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Hemptress

Sep 23, 2016 12:28PM ● Published by Robyn Lawrence

C.J. Jorgensen crochets every chance she gets. The fiber artist and clothing designer would crochet 24/7 if she could. So when she moved from Boulder to Colorado’s Western Slope with her good friend and business partner, Bill Hayes, a couple years ago, she naturally began exploring nearby textile resources.

One day, she was given several skeins of a hemp-wool blend (or bouclé) that had been sitting in the EnviroTextiles warehouse in Grand Junction because no one could work with its uneven texture. Always up for a challenge, Jorgensen began experimenting with the tedious yarn, creating projects and tearing them apart, developing stitches to accommodate the thick-then-thin material. She fell in love with the yarn’s nubby texture and found ways to stitch it into elegant, flowing garments. Inspired by the blend, she also began playing with smoother, more workable pure hemp. Jorgensen now works almost exclusively with Cannabis sativa, and she’s carving out an edgy niche in wearable art through her company, Zen Cowgirl Studios.

 “The more I work with hemp, the more I like it,” Jorgensen says. “It shapes really nicely, and it moves and contours with the body. Hemp fiber is not as soft because it’s not processed with any synthetic fibers, but it turns out really cool designs. It’s also surprisingly lightweight. You barely know you have it on.” Inspired by her mother’s beautiful hand-knit sweaters, Jorgensen taught herself how to crochet when she was a teenager because she thought working with one crochet hook would be easier than handling two needles. She immediately became obsessed with the art and churned out sweaters, doilies, ponchos, and blankets as gifts for her large family in Georgetown, Colorado. She continued to create original pieces, often crocheting into the wee morning hours, while she built a career as a hair stylist, ran a sweet shop in Montana, and worked in sales.

“I’ve always gravitated to entrepreneurial things that give me freedom and independence,” Jorgensen says, revealing the cowgirl attitude that inspired her studio’s name. “And I’ve always felt it’s important to have some form of art in my life.”

Last year, shortly after Jorgensen began playing with hemp, she was invited to be part of Elemental Rising Fashion Show in Paonia, Colorado. She had three months to create eight items, and she set to work making dresses, ponchos, tops, and hats—all at the same time. When she couldn’t figure out where to go next with one piece, she put it down and picked

up another. As all eight pieces sat in various stages of completion, she says, “the garments took on a life of their own.” The resulting collection of timelessly sexy dresses and versatile accompaniments pairs perfectly with boots and cowboy hats (Zen Cowgirl boasts some 30 different hat designs) and could be worn to a rodeo or the opera. It was a huge hit at the fashion show.

Though she creates and works from prototypes, every piece Jorgensen makes is one of a kind. She has a vision as she begins a project, but she may find new ways to play with stitches or the pattern as it comes together. At her home studio at HCZG Ranch (so named for Hippies & Cowboys and Zen Cowgirl), Jorgensen crochets custom hemp pieces and clothing for special occasions, crafting items such as christening gowns and wedding dresses.

“I’m passionate about finding ways to help people incorporate hemp into their lifestyles. I’m very excited about being part of a whole new industry,” Jorgensen says. “I want to make clothes for the rich and famous.”

Hemp Comes Home 

Hemp {Cannabis sativa}, one of humankind’s first domestically cultivated plants, has been used to make clothing since at least 8000 BC. One of the world’s strongest and most durable textile fibers, hemp is also one of the most sustainable. One acre of hemp produces as much fiber as two to three acres of cotton, and hemp can be grown without the herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides that cotton and other textiles require.

This miraculous plant—considered so valuable that it was used as legal tender in colonial America—fell victim to prohibition when reefer madness swept the United States. Though it contains less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, hemp was outlawed alongside its psychoactive cousin as part of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

Most hemp sold in the United States today comes from China, Hungary, Thailand, Romania, Chile, and Canada. That may change as cannabis law reform sweeps the United States. Congress is considering legislation that would exclude hemp from the legal definition of marijuana, and several states—including Colorado—have legalized cultivation and research of industrial hemp. Colorado has 1,600 acres of hemp under cultivation.

Features, Lifestyle

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