 1794 significantly decreased hemp's value. Manufacturers quickly turned to organic cotton for increased production value.
Fast-forward to the 1900s hemp cloth would fall victim to the war on cannabis in the United States. Because hemp and marijuana both derived from cannabis, hemp was outlawed alongside marijuana, meaning hemp textiles became harder to acquire until the plant’s reemergence in the early 2000s.
Is Hemp Cloth High Quality?
In short, yes, hemp cloth is considered high quality, sustainable fabric. Hemp farming is considered environmentally stable and beneficial, and hemp fibers are notorious for their durability and strength.
However, the quality of hemp fabric depends on purpose or use. For example, sailors probably wouldn’t opt for hemp rope, sails, and other maritime applications for the plant because modern synthetic fabrics offer a cheaper, more durable alternative. However, these modern fabrics might also offer environmental degradation, switching back to hemp rope and other sailing textiles viable for environmental protection.
Seaside uses aside, how do hemp textiles compare to other fabrics?
Hemp Cloth vs. Organic Cotton
Hemp cloth is most often compared to organic cotton. Why? Because one of the most widespread modern uses of hemp fabric is to fashion eco-friendly clothing. Plus, hemp can hold its own against cotton, customarily considered the king of cloth.
Hemp textiles are more durable and breathable than organic cotton, offering a lighter approach to what you wear. In addition, it’s considered more absorbent and mildew-resistant.
Because of this, hemp cloth might best be used as a clothing alternative in today’s world. It could also substitute a variety of other non-sustainable fabrics and reduce our carbon footprint from textile manufacturing.
Hemp Cloth vs. Polyester
Polyester is a synthetic fabric, meaning that its production can lead to the release of harmful toxins, including carcinogens, into the atmosphere. Hemp cloth, on the other hand, does not require synthetic manufacturing techniques and is considered ecologically friendly.
In addition, hemp textiles can absorb about 20 percent of its weight in water while still feeling dry to the touch. Polyester can absorb only about six percent of its weight in water, making it much less breathable than hemp fabric.
Hemp Cloth: Past, Present, & Future
Although hemp textiles were used for just about everything for thousands of years, they could make a revolutionary commodity in today’s world. They are considered a very sustainable fabric, able to craft everything from clothes to hemp rope. In addition, hemp fabric can actually improve our ecosystems, not degrade the environment like cotton or polyester.
Just because hemp was once outcast by American society, we believe that hemp cloth will make a comeback in the near future. The hemp plant offers so much to society, from fabrics to CBD products, so it only makes sense that the more we learn about hemp, the more likely it will find its place as a mainstay commodity in everyday life.