Bamboo Fabric Basics
There’s a buzz in the sewing industry and in the sewing rooms of home sewers—it’s all about sewing green. We’re being introduced to the benefits of sewing with fabrics made from soy, corn, hemp, organic cotton and wool in an effort to consider environmentally responsible fabric choices. While most of us are interested in understanding more about how we can contribute to this cause, accurate information is still emerging in this relatively new industry, which has recently opened to the home sewer.
To date, most well-known designers still cling to historical preference and choose fabrics based on aesthetics (such as cotton and polyester), rather than positive environmental choices.As many new designers join the fashion scene, they are making the decision to embark on a new era of textiles and awareness of new fibers. Linda Loudermilk and Eliza Jimenez, as well as Stella McCartney,Versace and Diesel, are just a few who are using eco-friendly materials in their designs.
As the typical fiber choices used in fashion are being reconsidered, the key is to look at fiber sources that are easily renewable and use fewer toxins in the production process.
One alternative fiber that has captured the attention of designers and home sewers is bamboo. Bamboo fiber is made of cellulose that comes from woody bamboo grass. Currently, it’s only grown in Asia while the production is limited to a single company in China.There are two varieties of bamboo fiber produced. One is called bamboo linen, which is extracted directly from the jointed stems of the grass called culms.The other, and most common, is referred to as bamboo viscose. In this case, bamboo is substituted for beech as the source of raw cellulose in the production of viscose or rayon.
Bamboo grass regenerates quickly and is an abundant raw material. It can be cut and grown repeatedly in one year. But there are still some questions about whether it’s being harvested in a sustainable way and if it’s being processed without chemical additives (see “What does Green Mean?” on page 46). As this is sorted out, we’re still captivated by bamboo’s possibilities.
A common claim of bamboo’s benefits includes healthgiving properties, such as natural antibacterial and antifungal resistance, making it suitable for those who are sensitive to allergens.This claim continues to perpetuate onWeb sites and in magazine articles, but according to Kate Fletcher in Sustainable Fashion andTextiles: Design Journeys, “... cellulose is not inherently antimicrobial and there is nothing in the viscose production process that could render the fibers antimicrobial; there is little evidence for this claim.”
Be Sure to check the label when purchasing bamboo fabric.
But there are other claims that appear to be accurate. Bamboo possesses good moisture transmission, so wearing it helps reduce body odor. Bamboo fabrics drape well, much like silk, and they don’t have a discernable difference from other fabrics of a similar weight and texture. It’s virtually impossible to look at a fabric and label it “bamboo.” Bamboo fabrics are machine washable and resist wrinkling. Bamboo dyes easily, so it’s possible to produce beautiful colors not available in cotton.
Bamboo fibers are produced for woven and knitted fabrics in all weights and textures and can be combined with other fibers such as linen, silk, wool and cotton. We’re already seeing it used in bedding, bath towels and upholstery fabrics. Garment-weight fabrics are becoming more common—many of them exported from Japan in solids, prints, plain and dobby weaves, suitings and even corduroys.
Some bamboo fabrics may be a little more expensive than other natural fibers, but with the wear comfort, ease of care, beautiful drape and environmental advantages, you may find these fabrics well worth the price.
There’s been much discussion on sewing blogs and other Web forums about how to sew bamboo fabrics, but they’re sewn in exactly the same way as any other fabric.
Test a sample of bamboo fabric for shrinkage. Cut a 14” square, wash and dry, then remeasure the square.
Find out more about bamboo and purchase yardage from these sources:
Fabric Gallery, (517) 655-4573, fabricgallery.net
The Material Girls, (313) 561-1111, materialgirlquilt.com
Mulberry Silks, (919) 942-7455, mulberrysilk.net
Quilt Fans, (510) 749-6717, quiltfans.com
Waechter’s, (828) 254-5471, waechters.com
The Bamboo Fabric Store, www.bamboofabricstore.com
Bamboo Textile Store, www.bambootextilestore.com
Hart’s Fabric, (831) 423-5434, www.hartsfabric.com
Wazoodle Fabrics, (905) 294-1390, www.wazoodle.com
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