I thought I would share the following tidbit, entry 3a from Part One of the Cannabis/Marijuana FAQ
3a) How can hemp be used for cloth?
The stalk of the hemp plant has two parts, called the bast and the hurd. The fiber (bast) of the hemp plant can be woven into almost any kind of cloth. It is very durable. In fact, the first Levi's blue jeans were made out of hemp for just this reason. Compared to all the other natural fibers available, hemp is more suitable for a large number of applications.
Here is how hemp is harvested for fiber: A field of closely spaced hemp is allowed to grow until the leaves fall off. The hemp is then cut down and it lies in the field for some time washed by the rain. It is turned over once to expose both sides of the stalk evenly. During this time, the hurd softens up and many minerals are returned to the soil. This is called `retting,' and after this step is complete, the stalks are brought to a machine which separates the bast and the hurd. We are lucky to have machines today -- men used to do this last part by hand with hours of back-breaking labor.
Here's another passage I found interesting, part of a site
discussing why hemp went from being the most popular natural fiber source in the U.S., to being second (behind cotton), to being demonized:
Hemp fibers were extracted from cannabis and used for textiles, rope, canvas, paper and other industrial uses. For millennia, this was an extremely labor-intensive process, although the results were deemed worthy of the effort. Hemp is softer, warmer and more water-resistant than cotton, and has three times as much tensile strength. Although in the 1820s Eli Whitney's legendary cotton gin launched cotton as America's number one textile, hemp remained the second most popular natural fiber until the 1930s.
Which brings us to 1937. Human technology had finally reached the point at which hemp could be processed economically. Machinery such as George Schlichten's "decorticator," which could strip fiber from any plant, did for hemp what Whitney's gin did for the cotton industry: production labor was reduced by an order of magnitude.
Hemp-based newsprint could be produced at half the cost of inferior wood-based newsprint. Superior hemp fabric could easily compete with cotton. And scientists had just begun to explore the medical uses of marijuana. In 1937, hemp was a rapidly growing industry with virtually unlimited potential, which, according to conservative estimates, would currently generate $500 billion per year -- if it had not been criminalized by a group of elite industrialists with very different plans for industry in the 20th century.