Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

REVIEW: From Sting to Spin

Posted on by royvickery |

Gillian Edom, From Sting to Spin – A History of Nettle Fibre, Bognor Regis: Urtica Books (97 Hewarts Lane, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO21 3DJ).             This 99-page book, an expanded version of the author’s book of the same title first published in 2010, covers the use of the fibres of nettle (Urtica dioica) and other Urticaceae from c. 4000 BC to the present.  The early evidence for this is restricted due to the fact that in the past archaeologists gave little priority to the preservation of textile remains, and it is difficult to distinguish between nettle and flax (Linum usitatissimum) fibres.  Later it is apparent that ‘nettle-cloth’ was not necessarily made from nettles, and some of the writing about the use of nettle fibres is ‘based on assumption and rumour’.  In recent years it has often been claimed that the uniforms worn by Napoleon’s soldiers were made from nettle fibres, but this idea seems to have been started by an Italian fashion company in 2002.  Existing Napoleonic uniforms are found to have been made from wool, linen or cotton, and when Edom asked the company for the source of their information they replied that they could not remember.  A persistent problem which restricts the use of nettle fibre has been the difficulty of extracting and cleaning it.                                                                                             Although Edom concentrates on northwest Europe she also provides an overview of how other Urticaceae fibres are used elsewhere, and includes an account of a visit to Japan to see how Laportea cuspidata is harvested there.         Obviously there is still a lot more to be discovered, and obviously the author is keen to continue her studies, so we hope that in nine years time she will produce another updated version of her work.  Perhaps we will need to wait less long; the founding of a Nettles for Textiles Facebook Group has greatly eased the exchange of information.

Image:  Part of a decorticating apparatus patented by G.W. Schlichten in 1919, from G.W. Schlichten, Means for treating fiber bearing plants, US1303376A, 1919.

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