Saturday, February 18, 2006

Working with Hemp

By Christina VanGinkel

Working with hemp to make fashion accessories is nothing new. People have been doing it for a long time. Many people may wonder why, but unless they have taken the time to try a few of the simple knots that are the basis of almost every item created from hemp, they can never truly grasp it.

Hemp is fun to wear, durable, and most importantly, fun to work with. Commonly sold in skeins that are tan in color, hemp has finally been modernized somewhat, and is available in a wide variety of colors, both soft pastels, and bright primaries. It is also available in different thicknesses, and even textures. For the longest time, all the hemp I used when making anything from a necklace to a bag, was rough textured. Threads were not abundant, but visible. There is now hemp available that may not be as soft as baby yarn, but it is much softer than what has typically been available.

Basic Supplies

To learn how to work with hemp, you only need to learn a few basic knots, and that may be why it is such an appealing hobby to so many. If you have no other tools than a skein of hemp and a pair of scissors, you are pretty much set to go. A pattern book of macrame knots or one pertaining to making jewelry or accessories from hemp will also be beneficial. A favorite book of mine on the subject that has clear, close-up pictures of the knots, braids, and weaves, is Making Beautiful Hemp and Bead Jewelry, by Mickey Basket. A few other favorites include Hemp Masters Getting Knotty: More Ancient Hippie Secrets for Knotting Hip Hemp Jewelry, by Max Lunger, and Hemp Jewelry, Kids Can Do It, by Judy Sadler. Learning the knots, braids, and weaves is not difficult, but they can also be customized by the more enterprising, both by adding additional knots and twists to the hemp as you work, or by adding things like beads and findings to your projects.

Choosing Hemp

Once you are comfortable with the steps required to take a plain skein of hemp and transform it into something fun or functional, take some time and learn the different qualities of hemp. Different thickness alone will make a single project vary greatly when it is finished. Rougher hemp can be used for just about anything, even floor mats, while softer hemp is ideal for jewelry, even some of the more intricate designs that are becoming popular with the newer, thinner hemps now available.

Teaching Others

As a crafter, we are sometimes called upon to share a craft with the younger generation. Making items with hemp is the perfect all around craft for just such a purpose. It appeals to kids of all ages, the supplies for even a large group can be relatively inexpensive, and it is easily taught and learned. If you find yourself in such a situation, maybe for a 4-H project, Girl Scout, or Boy Scout meeting, even a youth group meeting at church, then this is a great craft to pull out and teach to the kids.

Tips to make it Even Easier than it already is

If you find that you cut your lengths too short, do not start over, just tie on added length. No one will notice the knot, and if it does seem like it might be obvious, add a bead over it if you already have beads interspersed throughout, or leave the ends where you tied it on, on the long side, and with a yarn needle, weave the ends in.

To avoid this in the future, when you have everything measured out, add a bit more before you cut.

Knots can usually be undone. If you have really messed up, try to undo the knot, as it might be easier to do than you think.

If you make something, and it is a lot rougher than you had imagined it would be, wash it a few times. You can also soak it in a bit of fabric softener, as this will often take some of the roughness out of the threads.

If you are more comfortable holding the strands in a way that you have not seen in a book or that was shown to you by someone else, then go ahead. There are no hard and fast rules with working with hemp. Do what is most comfortable for you.

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