Why Hemp Fabrics?

Historical Review

The physical advantages of hemp fibre are its length, strength, durability, elasticity, and ability to withstand high temperatures without degeneration.

Hemp rope has long been praised for its ability to withstand rot, mildew, and insects. It is strong and very elastic and keeps its strength and gets softer as it ages. 70%-90% of all rope, twine, and cordage were made from hemp until 1937 for this very reason.

Hemp canvas is resistant to ultraviolet light damage, heat and mildew, and repels insects. The word “canvas” actually derives from the word “cannabis”.

Hemp’s long bast fiber can be spun into threads, yarn for rope, twine, cordage, heavy canvas, or knit, or woven into a variety of fine linen-like quality fabrics.


Mildew Hemp’s historical dominance of the shipping industry (sails, rope, rigging) because it was mildew, rot, and light-resistant is evidence enough.

Elasticity: Historical and modern research indicates that hemp is very elastic, but not as elastic as flax. No specific studies were found.

UV (UltraViolet): Tilley has come out with a new hemp hat. The Tilley hemp fabric has been certified with a UPF 50+, the maximum UV protection rating given. (www.tilley.com)

Durability & Strength: Barbara Filippone of EnviroTextiles commissioned all the following tests. These results are for specific fabrics. Fabric strength and durability are not only a result of the fiber, but also of the success of the weave.

Wyzenbeck ASTMD 4157 — Abrasion study on 12 100% Hemp Fabrics from China. Results: Fabrics passed for residential use (furniture). Some passed for contract industry standards.

ASTM D 3886D — Abrasion resistance. Results: Hemp fabrics had a high abrasion resistance in residential use.

ASTM D 1424D — Tear Resistance. Results: Hemp fabrics have an excellent tear resistance.

ASTM 5035D — Strength Test. Results: The 100% hemp fabrics tested had a high strength.

Fireproof Properties: CAFB 117 Section E-D California Fire Standard for 100% Chinese and European Hemp Fabrics. Results: All Fabrics met the fire standard.

Antimicrobial Properties (This is important in fabric assessment, but it also ranges into hair and skin care, as well as in treatment of and prevention of health problems): Hemp is resistant to the growth of Aspergillus Niger.

Matt Bergh, in partial fulfillment for B.S. at California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo), in conjunction with professor Dr. Christopher Kitts. “Comparative Study of the Resistance to Aspergillus Niger by Hemp, Cotton, and Flax,” June 2003.

“Cannabidiol (CBC), one of the four major cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa L., was discovered to possess strong anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial qualities and mild to moderate anti-fungal properties.”

Turner CE, Elsohly MA. “Biological activity of cannabichromene, its hemologs and isomers,” Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Aug-Sep 1981. Issue 21. p. 283S-291S.

How Does Hemp Stand Up

Now that we know that hemp textiles are industry tested for strength, durability, UV protection, mildew and rot resistance, fire resistance, elasticity, and we know that hemp can be grown without herbicides and pesticides nor fungicides or fertilizer (if crop rotation is utilized to optimize the nitrogen in the soil), we need to see howhemp stands up to its competition.

The information we’ve found on hemp vs. other textiles is varied. Further research needs to be done comparing hemp to other fabrics. However all sources we’ve come across tell us that cotton uses  about 50% of the world’s toxic crop chemicals, and that hemp is stronger, lasts longer, is more absorbent, is warmer, breathes better, is more microbially-resistant, and that hemp requires only a third as much water as cotton to grow and only a tiny fraction of the fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide that cotton does.

Cotton kills. Hemp regenerates.

While investigating the Bergh paper above we found the following startling information:

“The chemical components in hemp are able to kill microorganisms including: Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus viridans, Pneumococcus Cornyebacterium diphteriae, Bacillus anthracis, and Mycobacterium.”

Klingeren, Van B., Ham, Ten M. “Antibacterial activity of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol.” Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. 1976. Issue 42. p. 9-12.

“THC effectively halted the replication of the Herpes Simplex Virus types 1 & 2 in both monkey and human cells.”

