Fabric Focus: Natural Fabrics
In the last of our Fabric Focus series we are looking at natural fabrics and natural dying techniques. These have been around for centuries, but now mainstream fashion has begun to adopt these traditional ways of creating fabrics that don’t cost the earth.
Linen is one of the oldest fabrics in the world. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in it, and linen scraps have been found in caves in Georgia 36,000 years ago.
This robust fabric was historically worn mainly by the wealthy, and its popularity is due to its breathability and moisture wicking properties.
Linen is derived from flax, a plant that grows best in a cool climate with lots of daylight, making it a relatively robust and possible to grow across the world.
It's known as being one of the most sustainable fabrics because the entire plant can be used to weave fabric, leaving no wastage. Linen is also completely biodegradable.
People Tree was one of the first brands to bring Fair Trade clothing to the UK. The brand uses a range of sustainable and modern fabrics in their collections, including this gorgeous linen v neck jumpsuit.
Hemp is the current rockstar of the sustainable fashion world. With a complicated history linked to cannabis, growing hemp commercially can be complicated by bureaucracy.. However, with a growing awareness in the difference between THC cannabis (which is what the drug is derived from) and hemp the fabric, there has bee a significant rise in the production of commercial hemp, making it economically viable. China produces approximately 70% of the world’s hemp followed by France, Colombia and Lithuania.
To extract hemp from the cannabis plants the woody bark is removed and the inside strands are extracted (known as 'retting'). The strands are then left in the field for 4-6 weeks to dry out. Once the strands are dried out the fibres are separated from the rest of the plant and cleaned to remove any impurities. The strands are then woven into a fabric, usually with another fabric like cotton or linen to create soft, durable fabrics.
Spanish brand Thinking Mu are well known for their prints and slogan tees. The Flowers to the People tee is made from hemp and organic cotton, making it perfect for summer. We love Thinking Mu as they describe hemp as ‘the plant of the future’ and we definitely agree with them!
Vegetables, small invertebrates, plants, fruit and flowers can all be used for dying clothes. Evidence of these dying processes has been traced right back to the Neolithic period.
The processes for using natural dyes vary, but most commonly fabrics are placed in large vats of boiling water along with the natural dye, and a 'mordant' to help fix the dye to the fabric. Heavy metals like zinc, copper and aluminium were traditionally used as the mordant, which resulted in pollution of water bodies, and even made the clothes toxic. Improvements in knowledge of chemistry has enabled more effective use of organic mordants which are harmless and more commercially viable.
Some plants can create unexpected results when they're used for dying fabrics. Avocado skins and seeds create a subtle peach colour, and lily of the valley can produce beautiful shades of green. However the results can be unpredictable due to the differing levels of chemicals in the plants, making each vegetable dyed garment completely unique.
Not only do Thinking Mu use amazing materials like hemp and recycled fabrics, they also use natural water based dyes for most of their products including the easy to wear Campanilla Dress.