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Bast fibre has a long history of textile uses.

Because of its inherent rot and abrasion resistance and high tensile strength, the bast fibre long was used in products such as sails and ropes. Its cultivation requires no pesticides, nor irrigation except in drought conditions, and it will grow in a range of geographical areas and climates. In recent years, as interest heightened in organically grown fibres and eco-friendly production processes, hemp found a niche market in organic apparel. Thanks to Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc. (NAT), Vancouver, Canada, who recently developed the CRAiLAR enzymatic technology for processing bast fibres in collaboration with National Research Council of Canada (NRC)

t is a patented process that treats bast fibre stock such as flax and hemp to produce textile-grade fibres so comfortable and fine that they can be turned into yarn suitable for hosiery, denim, knitwear, non-woven fabricsalone, or blended with other natural fibres used to manufacture apparel products and home furnishings.

of hemp's cellulosic structure and increases yield. Every step of this process can be certified organic, making it eco-friendly from beginning to end.

What are the differences between hemp and flax?

Hemp and flax are both bast fibres. Hemp grows larger and its fibres are coarser. Flax has very similar properties to hemp but produces finer fibres. Hemp cultivation does not require the use of pesticides or herbicides; and it flourishes in cool climates, is drought-tolerant, benefits the soil and supports elimination of greenhouse gases. Flax is known to be easy to grow with minimal use of herbicides, pesticides and engineered irrigation and is abundant in the US and Canada, which significantly reduces costs from a supply-chain perspective as compared to other natural fibres. The environmental sustainability of flax is virtually identical to hemp with the exception that hemp produces more biomass per acre than flax. However, the flax plant generates a higher percentage of bast fibre per plant than hemp. Initially, Naturally Advanced Technologies (NAT) developed hemp yarns and fabrics with cotton like properties, and now they are using flax fibres in the next phase of its CRAiLAR technology. The productivity of processing using flax is said to be twice as efficient as it is with hemp, yielding nearly twice as much usable fibre after going through the process. But performance benefits of CRAiLAR flax fibre are the same or similar to CRAiLAR hemp fibre.

Production of CRAiLAR fibre

CRAiLAR fibres begin as the long, strong filaments found in the outermost part of the hemp or flax plant. CRAiLAR fibres are made from a portion of the plant stalk that, because of its stiff hand and rough texture, has been historically underused in the garment industry. In the all-natural CRAiLAR technology process, long bast fibre is cut into 1.5- to 2inch staple lengths and processed in a closed-loop enzymatic bath using specialised equipment to produce a soft, white fibre similar to organic cotton. This softness of the fibre stock is achieved by removing all the lignin, the binding agent which contributes to stiffness texture of bast fibre. The result is a fine, soft and completely separated textile fibre that merges the strength and durability of flax with the most desirable attributes of cotton and can be carded and spun on traditional cotton spinning systems alone or blended with other fibres. CRAiLAR advanced materials technology comprises a pulping process that does not use harsh chemicals and is more economical than traditional pulping equipment used in the craft industry. Further, the process maintains the integrity

Fibre properties
CRAiLAR technology makes use of bast natural properties, including tensile strength, thermoregulation, and antimicrobial and abrasion resistance. Its organic fibres are stronger than glass and cotton fibres and softer as compare to linen fibre. The organic fibres carry antimicrobial properties as well. Dye uptake The ability of a fibre to absorb dye is critical, from both a cost and an environmental standpoint. These organic fibres can achieve a better depth of colour using 20 per cent less dye than cotton Shrink resistance Fabrics made from these organic fibres shrink 50 per cent less than cotton when laundered. Blended with other natural fibres, these organic fibres act as stabilizers, helping garments retain their shape longer Staple length CRAiLAR organic fibres start out as hemp fibres of upto a metre long, which are cut to 75mm comparable to the finest cotton in the market. The longer the staple length, the softer the yarn and the finer the gauge during knitting Tensile strength Tensile strength refers to the amount of pulling a material can stand before it stretches and breaks, and speaks to the longevity of a fabric. These fibres take on the soft texture of organic cotton, but with a 40 per cent highest tensile strength Thermoregulation Garments made from the fibres retain basts thermo regulation qualities. So, it keep the wearer comfortable in any kind of weather Wicking properties The ability for a textile to disperse moisture along its surface affects its absorbency and comfort. In laboratory tests, CRAiLAR organic fibres was shown to have a wicking capability of 2.5 inches in three minutes, as compared to the average of three inches in three minutes for other textiles materials Fabric produced using CRAiLAR technology resulted in a 50 per cent reduction in shrinkage, 45-per cent increase in tensile strength, and 20 per cent reduction in dye uptake. The fabric also exhibited wicking capabilities.

