What is Hemp Fabric Anyway?
Hemp fiber holds rewarding benefits unlike any other natural or artificial fiber out there
- Breathable material with wicking ability and UVA/ UVB protection
- Resistant to bacteria, mould, termite, chemical and even fire
- Versatile, durable and distortion-less fabric
- Easy to process, better colour penetration, cost-effective production
- Able to recycle a more number of times than other fibers.
What Types of Hemp Fiber Are There?
1. Bast fiberKnown for its long fibers, this outer layer accounts for about one-fourth of the stalk. Hemp farmers have categorized Bast fiber into two parts. Primary and Secondary.
The Primary Bast fiber has below-mentioned properties:
- High cellulose density (50-60% of the Bast)
- Longer fibers ranging up to 50mm length
- Lower presence of lignin (6-10%)
The secondary bast fiber features:
- 10-30% of the total Bast fiber
- Shorter fibers
- Higher lignin content
2. Hurd fiber
Also termed as shive, the minute-sized woody fiber accounts for about three-fourth of the hemp stalk. Rich in lignin content (20-30%), Hurd fiber was once considered a waste or by-product of Bast fiber. For thousands of years, hemp plants were primarily grown for bast fiber due to the demand for long fibers. Hurd fiber remained unused for eras. However, with the noticeable application in the insulation, absorbent animal bedding etc., Hurd fiber gained some respect.
While outer skin is enormously used for textile production, the inner core created a milestone with the introduction of Hempcrete. Thanks to the rich composition of Hurd fiber in the stalk, hemp holds a special place in the industry for cleaner, greener and stronger construction of buildings. The utility of Hurd fiber further extends to paper and pulp, biomass/bio-ethanol fuel, acoustical tiles for ceiling and wall, mulching around crops, residential heating, hemp plastic (bioplastic) and many more.
How Hemp Fiber is Made?
For the optimum fiber output, hemp needs to be raised under sustainable conditions such as soil, pH value, weather and external factors. Soil conditions for hemp:
Better the amount of soil drainage, better is the fiber yield. Loam soil holds ideal conditions for hemp crops whereas clay (poor drainage property) delivers unprofitable yields. Seeding must be done in the soil temperature of 5.5-7.7°C.
- Acidity level: Over 6.0 pH
- Alkalinity level: Between 7- 7.5 pH
Hemp sustains in moisture (minimum 64-76 cm rainfall/ year) and hot and humid weather conditions, however, could not survive longer in sub-zero temperatures (below -0.5o Celsius).
Over 50 types of microorganisms, pests and insects are known to deteriorate the growth of farm crops. However, significantly higher growth rate of hemp plant minimizes the chance of being contaminated with diseases. So it is recommended to cultivate hemp plants in farms separate from food-based crops.
Ratio of Bast to Hurd fiber yield
- If sowing density is 300 seeds per sq. meter = 2.2 : 1
- If sowing density is 100 seeds per sq. meter = 0.7 : 1
When hemps begin to shed pollen grains, that means it’s time to harvest. Seeds, flowers and stalk fibers have different maturity times and can’t be harvested together. The process begins with harvesting hemp seeds in 40-50 days. But for the finest fibers, the plants get ready in 80-90 days.
For large fields, farmers use Combine Harvester to chop the plants evenly. But for small farms, traditional methods such as sickle-bar mower, hay swathers or hemp hooks are preferred.
The harvested stalks are now bunched together and laid on the field for breakdown process. The environmental exposure helps to de-leaf and reduce the pectin content (binding agent) in the stalk which is necessary for the extraction of softer fibers.
The natural process (dew retting) lets the microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) or dew factor perform the pectin breakdown. The stalks are then frequently rebundled for uniform breakdown until 4-6 weeks when they are ready for the industrial processes.
It may also involve manual technique, as simple as soaking in water. In this wet retting process, the bundles are soaked in warm water contaminated with bacteria. This speeds up the breakdown process (around two weeks).
The retted stems are then dried under the sun or via machinery. The dried stems are stored in warehouses or barns while maintaining the moisture conditions below 15%.
4. Breaking/ Decortication
It’s no simple task to manually handle the tough hemp stems. In breaking process, the hemp stalks are passed through rolling machine called decorticator. The twin gear-like rotary blades squeeze and crush the stems in order to separate bast and hurd. This helps farmers to collect decorticated fibers that have soft and finer texture. Based on the decortication machinery, stems can be either dry or wet.
Scutching is much like breaking process but it aids in softening the woody fibers. After the breaking process, decorticated fibers are passed through multiple fluted rollers that separates leaves, weeds and other contaminants.
More traditionally, farmers perform willowing by spreading the fiber on a mesh and beating it with iron scraper or sticks. The loosened fibers are then collected and prepared for Combing.
Before soft fibers are being spun into bale, makers ensure to clean, untangle and intermix fibers and produce continuous sliver. The process requires carding machine equipped with a single big roller synched with other smaller ones. The rollers are mounted with teeth that gets finer and finer as the fiber progresses.
The rollers line up fibers and creates a series of finer slivers as it leaves the machine. After this, a multitude of things can be done with the slivers depending on which of the many uses of hemp the manufacturer wants to use it for. During carding, makers can mix dyes or even blend hemp with other fibers.
“Here at Indohemp, we use a steam explosion to hydrate the fiber in order to make the fiber fully weavable so that we can hand craft our artesian, organic, vegan hemp bags.
7. Combing/ hackling
After breaking and carding, locks of fibers are treated to free from hurds, tangled and extra broken materials. The fibers are trimmed down to shorter length (about 65cm) with the help of Combing machine.
