Hemp’s characteristics as a textile make it a desirable choice in many applications:
Hemp is stronger and more durable than any other natural fabric, including linen, which almost matches hemps abrasion resistance and tensile strength. The result is that hemp has a longer lifespan than other natural fabrics. (Patagonia is just one of the many companies which has published studies which demonstrate hemp’s superior strength; results for these studies range from 3 to 8 times stronger.) Products made from hemp will outlast their competitors by many years.
Not only is hemp strong, but it also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fiber. This prevents hemp fabric used in upholstery, demountable panels, acoustic paneling or as wallcovering from stretching out or becoming distorted with use.
Hemp fabric withstands, even benefits from, commercial laundering. Its inherent luster and light reflective qualities are enhanced by washing; it becomes finer and more luxurious with use. Hemp also possesses excellent soil-release properties because it sheds a microscopic layer each time it is laundered. This eliminates soiling and exposes a fresh surface. In effect, this means that hemp retains its sleek sheen every time it is washed, that it never dulls, and that it releases stains more easily than other fabrics.
Hemp may be known for its durability, but its comfort and style are second to none. The more hemp is used, the softer it gets: it wears in, not out, thriving on regular use and machine washing without suffering fabric degradation. Hemp actually becomes softer, more resilient and more lustrous as a result of washing.
Hemp’s superior absorbency, due to its porous nature, means that it is very breathable and quick drying. Hemp can absorb up to 20% its own weight while still feeling dry to the touch (vs. polyester, which can absorb a maximum of 6%). This is important in the case of any fabric that is in contact with human skin, such as sheets, as perspiration is rapidly absorbed. It feels cooler in summer yet during cool weather, air which is trapped in the fibers is warmed by the body, making it naturally warm.
Hemp’s absorbency allows it to accept dyes readily and retain color better than other natural fibers, including cotton.
Hemp has a high resistance to ultraviolet light; it will not fade or disintegrate from sunlight as quickly as other natural fibers. (Tilly Endurables introduced a new hat in 2004 after testing its hemp fabric to a UPF of 50+, the maximum ultraviolet protection rating given.) UV damage is especially a problem for draperies and marine interiors, so hemp would be a good natural fiber choice for these applications.
Hemp fiber is highly resistant to rotting, and its resistance to mildew, mold and salt water led to its premier use in marine fittings: the majority of all twine, rope, ship’s sails, rigging and nets up to the late 19th century were made from hemp. The word canvas itself is derived from cannabis.
Finally, any product made of hemp is fully biodegradable and easily recyclable.