What is hemp?

Hemp is a plant of the genus Cannabis species sativa.  Cannabis sativa is a different species than the cannabis species smoked for its psychoactive properties.

Hemp has traditionally been used as a source for fiber, textiles, and cordage. Hemp seed and oil also have valuable properties, such as high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids.

Hemp is a fast growing plant and chokes out weeds with its aggressive growth. The fibers used for textiles are the bast fibers of the hemp plant, or the fibers that surround the stalk. To process hemp for textiles, hemp is dried in the field, then retted.  Retting allows moisture and bacteria to enable fermentation of the stalks, that in turn facilitates the break down of the fibers around the stem. Following retting, stalks are dried, cured, and crushed to further break down the fibers.

Hemp has a high tensile strength and is valued for use in cordage, paper, and textiles.

Because of its relation to the drug, all hemp, including industrial hemp, is characterized as a controlled substance in the U.S. Industrial hemp is being grown and used for fiber, seed, paper, and biofuel in China, Europe, Canada, and Australia. Although nine states allow the cultivation of industrial hemp, the Drug Enforcement Agency does not currently permit any hemp cultivation.
In my studio, I use a 100 percent hemp fabric that compares favorably with flax linen. I also use a hemp and organic cotton blend and a silk hemp blend fabric. All of these fabrics are ideal for hand stitching, because their weave is looser than the high threadcount cotton usually used by machine quilters. They are soft and durable. I find that they work extremely well for stitched shibori, because they are looser and the fabric compresses well when the stitches are pulled.