Flax/Hemp fibre
Requires only regular rainfall Faster growing, high-yielding crop Faster growing, high-yielding crop Flax is widely cultivated around the world. Hemp has restrictions Hardy. Shades out weeds and has fewer natural insect enemies. No or little chemical fertilizer or pesticide input Test fabrics (20 per cent CRAiLAR and 80 % cotton yarns) used conventional cottonspinning equipment and existing infrastructure with the following results: Reduced shrinkage 50 per cent Increase burst strength 45 per cent Reduced dye uptake 20 per cent Demonstrated wicking capabilities

Organic fibre
Needs regular irrigation

Top producing countries (India, Turkey, Syria, Tanzania) located in warm climate Widely cultivated around the world Requires more attentive cultivation. No or little chemical fertilizer or pesticide input

Comparison of properties with other fibres

CRAiLAR flax is soft like cotton, has a similar colour, possesses similar performance traits and is cool and comfortable to wear year-round, with the strength, moisture-wicking properties and shrink-resistance of sturdy bast fibres. This flax and cotton look the same, fit the same and wash the same. Still, CRAiLAR flax fibres shrink less than cotton fibres do, wick moisture better, and have increased dye uptake meaning they take less chemicals to reach the same colour levels.
Natural NonReneraw petroleum wable materials based CARiLAR fibre Organic cotton Conventional cotton Conventional hemp Rayon Linen Wool Silk Acetate Polyester Nylon Carbon No No No Organic Non Energy Soft rich irrigation chemical chemical processing polluting efficient fertilisers pesticides processing processing Abso- Durable Breatrbent hable Shrink Colour- Recyc- Bioderesistant fast lable gradable



Reduced environmental impact

Bast fibres has always been one of the most sustainable, renewable, environmentally sounds crops in existence- requiring no irrigation, chemicals or pesticides to thrive. While CRAiLAR fibres are strong and durable like petroleumbased synthetics theyre made from earth-friendly flax or hemp. The organic fibres story is also green from beginning to end. The process is no polluting and consumes a less energy and water than it makes to make other natural fibres or petroleum based synthetic ones. The processing chemicals used within the process have been approved for use as textile auxiliary agents according to the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). GOTS approved inputs are screened for prohibited toxic chemicals such as aromatic solvents, heavy metals or fluorocarbons as well as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). According to NAT, the CRAiLAR process can also be used with the stalk portion of the oilseed flax plant, traditionally cultivated for food and industrial applications, which would normally be discarded during processing. The company adds that making use of this by-product, in addition to processing fibre-variety flax, further enhances the sustainability factor. All of this makes CRAiLAR organic fibres truly eco-desirable.

Hanesbrands Inc. signed a 10-year supply agreement of the fibre Westex Inc., the premier manufacturer of flame resistant and arc rated protective clothing fabrics, is also doing product development with the flax fibre. Westex products used in electrical maintenance, electric and gas utilities, oil, gas, petrochemical, chemical, military, and ferrous metals industries Cintas, leading uniform brand in the US, is also using the fibre for their product categories as CRAiLAR flax fibre can increase durability and longevity of the uniform due to the tensile strength of CRAiLAR. In addition, the fibres ability to wick moisture provides users of Cintas uniforms a more comfortable uniform to wear in hot summer months.

The recent run up in cotton prices has opened up opportunities to promote other natural fibres for various textile and apparel uses. Flax is a cost-effective raw material for fibre production. And new CRAiLAR/cotton-blend alternative has arrived to help textile makers manage the unpredictability of weather-sensitive raw cotton supply and oil price-dependent synthetic fibre costs. These fibres are the foundation of the first truly sustainable yarn in the apparel industry, and are poised to become the revolutionary next step in sustainable fibres, providing an economically sustainable complement to cotton

Uses and applications

Thanks to its ability to enhance the performance characteristics of natural bast fibres, CRAiLAR is anticipated to gain adoption and use in textile, home furnishings, industrial energy, medical and composite material applications. It can be used in both mainstream and alternative apparel and fashion fabrics. Potential applications for CRAiLAR flax fibre include denim, work wear, sportswear, knitwear, bed and bath, disposable drapes, and gowns.

Brands using CRAiLAR fibre products

Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco, is developing cotton/CRAiLAR flax denim and non-denim fabrics and is testing blends containing upto 50 per cent CRAiLAR flax

CRAiLAR flax fibre is cut to staple lengths that can be blended with cotton and spun on traditional cotton spinning systems.

Soft, white CRAiLAR organic fibres can be blended with cotton for numerous apparel applications By Vasant R Kothari, Assistant Professor, NIFT, Bangalore (Author can be contacted @