The machine further combs out uneven or intertwined fibers. The bundle of soft fibers are smoothened and parallelized via hackling machine. Here, fibers are continuously drawn and aligned with the help of sharp pin-like combs and prepare for dry or wet pre-spinning process.
Roving is a process of producing long and narrow bundle of fiber. The main purpose of roving is to prepare enriched fiber for spinning process. Though, the process may also be used for weaving specialised kinds of fabrics or textile patterns.
Prior roving process, fibers are laid parallelly on cylindrical-shaped spindles. The unspun strands of sliver are then drawn out via manual or automatic machinery and collected in different forms of length for spinning process.
These continuous slivers are now spun into yarn by dry and wet process – depending upon the desired fineness of end-product. The spinning process helps in the separation of fibrous threads that produces fabrics thicker than 12 Nm. The yarn is finally woven or twisted on a mechanical handloom that produces a rough clothing called bagging.
10. Final touch
Clothing material so produced is now washed with detergent with constant temperature. The temperature differs with the thickness of fabric material without affecting the structure of fabrics. Consequently, the weave of fabrics shrinks that aids in the material strength. Furthermore, the fabrics are sent to dying, softening or waterproofing facility where the clothing materials are treated with dyes and ISO certified reactives.
How is hemp fabric used?
It’s easily the size of the Bible when we talk about hemp fabrics uses. This wonder fiber comes with a raft of applications featuring knitted, handloom, blended, woven and non-woven materials:
- Knitting: Knitted materials used specifically for soft and stretchy fabrics such as wardrobe, home decor, bed/furniture sheets etc.
- Handlooms: Produced by textile craftsmen, fabrics are made with different shapes and sizes. Handloom products ranges from wearables to home decor to cordage.
- Woven & Non-woven: The textile materials are woven to prepare clothing, bags, home mats and apparels with soft fabrics. Whereas, rough fibers are used in canvas, ropes and heavy-duty industrial use-cases. Since ages, hemp fiber had been used only for non-woven applications like cordage. The textile wasn’t used for clothing because the technology to make it soft didn’t exist until more recently.
- Blending: Blending with hemp fiber adds an extra layer of superiority and awesomeness into the fabrics. Hemp fibers perfectly suits with Cotton, Silk, Linen, Wool, Tencel, Bamboo and even artificial fabrics such as Polyester or any other synthetic fibers. When formulated with gentle proportions, material strength and quality is only going to be more valuable.
Hemp Fabric Properties
- 3x stronger tensile strength than cotton
- Resistance to fading by heat/sunlight
- Dyed colors are vibrant and long lasting
- Can be blended with all natural or synthetic fibers
- Insect or mold repellent fabric, no chemicals required
- Softens with wash, no fiber degradation
- Longer lifespan than other natural fabrics
- Breathable, ease of cleaning and drying
- Highly resistant to UV rays
- Low elasticity and resiliency
- Biodegradable and recyclable fabric
Hemp Fabric environmental impact
Hemp Fabric: Q & A
What makes hemp fabric better compared to other natural fabrics?
How to clean hemp fabric?
How long does hemp fabric last?
We feel disappointed when our favorite t-shirt starts to lose its fabric quality overtime. Generally, your holiday purchases end up looking old and worn, even before the summer fades away. But thanks to the incredible plant that created a new genre of fabrics, you won’t have to worry any longer.
The natural tensile strength of hemp fibers keeps the fabrics intact and avoid stretching. This property also helps the fabric to get softer with each wash and retain the same quality after years. Dyed hemp fabrics keep your colors from fading away much longer than any natural fabrics.
Hemp fibers easily incorporate the properties of other fabrics when blended together, thus delivering longer durability along with comfort and style. In short, it’s fair to say that hemp fabric could last 3-5 times than other natural or synthetic fibers.
Is Hemp Fabric Biodegradable?
- Cotton: 1-5 months
- Bamboo: 1-2 years
- Silk: 4+ years
- Jute: 2-3 years
- Wool: 1-5 years
- Polyester, Nylon, Spandex and Rayon: 20 to 200 years
How to identify hemp fabric?
Hold specimens in a pair of tweezers and put them into the flame.
- Hemp Fiber: Burns instantly with a bright flame without leaving any melted bead. The smell resembles to that of burning leaves or wood.
- Cotton: The flare brightens while burning without leaving any melted bead. It smells like a burning paper.
- Linen: Takes time to catch fire but easily extinguishes when blown. Leaves woody smell while burning.
- Silk: Burns slowly and curls away from the fire. Leaves dark bead and smells like burnt hair or meat. Gives out very slight smoke.
- Wool: Burns slowly and curls away from the fire. Leaves dark bead and smells stronger than the silk. Smoke is dark with mild fumes.
- Artificial fibers: Burns very quickly and flares up, while leaving dark smoke and synthetic burning smell.
Observing hemp fiber and linen, for example, under microscope reveals structural differences. Hemp fiber has a characteristic polygon shape cross-section with round edges. However, linen fiber has seven peaks with sharp edges. The minute fibrils in hemp fiber appear in yellow, deep brown and grey colors, whereas linen has pale color.
This article is our earnest effort to educate you with the goodness of nature that comes with the hemp plant. Hemp is a panacea to all environmental issues and delivers unparalleled quality of fabrics. Producing hemp fibers is easier on farmers’s pockets and reduces their suffering.
Indohemp, therefore, aims to popularize authentic hemp bags with a responsibility to advocate eco-friendly campaign. From office desks to university classrooms, our handcrafted hemp bags is set to drive curiosity among your colleagues. Made to live up to your expectations, your every pick will encourage the hemp farmers and add value to the nature.