Dr N.N.Mahapatra
B.Sc( Hons),B.Sc (Tech )(Bom)M.Sc ( Chem ),Ph.D ( Chem ),M.B.A( IMM,Cal)                    C.Col  FSDC ( UK),CText FTI ( Manchester ),Int Trg ( Australia)),Sen Mem ,AATCC (USA),FAIC(USA)



COLORANT LTD                                                                                                              Plot No. 116, Phase II                                                                                              Near Ambica Cross Road                                                                                              G.I.D.C.Vatva,

Nature   and   organic  fibres become more and more popular these years . Most of people come to  realize  that  nature  , soft  and  healthy  are the  most  important  things  of  the  textile  . Hemp is naturally one of the most ecologically   friendly   fabrics and also the oldest .The Columbia history of the world states that the oldest relics of human industry are bits of Hemp fabric discovered in tombs dating back to approximately 8000 B.C.

Hemp   is called a fibre of hundred   uses .  The significance of Hemp to the economic and day  to  day lives of our ancestors is increasingly being recognized. It was important for textile  , paper , rope and oil production.  Indeed ,  Hemp was so important in England in the sixteenth century that King Henry VIII passed an act  of parliament which fined farmers who failed to grow the crop. Besides fabrics , Hemp is also used in the production of paper . The oldest piece of paper – over 2000 yrs old – was discovered in China and is made from Hemp. Until 1883 , between 75 % and  90 %  of all paper in the world was made with  Hemp fiber .  Hemp paper can also be recycled more times than wood – based paper.

Hemp  is a bast fibre plant similar to Flax , Kenaf , Jute and Ramie .Long slender primary  fibres on the outer portion of the stalk  characterize  bast fibre plants . It was probably used first in Asia .  Hemp is also one of the bast fibres known to  ancient Asians , long before the birth of Christ. The primary hemp fibre is attached  to the core fibre by Pectin – a glue –like soluble gelatinous carbohydrate .  The primary hemp  fibres can be used for composities , reinforcements and speciality pulp and paper .  The wood-like core Hemp fibre  can be used for animal bedding , garden mulch , fuel and an assortment of building materials. Hemp also  produces an oil seed that contains between 25 to 35 % oil by weight , which is high in essential  fatty acids considered to be necessary to maintain health .

             The  composition  of Hemp is as follows.

Hemp ( Cannabis sativa  ) could be an important crop enabling the production of environmentally – friendly , locally produced , high quality textiles .  Hemp is an annual plant that grows from seed . It can be grown on a range of soils , but tends to grow best on land that produces high yields of corn. The soil must be well drained  , rich in nitrogen  , and non-acidic . Hemp requires limited pesticides because it grows so quickly and attracts few pests. Hemp is a traditional   fibre   crop   which for centuries was important in meeting our needs for textiles  ,  paper and oils. It is easy to grow  organically . that is , without a need for artificial pesticides , herbicides or fertilizers , so it can make an important contribution to a sustainable future. The  production of cotton , on the other hand needs lot of pesticide .  Hemp is environmentally friendly in many ways . It can displace the use of cotton , which requires massive amount of chemicals harmful  to people  and the environment . The production  of  cotton  consumes  50  %  of the pesticides  sprayed in the entire world. Hemp has a deep root system that helps to prevent  soil erosion ,removes toxins , provides a disease break , and aerates the soil to the benefit  of future crops.  True  hemp is a fine , light – coloured , lustrous , and strong bast fibre , obtained from the hemp plant , “ cannabis  sativa “. A plant similar  to jute , grown in many countries . when spun , it is rather like flax but thicker and coarser . It is a very strong fibre and is used in the manufacture  of carpets , rugs , ropes etc,  but has limited use because bleaching is difficult.

Hemp  is a renewable resource  which grows more quickly and easily than trees making hemp more cost effective than waiting decades for trees to grow to be used in man – made fiber production such as Lyocell and Rayon from wood pulps. The bark of the hemp stalk contains bast  fibers , which are among the earths longest natural soft fibers and also rich in cellulose.

The term “ Hemp “ is often incorrectly used in a generic sense for fibres from different plants eg ;  Manila  “ Hemp “ , Sisal  “ Hemp “  , Sunn  “ Hemp “  etc.   Hemp is grown in countries like Canada ,U.S.A , France , Hungary , Belgium ,Holland , Thailand ,  Austria , Italy, China ,Philippine island ,Russia,  Mexico , Germany ,West Indies and India .  In India  ,Deccan Hemp is grown both as crop and hedge plant . It is cultivated largely in Maharastra , Tamil Nadu and north Gujarat .  It can be grown in all temperate and tropical countries of the world.  Currently the bulk  of our demand for textiles is met by cotton and synthetics , both  of which have serious environmental problems associated with them.

Following are the steps required for Hemp processing  in textiles .

  1. Retting –  Harvesting is done with a conventional combine harvester machine . Once cut , the plants , which are composed of two types of fibre – long outer fibres suitable for textiles , and short inner fibre  suitable for paper or industrial applications – are left in the field for about  10 to 20days to “ ret  ‘ .
  •    Retting are if two types.
  1. Water Retting –It involves lying the stems in water in tanks , ponds      or in streams for around 10 days –it is more effective if the water is warm and   bacteria laden.
  2. b. Dew Retting – It is a natural process that is triggered by dew that falls on the crop each morning .  After cutting , the hemp stems  were laid parallel in rows to dew ret .the stems needed turning at least once  ( sometimes ) twice in order to allow for even retting .Retting ( or rotting ) being the name given to the process whereby bacteria and fungi breakdown the pectins that bind the fibres to the stem allowing the fibre to be released. Retting is complete when the fibre bundles appear white , separate from the woody core and divide easily into individual finer fibres for their full length. Once this process is complete ( dry ) , the stalks are collected and sent to the  “ decortication “ machine .

The major Hemp varieties are called  F 34 , F 56 , Uniko BF and Kompolti .

  1. Decortication –  In this process the  de-leafed Hemp stems are then dried , i.e conditioned and freed from wood kernel in a sequence of squeeze , break and scutching processes. In other words  it  is described as breaking the stems by passing through a “ breaker  “ or fluted rollers. Then  the fibre is separated from the woody core ( “ scutching  “ )  by beating the broken stems with a beech stick or passing through rotary blades .
  2. Softening – By using a so called Hemp softener or roller , the decorticated  fibres are made softer and more supple.
  3. Combing –  The shortening of the initial fibre lengths  from upto 3 m down to 650 mm is done on a special cutting machine . Then the short and tangled fibres are combed out , the long fibres are  parallelized and smoothed using a hackling machine. In other words  “ hackling “ ( combing )   means to  remove any woody particles and to further  align  the fibres into a continuous “ sliver “ for spinning .
  4. Spinning – After several drawing and doubling passages , the manufactured slivers are pre-spun roving yarns and according to quality and the desired yarn fineness , spun into Hemp yarn by  wet or dry spinning processes.  Although  as Hemp is coarser than Flax , the pins on the board for drafting the combed fibre into a sliver needed to be set differently .  The rove  produced was then boiled in caustic soda to refine it and most of the yarn was bleached with hydrogen peroxide . As it is similar to Flax fibres , generally the best yarns are obtained by wet spinning ., in which fibres are allowed to pass through a trough of hot water before being  spun. This softens the Pectin allowing a greater drawing out and separation of the fibres and producing a finer yarn ( greater than 12 Nm ) . Dry spinning is cheaper , producing yarns and fabrics with a different appearance and handle.  Using the above process  two types of  100% Hemp yarn is made known as long yarn and short  yarn.. Normally the counts are  Nm 7/1, Nm 8.5/1,Nm 10/1,Nm 16/1 , Nm 18/1 , Nm 24/1  and Nm 36/1.

                     The above preparatory processing of Hemp fibre incur considerable waste and add significantly to the cost of the fibre which could be made available as a raw textile fibre for 3500 USD /tonne.  The  Hemp was successfully processed to produce nonaligned fibres , with a yield of 20-25 %.

Properties of Hemp fibre –

Hemp fibre is dark tan or brown and is difficult to bleach, but it can be dyed bright and dark colours. Hemp fibre is a lustrous fibre ,has characteristic nodes and joints  of linen , but the central canal is wider . the cells are blunt ended , when the fibre is viewed under microscope. The Hemp fibres vary widely in length , depending upon their ultimate use . Industrial fibres may be several inches long , while fibres used for domestic textiles are about ¾ inch to 1 inch ( 1.9 to 2.54 cm ) long.  The elongation ( 1 to 6 % ) is low and its elasticity poor .The thermal reactions of Hemp and the effect of sunlight are the same as for Cotton. Hemp is moth resistant , but it is not impervious to mildew . Furthermore Hemp has the best ratio of heat capacity of all fibres giving it superior insulation properties . As a fabric , Hemp provides all the warmth and softness of other natural textiles but with a superior durability seldom found in other materials. Natural organic Hemp fiber  “breathes “  and is biodegradable .

Hemp  fibre is longer , stronger , more absorbent , more mildew resistant  and more insulative than Cotton fibre. There are thirty varieties of Hemp fibre . It is a tall plant with a natural woody  fibre . All these varieties resemble one another in general appearance  and properties , but only those having fibres of high tensile strength , fineness , and high lustre have commercial value. It resembles flax closely , and its fibre is easily mistaken for linen. Hemp is harsh and stiff and cannot be bleached without harm to the fibre . as Hemp is not pliable and elastic , it cannot be woven into fine fabrics.  Hemp is durable and is used in rug and carpet manufacturing . it is especially  suitable for ship cordage as it is not weakened or rotted by water,  This means that Hemp will keep you warmer in winter  and  cooler in summer than Cotton . Hemp is more effective at blocking the sun ‘s harmful ultraviolet  rays. The  nature of Hemp fibres make them more absorbent to   reactive dyes , vat dyes and sulphur dyes , which coupled with Hemp “s ability to better screen  out ultraviolet rays , means that Hemp material is less prone to fading than cotton fabrics are.

Cotton was known of their  naturalness , but look at the comparison as below.

Blending  of Hemp  fibre –          

Like Cotton, Hemp can be made into a variety of fabrics  , including high quality Linen. When blended with materials such as Cotton , Linen , and Silk , Hemp provides a sturdier , longer lasting  product , while maintaining quality and softness.

Hemp Active , an Austrian company  supplies   Hemp blended yarn  which is  made of  Hemp with cotton/organic cotton..  Nowadays few mills in Europe are making  Hemp/Polyester 60/40 blends and  Hemp/Wool/Polyester  40/40/20  blends.

Hemp  Textiles Intl , Canada  supplies    blend of Hemp/Wool 50/50 . Hemp blended with other fibres easily incorporate the desirable qualities of both textiles. When combined with the natural strength of Hemp , the soft elasticity of Cotton or the smooth texture of Silk create a whole new genre of fashion design.

Uses of Hemp  fibre – 

       Coarse  Hemp fibres and yarns are woven into cordage , rope , sacking and heavy –duty tarpaulins . In Italy , fine Hemp fibres are used for interior design and apparel fabrics. Hemp  is used in tapestry , hats, shawls , rugs , posters , towel.

Dyed  hemp  yarn from Hungary  is suitable for rug weaving, placemats , crochet  and other craft items. It has been found that 3 ply, 6 ply and 12  ply  are used   for  weaving , knitting or crochet . Hemp  is stronger than linen and jute fibre , hence it is ideal for making twine ,ropes, cables, carpets,  canvas , shipcordage,  sail cloth , etc. Central American Hemp is chiefly used for cordage . Manila “ Hemp “ is a fibre from the leaves of the Abaca plant ; it is very strong , fine , white , lustrous  and , though  brittle , it is adaptable for the weaving of coarse fabrics .

Lastly  more  research work has to be done  on Hemp fibre  like  scouring /bleaching using  enzymes  without affecting the strength of the fibre.

Trials can be taken in cotton and synthetic   spinning  by adding  Hemp  fibre in many value added items and make  various types of fancy yarn which can be sold in the market at premium rate.

Acknowledgement –  The author is thankful  to  Mr Subhash Bhargava, FSDC ( UK) Managing Director,COLORANT LTD  for giving permission  to publish this article.