Kentucky Hemp

Thanks to grants from Patagonia’s Environmental Grants program and the Blackie Foundation, Fibershed has been in collaboration with various organizations to support the raw plant processing and cloth creation processes for this historic project.

On June 1st of 2014, the fields of Eastern Kentucky became the site of a healing return of veterans and an age-old tradition of hemp agriculture. The Growing Warriors non-profit organization, in collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky, were able to work together to bring in seeds of a fiber strain known as Futura 75, originally developed by the French.

hemp seeds being planted

Utilizing hand-planting techniques and a grain drill for planting; just under 2 acres was seeded.

Planting:
Rows were 1 foot apart
Seeds were ½-inch apart
Planted ½ to ¾ inch deep
30 pounds of seed to the acre

The plants were ¾ inch tall within seven days of seeding, and within 14 days they were 7 inches tall. Within 51 days the plants were over 5 feet tall and by July 20th the males had flowered and were ready for harvest. Harvesting took place by hand as well as with the use of a sickle bar mower. Next year there are hopes of working with a reaper and binder that was originally designed in Italy, and will work well for small scale agriculture.

harvesting hemp

Crop was rain fed:
June: 10 inches of rain
July: 6 inches of rain
August: 8 inches of rain

Once the crop was harvested, research was done to create on-farm, people-powered methods to separate the fiber from the woody hurd—the first step in processing for textiles and other goods. On-site engineer Kevin Lanzi built the decorticator shown in the photos below using plans that originated with Thomas Jefferson. This machine folds up and fits into a car or truck, and can be transported to do the task of breaking, scutching and hackling the hemp in an ‘all-in-one’ method.

hemp decortication

Next Steps:
Working with BastCore (an in-field decorticator) and Tersus Solutions, we are currently in the process of developing a recipe for de-gumbing the hemp, for use in both artisan and more modern and scaled textile manufacturing equipment. Our next update will include images of our ‘mill-ready’ fibers and details on the collaborators that are helping to make that happen. Kentucky Cloth is on its way.

Photo credits: Seeds and planting by Megan Hollenbeck, harvesting by Erin Axelrod, decortication machine courtesy of Growing Warriors.

18 thoughts on “Kentucky Hemp

    1. Hi Leonore,

      I’m sure there are opportunities to come out to the farm starting in early February if you’re in the area… we’ll be decorticating more of the fiber at a soon to be determined date.. might want to keep in touch through Fibershed’s FB page.

  1. I grow and process flax to linen. Presently, I am weaving with hemp that is coming out of Romania. I’m doing some studies on Shaker Textiles for a class at John C. Campbell Folk School. I would rather be buying “grown in the USA”! I will keep watching your website for updates.

  2. I grew and processed by hand a 15’by 15′ patch of flax for many years and used it to demonstrate the processing and spinning at Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill, KY. I spent many evenings reading in the Shaker Journals, there, and found references to hemp fiber use. This former Kentuckian is thrilled with what you are doing. I want to come see!
    Dale Liles

  3. Hello, I am a fiber artist. Is there someone I could contact about purchasing hemp to experiment with in my felting? I am fascinated with the possibility of integrating hemp with other fibers and also wonder how the resulting fabric would take dyes. Thank you for your help.

    1. Hi Sylvia, Fibershed is a non-profit educational organization doing research on hemp, so we don’t have fiber to sell. There is not yet a hemp processing infrastructure in this country, so American hemp fiber is still not available on a retail scale. For now all the growing permits are for research, but hopefully that will be changing soon!

  4. Could you tell me if you know of anybody experimenting with or making a green dye made out of Hemp? Thank you, Bill

  5. Hemp Inc in North Carolina is almost complete with building their industrial hemp decorticator machine. https://hempinc.com/hemp-decorticator-plant/
    You should consult with them to step out of 18th century processing and into the 21st century agriculture.
    Very exciting. So does the French fiber have a different feel? What is different about it for textiles?

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