Lancz G, Specter S, Brown HK. “Suppressive effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on herpes simplex virus infectivity in vitro.” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology & Medicine. April 1991. Issue 196. p. 401-404.

Blevins RD, Dumic MP. “The effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on herpes simplex virus replication.” Journal of General Virology. Aug 1980. Issue 49. p. 427-431.


Properties of Hemp

Textile Properties

As the premier plant fiber, True Hemp or Cannabis sativa has served mankind for thousands of years. This venerable fiber has always been valued for its strength and durability. Materials made from hemp have been discovered in tombs dating back to 8,000 B.C.E. Christopher Columbus sailed to America on ships rigged with hemp. Hemp was grown extensively in colonial America by numerous farmers including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag from hemp. In fact, its combination of ruggedness and comfort were utilized by Levi Strauss as a lightweight duck canvas for the very first pair of jeans made in California.

For thousands of years hemp was traditionally used as an industrial fiber. Sailors relied upon hemp cordage for strength to hold their ships and sails, and the coarseness of the fiber made hemp useful for canvas, sailcloth, sacks, rope, and paper.

While hemp fiber was the first choice for industry, the coarseness of the fiber restricted hemp from apparel and most home uses. Hemp needed to be softened. Traditional methods to soften vegetable fibers used acids to remove lignin, a type of natural glue found in many plant fibers. While this method to remove lignin worked well with cotton or flax, it weakened the fibers of hemp and left them too unstable for use. Hemp therefore remained as an industrial fabric.

In the mid 1980’s, researchers developed an enzymatic process to successfully remove lignin from the hemp fiber without compromising its strength. For the first time in history, de-gummed hemp fiber could be spun alone or with other fibers to produce textiles for apparel. This technological breakthrough has catapulted hemp to the forefront of modern textile design and fashion. Given hemp’s superiority to other fibers, the benefits of this breakthrough are enormous.

Superior Properties

Hemp fiber is one of the strongest and most durable of all natural textile fibers. Products made from hemp will outlast their competition by many years. Not only is hemp strong, but it also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fiber. This prevents hemp garments from stretching out or becoming distorted with use. Hemp may be known for its durability, but its comfort and style are second to none. The more hemp is used, the softer it gets. Hemp doesn’t wear out, it wears in. Hemp is also naturally resistant to mold and ultraviolet light.

Due to the porous nature of the fiber, hemp is more water absorbent, and will dye and retain its color better than any fabric including cotton. This porous nature allows hemp to “breathe,” so that it is cool in warm weather. Furthermore, air which is trapped in the fibers is warmed by the body, making hemp garments naturally warm in cooler weather. 

Environmental Advantages

Hemp is an extremely fast growing crop, producing more fiber yield per acre than any other source. Hemp can produce 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax using the same amount of land. The amount of land needed for obtaining equal yields of fiber place hemp at an advantage over other fibers.

Hemp grows best in warm tropical zones or in moderately cool, temperate climates, such as the United States. Hemp leaves the soil in excellent condition for any succeeding crop, especially when weeds may otherwise be troublesome. Where the ground permits, hemp’s strong roots descend for three feet or more. The roots anchor and protect the soil from runoff, building and preserving topsoil and subsoil structures similar to those of forests. Moreover, hemp does not exhaust the soil. Hemp plants shed their leaves all through the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture. Farmers have reported excellent hemp growth on land that had been cultivated steadily for nearly 100 years. 

Hemp Today

As a fabric, hemp provides all the warmth and softness of a natural textile but with a superior durability seldom found in other materials. Hemp is extremely versatile and can be used for countless products such as apparel, accessories, shoes, furniture, and home furnishings. Apparel made from hemp incorporates all the beneficial qualities and will likely last longer and withstand harsh conditions. Hemp blended with other fibers easily incorporates the desirable qualities of both textiles. The soft elasticity of cotton or the smooth texture of silk combined with the natural strength of hemp creates a whole new genre of fashion design.

The possibilities for hemp fabrics are immense. It is likely that they will eventually supersede cotton, linen, and polyester in numerous areas. With so many uses and the potential to be produced cheaply, hemp textiles are the wave of the future!