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The History Of Hemp Fabrics

Hempco LogoHempco Admin
5 Mins. Read

It’s not an exaggeration when we say that hemp is one of the oldest crops used by humans… And as we begin to utilize it once again, we think it’s important to have a better understanding of our history with this incredible plant…

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Hemp, commonly known as industrial hemp is a low-THC strain of the Cannabis sativa plant that is cultivated for its variety of uses.  With accounts of use that stem back as far as 29,000 years, it's earned itself the title of one of the oldest crops to be grown and utilized by humans. 

In this article, we're going to take a look at some of the most notable discoveries that have demonstrated the use of hemp fabrics in civilizations' past.  

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DID YOU KNOW? Hemp creates what is known as Carbon sequestration due to its high affinity for CO2, this process reduces the occurrence of global warming 

29,000 Years Ago...

The oldest hemp item that has been recovered belonged to a civilization called the Gravettian people, who lived in what is now known as Spain and Russia.

The peoples themselves were first noted around 33,000 years ago and only ended 12,000 years later, which means that they were a very well-established society for those times.


The Gravettian people made use of nets and traps in hunting rather than exploiting their speed and strength, they needed a material with tensile strength to be used in making traps and nets, which they found in hemp. 

In the year 1993, Olga Soffer and James Adovasio recognized the imprints of textiles on four clay fragments, Adovasio detected that the impressions found on these fragments were created by fabrics which were woven from plants such hemp.

When the fragments were carbon dated, they were dated to around 26,980 and 24,870 years ago. This demonstrates that the Gravettian people knew how to make textiles from fibrous plants like hemp - and did so to survive.  

Isn't it amazing to think that such an old civilization could have been one of the first to use hemp for these purposes?  What's more incredible is that they probably weren't the first... they're just the oldest we know so far.  

DID YOU KNOW: Growing of hemp is eco-friendly and it helps to enrich the soil due to the long taproots it has which helps to aerate the soil

10,000 Years Ago

In Ancient Mesopotamia, a geographical location now known as Iran and Iraq, remains of cloths which were woven with hemp fibers were discovered by archaeologists excavating the area. Upon carbon dating it, it was revealed that the artifact was from around 8,000BCE - That's around 10,000 years ago! 

It was only around 1200 BC that the use of hemp came back around to Europe.  From there, the whole world very quickly came to know about this incredible plant.  It became the major crop in the middle ages, which prompted the then rulers to create acts that enforce their citizens to plant it.

Examples of this can be seen in the United Kingdom in which King Henry compelled all owners of lands via an act released to sow a quarter of an acre or else be fined.  There have also been similar laws in colonial America!

DID YOU KNOW? A sustainable environment is achieved by using hemp in the form of processes such as Phytoremediation by which hemp removes toxic materials from the soil

300 Years Ago

Some of the most interesting hemp history comes from the age of sail, when it was required in order to clothe armies, make sails for ships, and craft strong rope. 

In particular, Russia (Formerly U.S.S.R) had a massive hemp industry. In fact, it was so large that it's surprising that the history is not more well known. The history of Russia regarding the cultivation of hemp is a very unique one. 

As of the eighteenth-century, Russia was the most extensive and most important producer of hemp on earth.  According to statistics, around the 1740s they dominated the line by producing more than 80% (≥80%) of the world supply of hemp.

The hemp produced by Russia was mainly imported to the rest of Europe, as well as Great Britain.

They produced so much that in 1812,  French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was provoked to start what would go down in history as the 'hemp war'.

We won't go too far into it, but this was a war due to broken trade agreements to do with Russia's export of hemp to Britain. 

Other countries that are into the cultivation of hemp are Yugoslavia which ranked second, Hungary which ranked third, Poland which ranked fourth and Romania which is ranked fifth.

Other countries outside Europe that are recognized as important in the production of hemp are Korea and Turkey.

...But it's not just old civilizations that have made good use of our favourite plant.  This trend of upward growth continued well into the 1900's - that is, until cannabis was outlawed by the world's largest governments. 

As shown in the table below, Russia continued to dominate the hemp trade until around the 1950's. It would be reasonable to suggest that worldwide prohibition of the cannabis plant drastically reduced demand, and in turn the required output. 

From Reefer Madness To WWII

It clearly was a time of great fluctuation.  

In 1936, the U.S government introduced the Reefer Madness campaign, which is one of the largest contributors to the demonization and criminalisation of this plant around the world.

Reefer Madness was a series of campaign posters, ads, and a movie released to scare the public away from cannabis. It portrayed hyper exaggerated messages concerning the dangers of using cannabis. 

A year later, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 put the nail in the coffin of the hemp industry.  By the time new taxes were slapped on top of a bad reputation, nobody wanted to grow this plant any more.  That was, until the government asked them too.

It's said that the Japanese cut off fiber supplies to the U.S in World War II, which caused a shortage of resources to kit out their army with.  The military required textiles for parachutes, uniforms, shoelaces, ropes, and more.  

So, the government asked the people of America to step in and fill that gap with the 'Hemp for Victory' campaign. This 15 minute video portrayed the importance of hemp as a commodity, and encouraged farmers to grow hemp as a part of their patriotic duty.

Of course, they tried to bury this soon after. Fortunately, you can still find the video here!


Quite a long history, isn't it?  And we barely scratched the surface!  There are so many incredible stories when it comes to how this plant crossed the globe, and we can't wait to talk more about some of them. 

But as for the history of hemp fabric, did you have any idea that it had been used for so long? Do you think there's anything else we should add in here?

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