A ROMANIAN HEMP LOVE STORY
Over the course of the 20 plus years that I have been in the textile/garment industry I have worked with all kinds of wonderful and tantalizing fabrics. Knits and woven fabric of every kind: jersey, point Elle, rib-knit, interlock, flannel, fleece, twill, corduroy, velvet, velveteen, dupioni, taffeta, jacquards; the list goes on and on. I love fabric and I love the fact that every year there are more and more fabrics available in the market place that are produced in a clean and sustainable manner by people who are making a fair wage for their efforts. This is heaven to folks like me, people who love quality, beauty and well-designed products made from materials that honor the planet and those who make them.
But of all the fabrics that I have known and loved, my favorite is Romanian hemp. Hemp fabrics from Romania are as rich and textured as the history of hemp itself. When I opened my first packet of Romanian hemp sample swatches I felt a tingling sensation like I was discovering an ancient treasure. And when I held them in my hand I instinctively knew that I had found my craft “soul mate.” The fabrics spoke to me of a time when people engaged in craft and agriculture as an essential part of culture; a partnership with the earth of birth and death, of planting and reaping.
What more beautiful plant is there than this hempen plant for naturally treading lightly on the planet? Resistant to pests so it requires no chemical pesticides or fungicides and so quick to grow that it chokes out weeds that dare to share its space, therefore requiring no herbicides; giving back to the soil more nutrients than it takes and supplying we humans with a smorgasbord of satisfying products to be made from its bounty. From fiber to oil, from paper pulp to cordage there seems to be no end to the possible ways to use this gentle plant for the betterment of mankind.
My main interest in Romanian hemp has been in the form of the fiber that it produces and subsequently the fabrics that have been made from that fiber. But here again we who love clean processing are not let down. Hempen fiber comes from the stalk of the plant and the long fibers are broken down in a wonderfully natural process called water-retting, by which the cellular tissue of the bark and the Medulla is removed and the fibers set free. Then a simple process of soaking, drying and combing is done until the fiber is broken down; all of which is performed without the use of chemicals. Only water is used. The fiber is then spun into yarn and the yarn woven into fabric.
However these are not the only reasons I love to design with hemp. Its stellar history as a clean and sustainable fabric may have attracted me to it, but it was its incredible beauty and hand that gave me the wings to explore more deeply what I could create with it. Rich and textural herringbones, earthy yet polished canvases, complex and silky twills and lovely basket weaves. These fabrics spoke to me of possibilities! I saw dancing before my eyes a plethora of products I would love to make for myself. Place mats, napkins, seat cushions, throw pillows, handbags, and totes, just to name a few. recognized in these materials an aspect of quality that translated into longevity.
I knew then, and continue to discover, just how well this fabric wears and lasts. Here again this ancient material shines its true colors of sustainability. For any well designed and well executed product made from these materials has a feeling of heirloom to it. And in this day and age when most of our belongings are designed out of materials and made in such a way as to last only a season or two, or maybe a few years at the most, this trait of longevity is truly a gift. For if we have learned anything from the industrial and technological ages, and the pollution problems associated with them, it is the lesson to slow down and be more mindful of the processes we engage in to fulfill our material needs. To seek out and use only those processes and materials which support the earth’s natural cycles.
We live in an exciting time; when all kinds of avenues to create new high tech and high performance fabrics are being developed from natural sources such as corn, bamboo and soy. And some of these fabrics may indeed become mainstays in our cultural experience. But of all the fabrics that I know of, none has scored as high as hemp in supporting the earths’ natural systems and man kinds’ needs.
Fast-growing, self-supporting, able to be processed with only water, anti-pest, antibacterial, antifungal, UV resistant, strong, durable, beautiful and useful for so many different purposes. This is truly the fabric of the heavens. For me, well worth the extra time to find. For, after all, no matter what the age or the political climate, this incredible plant continues to care for our needs in the most enduring and humble manner.
Written by: Mereen Smithy,
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