Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


Until the 1900s, hemp was one of four traditional textile fibers in Korea, the others being cotton, ramie, and silk. The production of hemp fabrics had traditionally been for family use, but since the 1950s, that tradition has ceased to exist. The present status of hemp production is, therefore, extremely limited to the rural regions, and practiced by only a small number of the elderly (fig. 1). Of the approximately thirteen hemp cultivation regions (fig. 2), the city of Andong developed a different technique in hemp fiber-making from the rest of the regions and this paper will cover hemp fabric production, concentrating on the traditional way of fiber making in Andong as well as how hemp fabric was used in the past and being used presently in Korea. Lastly, the future of Korean hemp will be discussed.

Sambe, hemp cloth in Korean, was used for everyday summer wear by farmers and their servants. Women of the middle class also made summer clothing and sanitary napkins in hemp fabrics as part of their dowries. Noble families, however, never wore hemp clothing, even in hot summers.

Because hemp cloth was the coarsest and thickest of the fabrics produced in Korea, it was chosen for funeral wear and that became its main use. (figure 3) The origin of hemp fabrics worn as funeral wear may be found in A.D. 936, from a legend that the son of the last king of the Sila dynasty (B.C.57-A.D. 935) fled to the mountains and wore hemp clothing to show his grief for the rest of his life. As mourning dress, hemp fabrics were worn for three months to two years, the length of time determined by the relationship of the wearer to the deceased. Children experienced feelings of “shame” and “guilt,” as well as grief, when confronted with the loss of a parent, even if that parent had led a long life. Wearing hemp clothing was a symbolic act intended to “pay” for this loss and to compensate for the fact that the children had outlived their parents. This funeral rite regulation was strengthened by Confucian influence that was nationally spread since the fourteen century.