American Flag Project

Ongeleigh Underwood

The Kentucky hemp project started well over a year ago, when the Federal Farm Bill passed and legalized the experimental growth of hemp in the United States for the first time in well over 80 years. The US is a leading consumer of hemp products, and now there is hope that we can become self-reliant instead of import from China, Canada, and Australia for supply. Over time the US hemp economy will become a regional one, where domestic profits will be reinvigorated into the taxation system of its homeland, and therefore go to benefit those who work in it.

Hemp is used for it's seeds, its oil, its fiber, and fiber biproducts for everything from food to apparel to automotive interiors to farm bedding and feed. It's hearty nature and voracious appetite for growth allows it to be grown in a range of climates, without the use of pesticides, herbicides or additional irrigation. Selective planting sites can also be evaluated for the bioremedation of areas of the country where mountain top removal has decimated the geography, pumping life back into a dark and bleak shale landscape.

But this is a story not about the re-emergence and growth of the crop, or the politics or science behind it. It is a story about how artisans across Tennessee and Kentucky are rallying together for the creation of the first American-grown hemp flag since the days of George Washington, when the original flag was created from the fiber. Replicating our nations history through such a significant medium weighs on all of us. The process is tedious and each artisan has a responsibility to their own piece of the process as well as to each other.

We are going back in time, working as communities used to work with fibers through small scale farming, field retting, hand spinning, natural dyeing, loom weaving, hand stitching and finishing. We are a single unit, working together over a fiber landscape that is slowly loosing its place in this world.  There are unforeseen challenges and opportunities along the way that multiply as they work their way down the designated path. Where single humans replace industrial machines, there is bound to be variation and diversity – elements that are slowly woven into this cloth that will become a series of American flags. It is the evidence that each part of the process, each struggle, each interaction, reminds us that we are merely humans, working together as we have for centuries, weaving together our social fabric.  

We worked as a part of this project to dye the yarn in madder root and indigo, just as our ancestors had done. Watch this video that was produced by Patagonia (project sponsor through Fibershed) to learn more.