The Language of Hemp: a Hmong story

High in the misty mountains of Northern Laos the rare sounds of Hmong weaving can be heard. With the end of hemp harvest in October, the yarns are prepared and weaving begun.
Like all textile producers in Laos, the Hmong make items for the household like blankets and bags, for clothing, and for ceremonial purposes. Traditionally, the fabric of choice would be hemp. Nowadays, as they move down from the highlands, many Hmong use cotton or synthetic fabrics. However hemp is still cultivated by many ‘Blue’ Hmong in Northern Laos. Making hemp fabric is a laborious process, the end result is a strong durable cloth with the qualities similar to linen.

Hemp use + benefits
Hemp comes from the cannabis sativa plant, just one of several different varieties of cannabis. Void of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, hemp has been cultivated the world over for more than 12,000 years. The latin name for hemp, sativa, means useful. Along with cloth, hemp can be used as fuel, paper, food, oil, rope, sail canvas and many other pracitcal things.
Hemp is widely regarded as the crop for the future as it has such a low environmental impact. It can be grown and processed without the chemical treatments needed for other plant materials and gives three times as much raw fibre as cotton. Other benefits include:

  • It’s strong- Hemp is exceptionally durable, like 8x that of cotton fibre which accounts for its historical use in sails and rope for the British and American Navies.
  • It’s hypo-allergenic- This fabric is non-irritating to the skin. Current tests indicate that hemp is even able to kill staph and other bacteria that come in contact with its surface.
  • It feels great! Hemp has the look of classic linen and can have the feel (depending upon fabric blend) of your favourite flannel. Hemp materials will also soften with age and with each washing.
  • Good for hot weather wear-Like linen and cotton, hemp is a cool choice for summer. It breathes well and is resistant to mildew, able to absorb moisture.
  • UV Resistant –This eco fabric will also protect you from the sun with its UV resistant qualities.

(benefits from The Eco Market)

Batik on hemp
Batik is a resist dye technique created by wax drawn motifs. The technique has been practiced for over a thousand years from South America to Africa; Indonesia is accredited with its origin, due to Dutch trading. Traditionally, Hmong people use hemp as a base fabric. The batik design is used to make clothing and blankets ornate. Bold designs in white cloth are set against shades of blue or black indigo.

Unlike many languages Hmong doesn’t have a written form, thus textiles have become a form of visual expression. The inspiration for batik motifs is derived from the natural environment, such as snail shells, animal teeth, ferns and cucumber and pumpkin seeds.

Hemp with a modern twist
The language of cloth is one that tells stories; an intricate weaving of ancient practices, cultural connections, and evolving meaning. Incorporating hemp into Passa Paa textiles is important in maintaining a crucial aspect of the Hmong existence.
Our printed and embroidered designs come to life on this incredible material to create new forms of useful items like pillows, bags, and wallets. For a closer look at our use of hemp in our products, check out our collection.

Written by contributing blogger, Christine Martin.

{images: Joann Smith}

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