Masters student research in Cultural Materials


Grasping the nettle: Ancient fibres for the future?

MA Cultural Materials students explore our relationship with plant fibers



A single plant fibre, cotton, accounts for 50% of all our clothing. Humanity has developed an addiction to this fibre and its environmental impact is devastating.

Irrigation for cotton production in central Asia has led to the desertification of the Aral Sea as the production of 1kg of cotton (approx. 1 T-shirt and jeans) can take up to 20 tonnes of water!

As part of the module AAP6082 Experimental Archaeology, Cultural Materials students at The Department of Archaeology Sheffield are exploring humanity’s changing relationships with plant fibres.

In times past we relied on a much more diverse range of plant fibres such as nettle, flax and hemp.

These grew locally and did not require fossil fuels for global transport nor intensive chemical refining processes.

Although we often imagine past fashions as crude variations on a hessian sack, archaeological evidence shows that these fibres could be used to produce finely tailored multi-coloured garments.

Through better understanding the selective strategies involved in ancient clothing along with the working properties of fibres and processes of production Cultural Materials students hope to reinvigorate some interest in these materials.

There local availability and relatively low carbon footprint fibres are already being used for furnishing and may offer potential for future fashion wear.

Students processing nettle fibres

Students processing nettle fibres

Students processing nettle fibres
Students processing nettle fibres Students processing nettle fibres
Students processing nettle fibres Students processing nettle fibres