They don’t call bamboo yarn “vegan silk” for nothing. This plant-based fibre has the lustre, softness, drape and wonderful hand that are signature characteristics of silk – one of the most precious fibres of all times.
We get all those benefits without using any animal fibre and without a hefty price tag (even though the bamboo yarn is not the cheapest one, it is by far more affordable than silk).
The absence of animal fibre is not only important to those of us who intentionally stay away from animal products. It is also perfect for people who are allergic to protein-based fibres like wool.
For everyone who is conscious about the impact of the textile industry on our planet, here is some good news – the bamboo plant is an amazing type of grass that grows and re-grows fast, does not require watering, absorbs carbon dioxide while producing more oxygen than trees and prevents the soil erosion (a substantial side effect of cotton farming).
Of course, it takes a complicated process to turn a strong bamboo plant into a soft fibre called bamboo rayon. That process involves chemicals and that is usually bad for the Mother Earth. Thankfully, some manufacturers do it as a closed-loop process when chemicals and water are re-used and very little to none gets leaked into the soil.
With more and more designers using eco-friendly fabrics produced in a sustainable way (thank you, Stella McCartney!) more and more textile factories are pushed to look for ways to be gentle to the planet. That’s a good reason to hope that soon all bamboo rayon will be manufactured sustainably.
I couldn’t find any solid research that proves that bamboo yarn has antibacterial properties, but from my experience of wearing bamboo knits for many years, I can tell that even on the hottest of days a bamboo top doesn’t get stinky. Apparently, the claims that bamboo fibre is not friendly to bacteria are at least somewhat true.
Another argument for knitting summer tops with bamboo yarn is the fact that this fibre easily absorbs a lot of moisture, so you won’t feel sweaty in bamboo even if you live in a hot climate.
To prove it, I ran an experiment. I made two swatches – one with cotton and one with bamboo yarn.
Then I took two plates and poured a quarter cup of water on each plate. I placed the cotton swatch on one of those plates and the bamboo swatch on the other one.
Within moments, it became clear that the swatch made with bamboo yarn got soaked and sank to the bottom of the plate, while the cotton swatch was still floating on the surface of the mini-puddle.
Well, I guess we’ve established the fact that bamboo yarn is amazing and definitely deserves more attention from the crafting community. It is much softer than cotton, its lustre and drape turn even the simplest project into an elegant creation and it feels terrific against the skin.
The properties of bamboo yarn that provide these fantastic benefits are also responsible for creating additional issues for us, knitters.
Here’s what we have to be aware of when knitting with bamboo yarn:
Bamboo yarn is heavy. Weight creates a beautiful drape but it also means that a top or a sweater will become longer as we start wearing it.
To avoid this pitfall, it is better to let the project hang as you measure it while it is still on the needles. If you are making a top-down sweater, put the sweater-in-progress on a hanger and place that hanger on a doorknob. Then take the measuring tape and see whether your sweater is as long as it should be.
If you are knitting a sweater with a bottom-up construction, align the zero mark on the measuring tape with the row that is at the bottom of the needle. Then carefully grab the measuring tape and the work with your left hand, lift the work and let it hang. Gently press the measuring tape to the bottom edge of the fabric to see how long your project is.
Because the bamboo yarn is heavier than cotton and wool, it usually has less yardage. For example, bamboo yarn in DK weight (usually marked by digit 3 on the yarn label) has around 100 meters (109 yards) in 50 grams (1.7 ounces).
Cotton yarn of the same thickness will have around 130 meters (142 yards) in the same 50 grams (1.7 ounces). Wool yarn is even lighter and it would have around 150 meters (164 yards) in 50 grams (1.7 ounces).
If you use a pattern designed for cotton or wool, make sure you have enough yardage of bamboo yarn. When you shop for yarn, don’t look at the number of balls recommended in the pattern, look at the yardage.
Bamboo yarn is glossy. This attribute adds to its softness and lustre but it also makes this yarn slippery. Slippery stitches could become uncontrollable when we use metal needles.
To avoid the frustration of constantly picking dropped stitches, use bamboo or wooden needles. Plastic needles will also work well.
Once you finish a bamboo garment and start wearing it, it definitely becomes your favourite 🙂 It means that you’ll need to wash it once in a while. It is good to know that a project made with bamboo yarn can be washed in a washing machine on a delicate cycle.
You can even wash it on a normal cycle, but in this case, the project will shrink by about 10%. This feature is useful if your garment turned out to be a bit bigger than you expected. Just wash it on a normal cycle and it will shrink enough to fit you better.
When it comes to drying garments made with bamboo yarn, do not hang them to dry unless you want to make them longer. Because this fibre is heavy, the length of the bamboo fabric increases a lot when it is hung to dry.
If you don’t want the gravity to turn your cropped top into a tunic, place the project on a towel and dry it flat. As we already know, bamboo yarn easily absorbs and holds the moisture, so it can take a while for a bamboo piece to dry. To speed up the process, first, dry it on a delicate cycle in a dryer and then place the half-dried piece on towels and let it dry completely.
I am a big fan of bamboo yarn. I’ve been knitting with it for years and most of my summer tops and light sweaters are made with this gorgeous fibre. I used it to make the Sideways Sweater and the Facile Sweater and I know that once we understand how to deal with bamboo yarn, it is a great joy to work with it and a pure pleasure to wear garments made with this fibre known as “vegan silk”.
While working on this article I used information from the following resources:
Bamboo Fiber, Bamboo Textile, Interesting Bamboo Facts, Materials and innovation | Stella McCartney, Roadmap Towards Responsible Viscose & Modal Fibre Manufacturing, Sustainable Textiles: the Role of Bamboo and a Comparison of Bamboo Textile Properties.
I also used tips outlined in a blog post that I wrote for the Knitca yarn company several years ago.
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Here are a few more things you might like:
- Learn Russian knitting style to knit faster and more efficient with minimal strain to your wrists.
- Make lots of colourful projects using patchwork knitting technique and 36 patterns for blankets and pillows.
- Knit simple socks and top-down hats in any size with any yarn.
- Download 23 tutorials published in 2017, 42 tutorials published in 2018 and 53 tutorials published in 2019.
- Join the All Tutorials Club 2020 and don’t miss a single tutorial published in 2020.
- Make a flattering Sideways Sweater or a super easy Facile Sweater.
- Or, knit a reversible beanie and cowl duo and comfortable Sneaker Socks for everyone in your family.
Happy knitting 🙂