Turning Nettles into Textiles



Hidden in a weedy patch in your backyard, or on the forest edge, lies a humble plant that is most famous for its burning sting. But did you know that stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can also be used for making textiles? Inside the plant’s stalks are long, strong, fine fibers. Surprisingly, nettle is anything but harsh when woven into fabric: nettle cloth is lustrous and smooth, similar to linen but even stronger.

Nettles have been used for textiles at least since medieval times. Along with flax and hemp, nettle was the most important plant-based textile material in Europe because, unlike cotton, it grows even in northern climates. Commercial nettle fiber farming started in the nineteenth century. During the First World War, with sanctions imposed on cotton, the German army used nettle fabric for their soldiers’ uniforms.

Now we see a resurgence of interest in nettle-based textiles within the sustainable fashion industry. Nettle fiber is a promising alternative for sustainable fashion for many reasons:

  • nettles grow vigorously everywhere, without intensive inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, or irrigation, even in fairly poor soil that is unsuitable for other crops
  • unlike cotton, nettle grows in cooler climates, making it a good candidate for local or regional production and processing
  • nettle fibers are hollow, making them cool in the summer and warm in the winter
  • nettle fiber has built-in fire-retardant properties
  • nettle is also valued as a food, medicinal, and dye plant

New spinning technologies, plant cross-breeding, and growing concerns over the environmental costs of conventional cotton-growing make nettle a viable alternative for eco-textile companies.

But it’s also possible to grow, harvest and process your own nettle fiber on a home scale. Given how common stinging nettle is in temperate climates, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the nearest nettle patch — or growing your own, as I have done.

6/22/2021 2:38:16 PM

Can you stop at the drying process and wait a month or so to break up the stalks? Or will the plant matter deteriorate? I have colossal nettles here in Ohio but I'll be out of town all September- still, I'd love to spend the winter months working on nettle textiles.

1/14/2021 9:25:31 AM

Thank you for sharing, most useful. I am in the beginning of starting my nettle fiber experience!! In Denmark

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