Cottonization: Making Hemp And Flax Fibers Into The Better Cotton

These days it’s hard to imagine that fabrics were ever made out of anything other than cotton or synthetic fibers, yet it wasn’t too long ago that hemp and flax-based fabrics — linen — were the rule rather than the exception. Cotton production has for centuries had the major disadvantages of requiring a lot of water and pesticides, and harvesting the cotton was very labor-intensive, making cotton rather expensive. In order to make separating the cotton fibers from the seed easier, improved versions of the cotton gin (‘cotton engine’) were developed, with the 19th century’s industrial revolution enabling a fully automated version.

What makes cotton attractive is the ease of processing these fibers, which are part of the seed pod. These fibers are 25 mm – 60 mm long, 12 μm – 45 μm fine fibers that can be pulled off the seeds and spun into yarn or whatever else is needed for the final product, much like wool. Hemp and flax fibers, in contrast, are extracted from the plant stem in the form of bast fibers. Rather than being pure cellulose, these fibers are mostly a mixture of cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose and pectin, which provide the plant with rigidity, but also makes these fibers coarse and stiff.

The main purpose of cottonization is to remove as much of these non-cellulosic components as possible, leaving mostly pure cellulose fibers that not only match the handleability of cotton fibers, but are also generally more durable. Yet cottonization used to be a long and tedious process, which made bast fiber-based textiles expensive. Fortunately, the steam explosion cottonization method that we’ll be looking at here may be one of the methods by which the market will be blown open for these green and durable fibers.

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The Wichinsky Bagelmatic

Reader [Eric Mockler] brought Louis “Lebel” Wichinsky to our attention, a colorful inventor he ran into some years back in the Borscht Belt of Upstate New York. Described as a Mel Brooks doppelgänger, Lebel was born the son of a baker in Hurleyville NY. During WW2 he served in England where he lodged with two brothers who also owned a bakery. When his British friends suggested he should build a bagel machine because “you Yanks can do anything”, he accepted their challenge and began working on a design. Despite taking a detour through Israel as an aircraft mechanic on his journey home, he finally succeeded in 1964 after 20-some years of tinkering. A patent followed in 1968, despite discovering that someone else had independently invented similar device.

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The Hemp-Mote


We’re sure that almost every one of our readers has been wondering why they can’t have a hemp covered Wiimote. Well, [Dhreck] got tired of waiting and made one himself. This isn’t just as simple as covering a Wiimote with hemp chord. Major modifications had to be made to keep it from getting too bulky. [Dhreck] whittled down most of the shell, then re formed it with modeling putty. After sanding that nice and smooth and applying a nice black paint job, he started the painstaking process of wrapping it in hemp.  It still works perfectly fine, but can fray if you are too hard on it. So, if you get your hands on some hemp, take it easy on your Wii.