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: