A pair of knickers made of stinging nettle fibre is part of a UK government-funded scheme to show off new uses for one of Britain’s least-loved plants. The nettle, which has its sting removed before being used for cloth, is being promoted as an environmentally friendly, hard-wearing alternative to cotton, whose farmers use 25% of the world’s pesticides.
Other uses which have been found for nettles under the Sting Project, being run at De Montfort University, Leicester, include curtains, chair covers and uniforms.
Ray Harwood, professor of textile engineering at De Montfort and head of the Sting Project, said: Nettle fibres are very strong and hardy which does not make them ideal for clothing. But we have had a lot of commercial interest in nettle fabrics for use as furniture covers and curtains and also for uniforms, which need to be tough and durable.
Nettles, flax and hemp were all commonly used fabrics hundreds of years ago but their use dwindled after cotton became widely available in the 17th century. Now nettles are regarded as more of a weed and a nuisance, although their leaves are occasionally made into soup.
The interest in nettles and other alternative fabrics has been renewed partly because of fears of a worldwide shortage of cotton with booming demand in China and India.
De Montfort University
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