Although bamboo has been around for centuries, bamboo textiles are relatively new. Bamboo is a readily available, renewable resource as it grows extremely fast and requires no pesticides. It also does not need to be replanted once it is harvested.
There are two different types of bamboo fiber produced: bast bamboo and viscose type bamboo. The bast bamboo process is very similar to the retting process used for flax production. The bast bamboo fiber looks and feels like linen, hemp and ramie. I was unable to find this type of bamboo yarn in the market place, but you can certainly spin your own bamboo yarn from the bast bamboo fiber.
The viscose type bamboo, or regenerated cellulose bamboo fiber, is the bamboo most people are familiar with. The production process is similar to paper production. The bamboo is ground into a pulp and then extruded. This yarn has the next to skin comfort that bamboo (viscose type) yarn in known for.
Today, bamboo fibers and yarns are readily available for the spinning and knitting community. The extremely soft hand and drape make this a very desirable yarn to wear. Bamboo is also cool to the touch and comfortable to wear in warmer weather. This gives the spinner and knitter another fiber choice for summer knitting.
With summer approaching, I decided that I would dye our Shanghai Bamboo (100% viscose type) yarn. I started with a smaller project and knit a summer lace scarf. The scarf is a perfect summer weight; it doesn’t look bulky or heavy but does keep your neck warm on those cool summer nights or in overly air conditioned restaurants. The scarf was a success, so I ventured onto a vest (Bamboo Ladder Vest, pattern available in next post). The vest is very comfortable in warm weather and gracefully drapes over a sleeveless tank top covering my not-so-well-muscled arms without adding extra warmth. I am currently working on a simple T-shirt style sweater.
Dyeing Bamboo (viscose type) Yarn
I chose the Cushing Direct Dyes for dyeing my bamboo yarn and followed the directions found here.
In summary, I started by soaking the skeins in warm water. I dissolved the dye in a separate pot with 1 cup of boiling water. I then filled my dye pot and allowed the water to simmer. Next I added the previously dissolved dye and 4 ounces of salt for every pound of yarn I was dyeing. My dye pot was finally ready for my yarn! I simmered my yarn for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure I was getting an even color.
The last step is to seal in the color. I used Retayne which is a product that fixes the dye to the yarn to prevent color bleeding during washing. This product is available online and is also found in quilting shops. I used 1 tsp of Retayne for the 2 skeins of bamboo yarn in a tub of hot water for 30 minutes. This was the last step in the dye process.
The process of dyeing bamboo with direct dyes is very similar to the dye process of acid dyes on wool. One notable difference is the weight of the yarn when it is wet. The bamboo yarn is a pulp product so the cellular structure promotes the retention of water, the yarn is heavier than a comparable size skein of wool. This also contributes to the slower drying time of the yarn. Bamboo yarn and fiber dries very slowly and when the yarn is dry it has a hard feel until you start working with it. The yarn will soften up and drape beautifully. I would recommend smaller sized skeins for easier handling. I used 245 yd skeins for the Ladder Vest.