Gardeners may look at this weed and think it looks innocent enough, but a quick pull from the soil without gloves on, and you have been stung by a hidden venom, an unforgettable experience, as a mighty tingling sensation quickly spreads through your entire hand. What you may not know about this well-armored plant is that its fibrous stem has a hollow core, ideal for trapping air, providing a layer of natural insulation, and while it may be news to most of us, nettle fibre has been spun and woven into fabrics for more than two thousand years. When cotton made its appearance in the sixteenth century, not only did it dominate the market as the easiest plant fibre to harvest, it all but pushed nettle out of the limelight. It wasn’t until cotton supplies dwindled during wartime that nettle fibre became a suitable replacement, and was used in the production of soldier uniforms and parachutes.
Today, in the search for more eco-friendly fibres, nettle is quickly becoming a green choice for the knitting industry, it is a hardy plant which requires no pesticides and is produced with the use of water instead of oil by-products.
The stinging nettle plant grows worldwide, and doesn’t require a hot climate. It reaches anywhere from two to four feet in height, spreading easily by seed and an underground network of roots. The leaves are jagged and the fibre is acquired from inside the ribbed hollow stem.
The outer coating is stripped away, and the hidden fibres are exposed to sunlight, this dehydration method works doubly to eliminate the venom and prepare the strands for the next step. Large ponds are used to soak the fibres for about ten days, after which time, they are rinsed with clear water, and processed in a similar manner to linen. Nettle blends well with cotton, wool, alpaca, and bamboo fibres.
Two NEW additions coming soon to Diamond Yarn’s FALL line-up from Universal Yarn are spun with nettle and a blend of organic wool. This Woven Stitch Cowl is knit with two balls of Nettle Lana Expressions, a chainette style yarn with exquisite shading. Honeyspun (shown above). Look for the FREE pattern here.