Natural fibers are classified based on their origins, such as animal, vegetable, or mineral. Hemp, jute, flax, and cotton are vegetable fibers in the cellulose-based class. Hemp is a bast fiber, which means that its material is fibrous enough to create textiles such as papers, composites, cordage or rope, animal bedding, canvas, and molded parts. In fact, the root of the word canvas is actually the Arab word for hemp.
Cellulose materials are raw, long, and hair-like, and can be woven into yarns and cloth, or converted into felt and paper. Each fibrous material is different, and each derives its value based on its length, strength, pliability, elasticity, abrasive resistance, absorbency, and surface properties. The ability of a material to be elastic – where it can be put under tension and then snap back – is especially important to textile manufacturers.
In textile production, fiber is the basic unit of raw material. Natural fibers have been used in textile manufacturing since before recorded history. With global trade came cross-communication, of tools, methods and materials. With the Industrial Revolution came mechanization, and manufacturers began to look differently at fibers, breeding them for their beneficial properties, and production and processing methods.
Labor has always been an important facet of which fibers are used. Prohibition hindered advancements in technology, and hemp’s use was just not relevant. However, with international reauthorization and a growing concern over the impact of fiber production on the environment, hemp has once again become an important and viable option.