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The growing of hemp as a commercial crop has recently been legalised in Queensland, Australia and I am working with a group of 12 other fibre artists on a collaborative exhibition of artworks produced from this fibre. This project is jointly supported by our Dept. of Primary Industries and Arts Queensland.
The members of  the group have all made paper and paper pulp objects from hemp - both from bast fibre and from 'sliver' which is a more highly processed form of the fibre with bark and extraneous material removed. I can say that the paper is not harsh or scratchy - in fact it is remarkably soft and pliable. 
The hemp fibres are long, strong and difficult to process - hence the need for a Hollander beater, but they can be hand beaten if you have the patience. I have found this takes much more time and effort than other bast fibres such as kozo and gampi. The sliver is much easier to process than the bast fibre.
On a less bookish note, we have also been spinning and weaving hemp fibres, and I have found working with the hemp sliver to be very like working with flax, and the resulting thread is very strong. The hemp takes dyes very well. 

We were able to get access to a range of hemp fabrics - from fine soft, silk-like fabrics to heavy canvas, and I can say that hemp fabric is not necessarily scratchy or harsh.
At the moment I am plying together hemp 'singles' - very fine single ply thread we have bought commercially. I intend to dye and use the two ply threads I produce for embroidery on hemp cloth and for binding books. Unfortunately as I spin the threads I am aware that they are not smooth, but contain small knobs and imperfections. Since this is a commercial product produced in a spinning mill I imagine this is a quiality of the hemp fibre, not the quality of the spinning process. For this reason I think the resulting thread will not be suitable for fine bookbinding, although I'm going to try it. If you are thinking of using hemp thread for books then it might be a good idea to test it by running it through your fingers testing for these small imperfections first.

I'm not an expert on the technicalities of hemp, but there are many web sites that will give all the information needed about genus, uses, strength etc. All the literature I have read says hemp is a very robust and strong fibre and hemp products should last.

Judy Barrass

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