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Hemp Farming

The significance of hemp to the economic and day-to-day lives of our ancestors is not widely recognized today. It was important for textiles, paper, rope and oil production. Although hemp was mainly used to produce ropes, sailcloth and sacking, the fabric produced from hemp was both durable and comfortable to wear making it a favorite choice for many clothing items.

Today, textile production from hemp has been supplanted primarily by cotton and synthetic fibers.

As a natural fiber, cotton is thought to be the right choice for the "green" consumer. However, modern intensive cotton production is causing severe environmental degradation, as it is heavily dependent on the input of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and water. Cotton is a very demanding crop and environmental and social costs of both cotton and synthetic fiber production are very high. For example, cotton, which though grown on just 3% of the world's agricultural land, consumes 11% of world pesticide usage and 7.5% of the world's artificial fertilizers. It also requires very heavy irrigation.

Hemp requires minimal, if any, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizer; and with its impressive growth rates, it quickly achieves ground cover hence suppressing weeds and some soil-borne pathogens. Hemp also restores nutrients to the soil, which are then available to the next crop planted in rotation. Hemp is very deep rooting and has proven to be a beneficial break crop -- cleaning the ground and providing a good disease break while helping soil structure. It has also been shown to be an effective pollen insulator since it forms impermeable hedges, which minimizes outside pollination.

Production of cotton and man-made fibers have benefited from technological improvements which have simplified processing, hemp processing remains extremely labor intensive due primarily to a lack of technological advancements, and to diminishing interest in the plant because of its association with its sister plant, marijuana.

While hemp production has all but disappeared as fiber crop in North America, as it has had through much of the western world, Europe now recognizes the traditional role hemp has played as a predominant industrial fiber crop, as well as its predisposition for meaningful ecological farming in the future. A revival of this traditional, low-input multiple use crop is seen as satisfying the criteria for "green" farming, including sustainable growth, biodegradability, and over-all processing in ways that minimize pollution to the environment.

In Romania, where Hemp Basics produces yarn, fabric and finished garments and accessories, hemp has continued to be an important fiber crop. Typically, it is processed by:

  • Sowing the seed densely to produce tall, slender stems which contain a greater amount of "bast"fiber used for the production of textiles
  • Harvesting the stems after flowering, but before the seeds are set
  • Water retting the stems to break down the pectin that bind the fibers to the stem allowing the fiber to be released
  • Breaking the retted stems by passing them through a 'breaker' of fluted rollers
  • Separating the fiber from the woody core by passing the broken stems through rotary blades in a process called 'scutching'
  • Combing, or 'hackling' the fiber to remove woody particles and to align the fibers into a continuous 'sliver' for spinning; and finally
  • Wet spinning the fibers by drawing them through a trough of hot water before being spun, softening the residual pectin and allowing greater drawing out and separation of the fibers for producing finer and more uniform yarns.

From Thailand, Hemp Basics offers a complete accessory line produced from hemp fabrics made using traditional hand-processing techniques.

From cultivation to the finished product, there are no chemicals used in the processing of these hemp fabrics. In a country where wastewater treatment hardly exists, chemical dyestuffs are a serious threat to the environment. Therefore, our Thai accessory items are only dyed with traditional vegetable and mineral dyes. Variations in color can be expected as a result of hand processing and the natural dyes used.