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Explore the benefits and uses of Nettle as a fibre

While common in Australia, it isn't as prolific as Europe or Asia. Nettle belongs to the family Urticaceae, for centuries it has been used as a source of medicine, food, fodder and fibre. Nettle fibre is a remarkable natural fibre known for its softness, strength, and sustainability.

This a brief introduction to the plant, its history and uses.


THE PLANT

Nettle is a bast fibre similar to Hemp, meaning the fibres are found within the stalk of the plant. Of all the varieties there are 3 main fibre producing varieties:

  • European nettles (Urtica dioica)

  • Chinese Nettles or Ramie (Boehmeria nivea),

  • Himalayan nettle or Allo (Girardinia diversifolia).


Properties of Himalayan Nettle Fiber and Development of Nettle/ Viscose Blended Apparel Textiles- Journal of Natural Fibres 2023, VOL. 20, NO. 1,


Nettle is a perennial plant which thrives on nitrogenous, rich well fertilized soil. It is not susceptible to pest and diseases as other plants such as cotton. Like hemp, nettles use much less water and no pesticides or herbicides to grow.


In Nepal, Himalayan nettle (Allo) grows wild in fertile forest soils in altitudes ranging from 1200 to 3000 metres. With the stems growing up to approx 3–3.5m tall.


Ramie and European nettles, grow wild in fields and can be farmed for commercial use. With stem growth between 1- 1.5m tall.


HISTORY

The use of nettle as a fibre has been recorded as far back as the Bronze Age (3000 BCE – 1200 BCE), with the first known nettle textile found in Voldtofte, Denmark. There is also evidence of nettle cloth production from Scandinavia, Poland, Germany and Russia.


These fibres have been used by local communities for centuries to create various products, including textiles, ropes, fishing nets, baskets, and more.


In Europe, during World War I and II, when traditional textile sources were scarce, nettle fibre experienced a resurgence. Governments encouraged its cultivation as a substitute for cotton in army uniforms. However, post-war with the development of synthetic fibres, nettle cultivation dwindled.


Traditional methods of processing Allo in Nepal are still practised today. This is a lengthy, labour intensive process, with the process of retting (rotting) the plant matter to extract the fibres taking the most amount of time.


Images courtesy of Himalayan Allo Udhyog- https://www.facebook.com/thehimalayanalloudhyog


FIBRE PROPRETIES

Nettle has a high tensile strength, comparable to hemp. Finer fibre than hemp and linen, it is a soft flexible fibre to work with. It's strength also add to its durability and longevity making it suitable for clothing.


Nettle is a hollow, breathable fibre which means they can accumulate air inside, creating natural insulation. Fabrics are suitable for both winter and in summer.


Nettle fibres are also able to absorb and release moisture better than other natural fibres.

 

SUSTATINABILITY

It's resurgence in the textile industry is driven by a growing interest in sustainable materials.


Nettle is essentially a weed, it is fast growing and readily self seeds making it a quickly renewable recourse. Requiring no pesticides or herbicides for protection, it's low input requirements and adaptability make it an attractive crop for fibre production. Nettle cultivation especially in Nepal provides economic opportunities for rural communities.


Chemicals are not required for fibre production, it is a 100% natural, biodegradable fibre.


TO YOUR HANDS

Making with Nettle is a similar experience to linen yarn with washing and wear the fibres soften.

As the fashion industry faces increasing pressure to address its environmental impact, nettle fibres offer a promising solution. Nettle fibres are surprisingly strong, rivalling traditional textiles like cotton. This durability ensures longevity in clothing, making it a suitable replacement for synthetic fibres, particularly in socks.


Nettle is commonly blended with other fibres like wool. Commercially, companies such as Onion have produced blended knitting yarns for clothing and accessories.

Today you can also find nettle in textiles as fabrics for home sewers and clothing. PANGAIA have produced denim clothing using Himalayan Wild Fibres.


Traditional hand spun yarn is produced in Nepal and still valuable for making washcloths, basketry work and bags.


If you're keen try this yourself, Alan Brown and Sally Pointer are a great resource to guide you through harvesting and processing your own nettles.


You can also check our online store for nettle products.






You can view our range of nettle products:



Rescources:


Nettle as a distinct Bronze Age textile plant- C. Bergfjord et al Published: 28 September 2012 Site: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep00664


Properties of Himalayan Nettle Fiber and Development of Nettle/ Viscose Blended Apparel Textiles- Journal of Natural Fibres 2023, VOL. 20, NO. 1,


Images courtesy of Himalayan Allo Udhyog- https://www.facebook.com/thehimalayanalloudhyog


Nettles for textiles Facebook forum:

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