It is one of the fastest growing plants and its fibre has been used extensively throughout history. As far back as 10,000 years ago, hemp was first spun into usable fibre and was cultivated in many parts of the world. Hemp was often used to make sail canvas, and the word "canvas" derives from cannabis since the scientific name for the plant is Cannabis sativa. Today, a modest hemp fabric industry exists, and hemp fibres can be used in clothing. Pure hemp has a texture similar to that of linen.
Hemp plays a central part in the traditional textile culture of Vietnam - particularly among the Hmong, who also live in China, Thailand and Laos. For generations, H’mong women have made their distinctive tribal clothing by hand. Girls are traditionally taught weaving, appliqué and embroidery from an early age in order to develop skills considered integral to their good character and marriageability. By the time they are married a young woman will have gained the prerequisite skills to clothe herself and her children and will continue to weave and embroider for the rest of her life, perhaps using it as a way to earn income from the growing tourist economy.
H’mong textiles (Paj ntaub, or “flower cloth” in the H’mong language) comprise textile arts closely related to the practices of other hill tribe groups in neighbouring China and Laos (as well as Burma and Thailand). The embroidery consists of bold geometric designs frequently executed in contrasting iridescent colours. Different patterns and techniques are associated with cultural and geographical subdivisions within the wider H’mong nation. The practices of appliqué and embroidery continue to be passed down through generations of H’mong people and their textiles remain important statements of their ethnicity. Many of the geometric motifs used in the textiles, particularly the indigo base-cloth used mainly for making skirts, are ancient in origin, drawn from the natural world and found on ancient Bronze Age drums.
You can read more about Hmong textiles in Iain Stewart's article for the Meteorological Issue.
Photography by Jamie Marshall.