Sunday 16 September 2007

These Fingers Were Built for Googling...

I have yet to get my hands on some hemp, and I don't have enough room in our yard to grow some (although I've got a lovely stinging nettle in the back somewhere...)

There are many organisations out there with good summeries and articles of interest regarding hemp. Just go for a Google-walk. But make sure you remember to come back.....I mean, sometimes it never ends, does it?

Last year at the International Straw Bale Building Conference (we had to go, I mean, how often does Canada get to host that, and practically in our backyard? Obviously it was worth dragging Safiya, who was 2, out camping in October......actually, it really was worth it - it was wonderful. But I digress.....) I had the opportunity to hold (o.k., fondle) some hemp felt. It was lovely, thick stuff, and craft projects whizzed through my head as I stood there. The farmer had started up a couple of years ago, and was still experimenting with the processing. When I mentioned making fabric, he reacted as if I'd asked to go to the moon. There was no capacity and no interest, he said.

So, we can grow it (well!) and we can cut it, but getting from A to C?

First, capacity. It seems that the only mill in Canada that was trying to process hemp for fibre, Fibrex Quebec, is no longer around. The Canadian National Resource Council seems to have entered into a partnership with Hemptown Clothing to manufacture hemp fabric, but I haven't found where the actual mill is...yet.

The fun part of it is that growing hemp in Canada is actually regulated by Health Canada, under the auspices of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so I imagine that things are a little bit more complicated than for the average farmer, eh? (Here's a good primer on growing industrial hemp in Ontario, just in case you get a hankering for a new endeavour, you know, in your spare time....)

Those politics waaaay aside, what about interest? What about demand? And here my links fail me. Is this where we as crafters, independent designers, artists, can get things rolling? (No pun intended! There's no THC in hemp :-) We want consumers to support local talent, local designers, which is fantastic. When will it be important enough to us that most of the raw materials that we use come locally made and only a few exotics, such as cotton (ha!), are available at a premium? Granted, you cannot produce fabric on principle alone. It has to be of good quality, or no one will buy it. I think it would be slightly terrifying to be the first to try to mill hemp fabric in Canada (risk! cost! both things I'm not very good at). And I'll freely admit that one of the reasons that I personally use recycled goods is cost.

However, I'm on the brink. When my polyester thread runs out, I think I'll switch to organic cotton (Locally produced machine-ready thread? step at a time here). When my stash of white cotton and linen runs out? If I can't find second-hand, it might be fun to order some hemp. I just wish it were from my backyard. Sometimes the view from the brink looks a bit bleak, sometimes it looks hopeful.

Hopefully this teeter-totter lands somewhere a pile of hemp.

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