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MAGAZINE / ITALLY

Hemp: The history and beauty of an ancient and sustainable fiber

Hemp has been used for centuries in the textile industry for its thermo-insulating and breathability properties. A traditional fiber that has been brought up again, thanks to its natural origin and lower environmental impact compared to other fibers.

In 2018, producing and selling cannabis with a THC level of less than 0.2% became legal in Italy. Since the Ministry of Agriculture announced it, the “hemp” phenomenon has literally exploded.

This miracle plant- thanks to its multiple uses and benefits- has played a fundamental role in our history, and yet, for a long time these benefits have been forgotten and abandoned. Today, its value is finally undergoing a phase of rediscovery for all the positive things it can give to our health and that of the environment, especially in the world of sustainable fashion.

So what is the history of this plant and specifically of the textile fiber that can be obtained from it?

The first discovery of a hemp artefact dates back to 9000 years ago. The discovery dates back to 2013 and belongs to Ian Hodder, a British archaeologist. This confirms the antiquity of its use and its diffusion in society.

It is known that hemp is among the plants most cultivated by the populations that overlooked the Mediterranean, such as the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, to make paper, fabrics, food flours, medicines, lighting oils and perfumes. Not only that, the exceptional properties of resistance and compactness of the hemp fiber fabric have allowed the production of sails for ships and therefore to achieve the great progress of trade and relations between peoples.

hemp

Over the centuries, a strong agro-industrial tradition linked to hemp had been created in Italy: until the 1930s we were second only to Russia in its production and the first for the quality of the product. In many Italian regions still today it is easy to come across small and characteristic artificial lakes- the so-called “maceri” or “marcite”, from the term “to rot”- where once the hemp stems were soaked for the first phase of processing.

Why did hemp cultivation suffer a setback?

In 1975 the ban on the cultivation of Indian hemp led to the implementation of strict regulations for textile hemp and the sector suffered a real abandonment. The reason lies in the morphological similarity of the two cannabis species, despite the profound diversity of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, the principle with hallucinogenic effects.

The hemp plant grows spontaneously in areas with a temperate climate, but has excellent resistance and adaptability. Its growth is rapid and does not require special attention, furthermore cultivated repeatedly on the same soil is beneficial to the soil.

To transform it into textile fiber, various processing phases are carried out: scutching, combing and refining. In this way the tops, or the “staple”- primary element for spinning- is obtained.

From the hemp fiber, which is hollow and hygroscopic, a yarn with a high thermo-insulating and breathable capacity originates, a perfect combination that makes it ideal for retaining coolness during summer and heat during winter.

Hemp is among the natural fibers most resistant to wear, tear and deformation more than any other natural fabric: robustness combines softness and what is obtained are particularly comfortable to wear as cloting. The fabrics obtained from the hemp plant have other extraordinary properties: they reflect ultraviolet rays, shield from electrostatic fields, do not conduct electricity, are hypoallergenic and antiseptic.

Fortunately, today, from north to south, crops are making their reappearances and there are many designers, artisans and brands who are crafting and carrying on a tradition that was in danger of being lost.

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