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DIY: Softening Plant Fibers with Coconut Oil

DIY: Softening Plant Fibers with Coconut Oil

Posted by : Mary Wutz   /  

One of the challenges with using truly sustainable plant fibers are that they are not initially soft to the touch. “Truly sustainable” meaning not using any chemicals at all in the processing or the production of the fiber. There are two ways that describe how a plant is processed into a fiber: Mechanical and Chemical Processing.

Mechanical processing is done mostly by hand with natural enzymes to break the plant fibers down so that they can be spun into yarn. This process is used in the production of linen from flax or hemp and also in the production of fiber from the nettle plant.

Bamboo fabric made from this process is sometimes called bamboo linen, which is not the same bamboo fiber that is used by most brands. The majority of clothing companies utilize chemically processed bamboo, as mechanically processed bamboo is more labor intensive and costly- not to mention softer.

Chemically manufactured fibers like bamboo are generally cooked in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, which have both been linked to serious health problems. Sodium hydroxide is one of the major ingredients of Drano.

In the fashion industry the practice of utilizing fibers made from plants can be wonderfully beneficial for the planet. However, the manufacturing processes, where plants are transformed into fabric, are where the sustainability and eco-friendly appeal can be tainted.

These chemicals are not considered sustainable or environmentally friendly, yet many companies still label their clothing as such if they are made from plant fibers without chemicals.

If you see a label for a sustainable plant-based fabric and it feels a little stiff, chances are it’s the real thing. If you see a label for a sustainable plant-based fabric and its soft, chances are it’s been chemically processed.

We are proud to be using and supporting a rich tradition of making fiber from plants without the use of chemicals (or machines for that matter). Nettle fiber, like natural linen or hemp, will soften with wear. The fibers need to be “broken-in” just like those favorite pair of cotton jeans that were once new (before synthetic fibers with stretch were added to the mix).

In the meantime, treating plant fibers with coconut oil is a great way to soften them until they are broken-in from wear.

  1. Fill a tub with warm/hot soapy water (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit as coconut oil liquifies at 76 degrees) 
  2. Add a little coconut oil to the water ( 2tbsp/1 gallon water works, but you can add more if you'd like)
  3. Gently massage fiber for a few minutes in coconut oil water.
  4. Rinse well and put into shape to dry

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