Seeking Nettle Textiles–Utilizing a Combination of Microscopic Methods for Fibre Identification

Jenni A. Suomela*, Krista Vajanto, Riikka Räisänen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
216 Downloads (Pure)


Bast fibres have been commonly used as a textile material in Northern Europe since Neolithic times. However, the process of identifying the different species has been problematic, and many important questions related to their cultural history are still unanswered. For example, a modified Herzog test and the presence of calcium oxalate crystals have both been used in identification. In order to generate more reliable results, further research and advancement in multi-methodological methods is required. This paper introduces a combination of methods which can be used to identify and distinguish flax (Linum usitatissimum), hemp (Cannabis sativa), and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). The research material consisted of reference fibres and 25 fibre samples obtained from 12 textiles assumed to be made of nettle. The textiles were from the Finno-Ugric and Historical Collections of The National Museum of Finland. The fibre samples were studied by observing the surface characteristics and cross sections with transmitted light microscopy, and by using a modified Herzog test with polarized light, in order to identify the distinguishable features in their morphological structures. The study showed that five out of 25 samples were cotton, 16 nettle, one flax, and one hemp. Findings from two samples were inconsistent. The results show that it is possible to distinguish common north European bast fibres from each other by using a combination of microscopic methods. Furthermore, by utilizing these combined methods, new and more reliable information could be obtained from historical ethnographic textiles, which creates new vistas for the interpretation of their cultural history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-422
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in Conservation
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • bast fibre
  • cross section
  • Fibre identification
  • flax
  • hemp
  • nettle
  • optical microscopy
  • polarized light microscopy


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