Hemp makers have a long legacy of crafting decorative and functional home adornments. Hemp’s fibrous dexterity resisted mechanization during the agricultural revolution of the 1800s, and so hemp fell out of favor as national focus shifted to the mass production of crops like cotton. Hemp has returned to relevance, due to its myriad of current and potential uses in many industries alongside the popularity of both medicinal and recreational cannabis. Rising awareness of hemp’s durability, sustainability and function have accompanied hemp’s overdue return to home décor.
Karen Conabeare grew up in Cornwall, a fishing harbor on the southern coast of England. She spent her early years traveling the world with her mother and father, an officer in the English Merchant Navy. Beech House Studio is Conabeare’s online storefront for her craftwork inspired by the folk art of old sailors at sea.
Conabeare employs hemp, jute and manila in the Beech House home decor line, which includes both western and nautical-inspired rope rugs, doorstops, doorknobs and much more. She uses hemp, in particular, because it’s durable, easy to clean, visually appealing, and good for the environment. Hemp uses about 50 percent of the water required in cotton production and Beech House hemp is sourced from a self-sufficient homestead family farm in Vancouver, BC.
Creating Healthier Homes
Pam Wheelock owns Purrfect Play, one of the only independent pet toy stores operating in the U.S. for the last decade. Purrfect Play’s toys, collars and leashes are 100 percent organic and made in America with no synthetics, dyes or plastics. Wheelock’s dog toys are entirely made from hemp, by hand. “A dog will destroy just about anything” says Wheelock, “but hemp holds up and dogs love hemp!” Wheelock says that natural, chemical-free hemp solves an industry-wide problem: pet toys are not subject to chemical testing and produced overseas as cheaply as possible. These products, says Wheelock, inevitably leach chemicals contained in synthetic dyes and plastics into a dog’s saliva through regular use.
Wheelock’s big challenge in creating a line of hemp toys was coming up with designs that wouldn’t kill them to make. Hemp can break needles, clog machines and dull scissors in a day. Additionally, hemp is different, year to year, and even batch to batch. “Mother nature’s idea of perfection,” says Wheelock.
Spreading Whole-Plant Education
Erika Bonenfant loves cannabis and its transformative influence. “When someone walks out with a vibrant and colorful cannabis leaf or an intricately woven hemp piece” states Bonenfant, “they carry a talking point and magnet for future education about cannabis.” Bonenfant wanted to open a storefront for her hand-made cannabis crafts, but her local municipality in Augusta, Maine, barred such a cannabis-forward business idea. When it became apparent that CBD storefronts were exempt from those same regulations, she opened the KannaKraft Shop, a cannabis craft store and CBD dispensary.
The entire cannabis plant is used in the KannaKraft Shop product line, which includes hemp macramé pieces, dreamcatchers built with plant stalks as a foundation and vibrant cannabis leaves sealed in epoxy. Working with hemp, says Bonenfant, is “tough and rough, but grounding.” Hemp adds a distinctive natural flair into home decoration. It is at the same time visually iconic and also capable of enduring bumps, bruises, tears and spills.
The Pinnacle of Enduring Traditions
Jolanta Surma has woven hemp into macramé pieces for the last 35 years. “I improvise and create as I go” says Surma of her master-level craft, adding “the finished product can look very different from what I imagined in the first place.” Surma employs knotting, a robust form of weaving, to create beautiful and durable hanging works of macramé art. Macramé is typically exhibited during weddings or as a rugged, decorative element around the home. Her online storefront, Macrame Art, grants her work visibility beyond her workshop in the small town of Złotów, Poland. In 2012, her works were featured in Tim Burton’s film “Dark Shadows.”
In Poland, unlike in the U.S., high-quality hemp is widely available. Surma sources twine from local friends’ crops, nurseries and even large construction stores. North American hemp artisans generally source their hemp twine and hemp canvas from other continents, adding to the final product’s cost. North American artists lament the added costs, which they are often unwilling to pay for.
Functional and decorative hemp creations are luxury purchase items on the very fringe of affordability, rather than an everyday, locally-made alternative to mass-produced plastics. Hemp’s visibility is surging on the wave of interest in cannabis that’s crashing against America’s crumbling legacy of prohibition. Industrial hemp is increasingly recognized for its use in many forms. Unlike during the 1800s, today’s machining is more capable of processing hemp, if and when massive investment into the production of these machines takes place. At that point, the carriers of the hand-made hemp tradition will become mavens; informing the templates and prototypes of the everyday hemp crafts that adorn our homes.
Beech House Studio (Karen Conabeare) – Etsy: @BeechHouseStudio
Purrfect Play (Pam Wheelock) – WEB: purrfectplay.com
The KannaKraft Shop (Erika Bonenfant) – FB: @thekannakraftshop
Macramé Art (Jolanta Surma) – WEB: macrame-art.com