Often thought of as purely medicinal, hemp in fact has been used in a practical sense for a very long time. Remnants of hemp cloth dating back to 8000 B.C. has been found in modern day Iran (1). What about this plant caught the attention of even pre-modern humans?
Hemp vs. Cotton
Hemp, once processed, has a similar texture to cotton. But unlike cotton it grows softer with each wear like a pair of leather shoes, and lasts triple the time of your average t-shirt. Hemp fabric owes its durability to the long and sturdy fibres that make up its leaves. When woven into hemp rope, it boasts enough sturdiness to be once the preferred mast riggings on sailboats (2). The stress that a strong gust of wind inflicts on a boat's sail is massive and yet this mighty plant is suited for the task.
It's highly absorbent, highly lightweight, and highly breathable. It can be made into towels, t-shirts, tablecloths, dresses, skirts, and pants. And if you find yourself owning a garment made from hemp you won't have to worry about ruining it while doing laundry. Where cotton succumbs to pilling and shrinkage, hemp resists remarkably well and can hold its form for decades.
What's Next for Hemp Fabric?
Federal law allows large-scale hemp cultivation as long as the plant tests for 0.3% THC or less. Part of the 2018 Farm Bill, it clarifies uncertainty regarding hemp as an agricultural commodity and creates an avenue for the hemp industry to expand.
(1) Sewport. “What Is Hemp Fabric: Properties, How Its Made and Where.” Sewport, 3 Aug. 2019, sewport.com/fabrics-directory/hemp-fabric.
(2) The People's History, www.mit.edu/~thistle/v13/2/history.html.