Sustainable Fabric: Hemp

A woman wears a green jacket with her hands on her hips

I was recently contacted by The Hemp Shop and asked if I would like to try some of their fabric. I’ve never sewn with hemp before, but I hear it being referenced a lot as a sustainable fabric. I think this is largely because hemp crops grow quickly and yield a lot of fibre while taking less water and fewer (organic) pesticides to grow than cotton, and in fact hemp usually requires no agricultural chemicals whatsoever. Obviously, I was keen to see for myself how this fibre compares to others I’ve used so I enthusiastically said YES! I took a look at their website and was surprised to see how many hemp fabrics there are! Hemp comes in different weights and textures including linen, corduroy, denim, silk, canvas and many of them are organic fabrics.

A man walks away from the camera in a white jacket, putting his hands in his pockets as he walks away.
We are wearing the same jacket!

I asked for some samples and was pleased with the quality. I particularly loved the fine hemp linen and the canna cloth which I was tempted to use for a lightweight blouse. However, as the seasons have started to change, I offered to make my husband a lightweight jacket perfect for autumn.

A man smiles at the camera wearing a white jacket

He had been asking me for a long time to make him a jacket and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I knew I wanted to make him an Ilford Jacket but didn’t have any fabric in my stash that was suitable. After feeling the swatches, I ordered 2m of the 9.8oz Mid Hemp Denim Twill because it has a soft handle but good pronounced twill weave, it arrived quickly.

A man in a cream jacket is laughing
This is the image on the pattern – I think leaving the denim undyed would look amazing!

Despite the gorgeous cream denim version on the pattern packet (above), there was no way that my husband would be able to keep a cream jacket clean, so we knew from the beginning that this jacket was going to be dyed. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to dye the jacket or the fabric. In order to try to mitigate streaks on the finished jacket, I decided to dye the garment and not the fabric. Denim loves to crease in the wash and so I was very careful to reduce creases as much as I could. I soaked the fabric in the bath before prewashing as I had read that would reduce the likelihood of it forming creases in the washing machine. Then I popped it in my usual prewash (at 30 because that’s how I will wash the garment) and it came out great – soft and drapey, like a well-worn denim. I also hung it out to dry and ironed it while it was still damp – these tricks worked pretty well and I didn’t have any significant creasing in the fabric.

A close up of the details on the cream jacket - the image shows pockets, buttons and the collar

My husband chose a Dylon dye pod in Forest Green which you can buy along with your fabric from The Hemp Shop and he knew he wanted rust topstitching and copper snaps – I just love the colour combination! I cut the size that matched the chest measurement of a loose-fitting jacket my husband already likes, and added an inch of length to both arms and body. The Ilford Jacket pattern is very simple to make and the fabric sewed and pressed like a dream.

A man wearing a white jacket is checking his pockets and standing in front of a sunset

Anyway, I finished the jacket and loved working with the hemp denim – it feels like cotton denim that’s been washed a lot and has that sort of softness to it, if you know what I mean? My husband tried it on as soon as it was ready and it was a bit short in the arms. He didn’t care though – he was thrilled with the jacket and couldn’t wait to turn it green!

A close up of the jacket dyed green, showing up the twill weave of the hemp denim and the topstitching details
You can really see the twill weave in this picture!

Here’s where I made a mistake – the dye packet said to dye at 40 for best results. So that’s what I did, without thinking about it! I always advise people to prewash and dry their fabric exactly as you will wash and dry the fabric after the garment is sewn – if there’s even a chance you might tumble dry the garment then you should tumble dry the fabric too. BUT I DIDN’T TAKE MY OWN ADVICE! I had prewashed at 30 not realising I would be dyeing it at 40. When the jacket came out it was a beautiful shade of green but it had also shrunk slightly, not a lot but considering it was already a little small this had tipped it over the edge into too-small. Entirely my mistake! 

A woman is standing in a green jacket with one hand in her pocket and smiling at the camera

However, this now means that this gorgeous jacket fits meeeee! (I promise I didn’t do this on purpose, but I am pretty happy about it!) As fate would have it, I saw a bundle of heavyweight cotton calico in the charity shop the day before. I concluded that I didn’t need it so I left it behind for someone else, but when I realised my mistake I ran back to get it. I cut out the pattern again two sizes bigger (thankfully I bought the PDF pattern!) and I PREWASHED AT 40! 

A woman is standing in a green jacket with both hands in her pockets and smiling at the camera

Second time around I sewed this even faster and added an additional 2in to the arms. The jacket came together nicely but this cotton version ended up with loads of creasing in the back! It didn’t take the dye as well as the hemp denim did.

A man is wearing a green jacket and facing away from the camera. The back of his jacket is covered in streaks.
Check out the streaks on the dye – this is the cotton calico version! Also, this is the only pic of the second jacket, every other photo we are wearing the same one!

So anyway, two jackets later we are now the couple wearing matching jackets. But I am not complaining – my hemp denim one is WAY nicer than his! If you would like to try the hemp denim fabric for yourself, you can order a sample swatch of “Mid Hemp Denim” from the hemp shop for just £1 here. The hemp shop have also offered my followers 10% off fabric with the code SEWSTAINABILITY until the 12th of November 2021.

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