Monday, 17 September 2012

Don't Get Stung: The Re-Growth Of Nettle Fibre

The kerfuffles from our last post besides, we're all pretty much agreed that cotton, even organic, ethically-produced cotton, is not the best thing for the planet. The search is on for a fibre that can do the job without the environmental impact. As luck would have it, there is an alternative. One with historical precedent, and one that 's absurdly easy to grow. In fact, if you're a gardener, you're probably growing this plant already, and cursing your rotten luck.

The humble nettle is about to have a major change of reputation. 

In fact, cloth made from the stingy little buggers has been around for millennia. Documents from the Elizabethan era quote women of the court who waxed lyrical about clothing made from nettles, and the Virgin Queen herself was said to have slept in a nettle bed. The fabric was famed for its smooth, silky finish. With the advent of cotton in the 1600s, however, the fabric fell out of favour. Nettle fabric is made from the tough stem of the mature plant, and was harder to weave into flax than cotton. Plus, as you can imagine, it was a pain to harvest. 

Nowadays, modern science is taking the sting out of making cloth from nettles. New spinning technologes and breeds of super-high fibre plants mean that manufacturers around the world are taking another look at the plant. Plus, gardeners will grimly admit that the plant is exceptionally easy to grow. It's a perennial, which means it will spring back year after year, and is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and resistant to pests--all solid advantages over its prima-donna cousin cotton, which needs special fertilisers and pesticides to grow well.

Thus far, however, the take-up has been slow, as farmers have been understandably reluctant that turning their fields into nettle patches is a good idea. But the tide is starting to turn, with companies like G-Star Raw offering limited-edition jeans in their Raw Sustainable range made from a nettle/denim mix. Interest is starting to turn back towards this most revered and ancient of fibres.

Meanwhile, if any manufacturers would like to get in in touch, I have a large surplus of the stuff in my back yard that they can have for free. 

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