MAKE CLOTH FROM NETTLES
The fibrous stems of nettles were once used to weave a rough cloth. Evidence from Neolithic settlements in Switzerland shows that nettle was used to make cloth before linen or wool. The processed fibres of nettle stalks make a strong white thread that has even been used for fishing line and nets. Maude Grieve says in her book ‘A Modern Herbal’ that nettle fibres were being used in the 16th and 17th centuries to make sheets and tablecloths.
Hans Christian Anderson's famous fairy tale called "The Wild Swans" tells an enchanting story of the nettle coats she wove for them to break a spell:
"Look at the nettle that I hold in my hand! Around the cave where you are sleeping grow many of them; only those nettles, or the ones found in churchyards may you use. You must pick them, even though they blister and burn your hands; then you must stamp on them with your bare feet until they become like flax. And from that you must twine thread with which to knit eleven shirts with long sleeves. If you cast one of these shirts over each of the eleven swans, the spell will be broken..."
Folklores say that a fever could be dispelled by plucking a Nettle up by its roots, reciting therby the names of the sick man and also the names of his family. Nettle is considered to be one of the nine sacred herbs, along with mugwort, plantain, watercress, chamomile, crab apple, chervil, and fennel. It certainly has a long history of use.
The ‘bark’ stem of the nettle plant contains pliable fibres that can be woven, spun or twisted to make cloth or cordage. Although we are reinventing the art of making cloth from nettles there are still places where it is done. For example a cloth called ‘ramie’ is made from the fibres of an Asian nettle (Boehmeria nivea). Nettle is still collected and processed in the Himalayas. The ‘bark’ is stripped from the plant and dried for 3 days in the sun. Then it is put in a pond for 10 days and then rinsed in running water, then spun into a rough yarn. The same process doesn’t seem to work for European nettles though as they just break down in the water.
There is a strong movement to reinstate cloth made from nettle and nettle clothes are already to be seen on the catwalks of fashion houses. Industrial processes are leading to a much more useable cloth although designs are presently limited to ‘outer’ clothing. I have not yet made cloth from nettle but since finding the information below will make some at the earliest opportunity – watch this space…
STUDENT SHOWS OFF NETTLE KNICKERS
A set of underwear made from stinging nettles has been designed by a university student as part of a new research project. It is hoped the "nettle knickers" is the first step towards a commercial application for the plants.
Leicester's De Montfort University's "Sting" project is researching potential for nettle fibre as a crop and market. The research is funded by Defra; and the Central Science Laboratory, in York, is also involved in the project. Textile design student Alex Dear, 23, from Cambridge, wrote a dissertation on nettle fibre as part of a three-year textile design and production degree. She has been modelling the camisole and knickers, which she designed herself.
She said: "I investigated and tested the fibres and had the yarn made up. It is a slightly hairy fibre. Just for fun I made the lingerie, which I called Nettle Knickers."
Nettle yarn was used to make rucksacks for soldiers in the First World War. Ms Dear said: "It's not terribly comfortable when it's next to your skin, so anything you made from it would probably have to be lined".
Ray Harwood, Professor of Textile Engineering at De Montfort University, said nettles had great potential. "I am sure it would find a place in corporate clothing, workwear and the like."
Copyright BBC NEWS CHANNEL Thursday, 1 July, 2004
MAKE CLOTH FROM NETTLES
Austrian Chemist finds Profitable uses for a Common Weed
Berlin, May 1 st (Correspondence of the Associated Press) – Professor Oswald Richter, an Austrian Chemist, has discovered that a nettle fibre of high value for making textiles can be recovered easily and cheaply by the water rotting process, that a rich yield of fruit sugar is thereby steeped from the plants, and that the stems make an excellent fodder. It all depends, however, upon knowing how to supply the water.
Investigators had all along made the mistake of assuming that nettles should be rotted like flax; that is, thrown into water and left there till the plants were sufficiently rotted to permit the separation of fibre and wood. This method failed completely with nettles, for the rotting process attacked the fibre as well and destroyed it.
Richter found the reason. Nettles contain much fruit sugar, which is all steeped out during the first half day that the plants lie in water; and then a fermentation process sets in. This fermentation is due to the development of bacteria that feed upon the sugar and then destroy the value of the fibre. After Richter established these facts, he had only to draw off the water after soaking the nettles for twelve hours, and then turn on fresh water. Now another class of bacteria, which do not attack the fibre, is developed, and rotting proceeds as normally as with flax.
The machinery for separating fibre and stalk is the same as for hemp, and existing spinning and weaving machines are used in making nettle cloth, with probably a few minor changes. The cloth is already being actually made in Austria. About 1,000 tons of the fibre were produced there last year under the auspices of the Government, which turned it over to various factories to be worked up. It is asserted that the fibres are from two to twelve inches long. After having been washed in a soap solution they are very soft and produce a cloth having a fine lustre. The yarn is pronounced considerably stronger than flax yarn, hence nettle cloth should prove remarkably durable.
While the supply of wild nettles in Germany and Austria is practically inexhaustible, it is assumed that is will be necessary to cultivate the plant in order to get the best results. In that case practically the only expense will be to plant the fields once with roots of the wild nettle and harvest the crops during the next ten years, no further planting will be necessary. A German writer estimates that under the least favourable circumstances nettle fibre can be laid down at the factory at 14 cents a pound, which is hardly more than the average price of cotton in Germany before the war. His calculation ignores the value of the fruit sugar and the refuse. As Richter found that the sugar contained in the bark of the plant runs as high as 8 percent, he concludes that it is one of the most valuable sugar plants known in Europe. Also he found that cattle prefer the stems to most other kinds of feed, and the leaves are also eaten by them with relish. In view of these facts it would seem that the practical cost of spinning fibre might be considerably reduced below the figure mentioned.
The New York Times. Published May 14 th 1916. Copyright The New York Times
When I think about the 'free resource' of nettles and the amount of cotton farmers in India and other places being squeezed out by biopiracy and poisoned by fertilisers, and their children used as virtual slaves in manufacturing processes, I wonder why nettle cloth is not used far more in the Northern Hemisphere.
Nettle growing on a commercial basis is a possible 'carbon nuetral' business with no waste. Besides the herbal and medicinal uses, its manufacture into cloth looks highly viable. Localised materials, one planting for ten tears of harvest, high levels of extractable fruit sugar and the waste material useable as cattle fodder. Its just bound to happen !