Hemp is one of our most ancient textiles but it’s still misunderstood. In this post we want to set the record straight and clear up any confusion about how to tell the difference between hemp and linen. So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of this natural plant!
Because hemp is made from the fibres of the cannabis sativa plant it has gained a bad reputation – undeservedly. Despite being a completely different plant, hemp is often confused with the marijuana plant due to their similar appearance. These plants are from the same plant family but hemp doesn’t contain the same levels of psychoactive components. Yet because it looks so like its illegal cousin, many countries have banned hemp cultivation.
This is a shame because this plant has some amazing benefits and a rich history.
The history of hemp
The first recorded cultivation of hemp goes back to 2800BC in China. Traders brought the plant to Europe in around 800BC. Since then everyone from landed gentry to workers around the world has enjoyed products made from this highly versatile crop. It has been used to create an amazing array of products, including food, paper, clothing, canvas, ropes, medicine, cosmetics, oil paints, plant-based plastics, Bibles and even the US Constitution!
It was designated as an illegal drug and banned in many countries during the 20th Century, but in 2014 the US Farm Bill legally distinguished hemp from marijuana.
What’s the difference between hemp and linen?
Clothing made from hemp looks incredibly similar to linen fabric, and the two share several characteristics. Both are moisture-wicking and quick drying, helping regulate body temperature. Both are soft to the touch and kind to skin, as well as having anti fungal and antibacterial properties. And both are sustainable crops providing eco-friendly textiles and bi-products.
You might not be able to tell the difference if you were holding hemp and linen products. But linen comes from the flax plant, and has shorter fibres.
Benefits of hemp
Like linen, hemp fabric has plenty of sustainable, health and comfort benefits. Due to the restrictions on growing the crop it’s not produced in the same quantities as cotton or linen, which makes it more expensive. Here are some reasons it makes a great alternative to cotton and synthetic fabrics:
- Hemp is biodegradable and compostable
- It captures more carbon per hectare than other commercial crops and even forests!
- It requires far less water to grow and process (80% less) than standard fibres
- As a crop, hemp is harvested by hand, creating employment for people rather than machines
- It grows quickly and is happy in most conditions, though it prefers temperate regions
- Hemp has innate pest resistance, which means no pesticides
- There’s also no need for fertilisers as the roots grow deeply and don’t degrade the topsoil – which means you can grow hemp in one place for up to 20 years with no need for crop rotation
Comfort and durability
- Clothes and textiles made from hemp are thermoregulatory and breathable, keeping you comfortable in all seasons
- Hemp is four times stronger than cotton and easy to care for – you can wash it on a low temperature with a delicate detergent and it won’t be weakened
- Fabric made from hemp is highly absorbent and retains dye better than cotton
- It protects against UV rays and retains it colour even in sunlight
- As with linen, hemp is resistant to cold and mildew, meaning it keeps well for years
As you can see, fabric crafted from this durable, versatile plant fibre is a brilliant sustainable solution for producing all sorts of textiles and products. It also creates beautiful timelessly elegant clothing, like its similar fabric, linen. Flax or hemp, it’s time to look at alternative sources for textiles that help the planet as well as elevating our homes and wardrobes.