One of the definitions of “bamboozled” is to be perplexed or confused by something. Have you been bamboozled by Bamboo fabrics? There is a lot of misinformation out there about Bamboo fabrics. Let us help you clear the confusion and help to give you a Solid Foundation in the art of working with this wonderful fabric.
First of all, Bamboo is not considered a fabric. That’s right. Bamboo is not recognized as an official fabric. It falls under the category of Rayon fabrics. That’s the general catch-all bucket for any fabric made from plant sources. Only cotton, linen and hemp are legally able to say “100%” on their labels, because they are not transformed – just cleaned and carded to make yarn. All other plant sources are actually man-made (with chemicals added to break down the plant fibre) so must use the term Rayon. So all Bamboo fabrics are Rayon, but not all rayon fabrics are bamboo. Bamboo dyes and holds vibrant colours and prints well, as you can see here.
A manufacturer cannot say “100% bamboo” (that’s actually illegal). What they CAN say is “100% rayon derived from Bamboo” or something to that effect. This is important to know because you may turn down fabrics that are labelled as Rayon which ARE made from Bamboo. The place you buy your fabric should be able to tell you what plant source the rayon is made from. It may even be a blend of cotton and Bamboo fibres or Bamboo and Rayon from other plant sources. You can read more about Bamboo labelling here.
Most fabrics made from Bamboo are extremely drapey, almost liquid. Because they come from a natural plant source, they are warm in winter and cool in summer. The downside of this wonderful fabric is its tendency to shrink when washed. You can circumvent this natural tendency by pre-washing the un-sewn fabric in hot water and drying it in the dryer. You will be pre-shrinking it in one go. No need to be hand-washing! I have made several bamboo knit tops and I throw them all in the washer and dryer now. They have never shrunk any more than they did in the pre-shrinking. By contrast, my friend Judy did not pre-shrink the fabric (“Don’t worry, I’ll hand-wash this, Beverly”) and her top (identical to mine) shrunk 3 sizes when it was accidentally put in the regular wash by her husband. Poor man!
Don’t let pre-shrinking scare you away from working with bamboo! Once you pre-shrink, you have nothing to fear. Nonetheless, there are tricks to working with Bamboo. One trick I use every time is to use spray starch to keep the fabric from curling up. Bamboo or any other pre-washed stretch fabric will tend to curl toward the right side of the fabric when it is being cut out. Just give it a shot of spray starch (or spray sizing) and it will lay down and behave. Let it dry, then press it without stretching the fabric. It will stiffen up enough that you can work with it easily.
Now, you may ask…what if I am sensitive to spray starch or I cannot find it in my area? Well, don’t laugh but…a few of our Design team staff have used an age-old alternative to spray starch. That is one part vodka to 2 parts water, mixed in a spray bottle. Just spray it on and let it dry, then press it without stretching the fabric. It will stiffen up slightly due to the potato/corn/wheat or rye starch in the vodka.
To sew bamboo rayon fabrics, I use a fine needle, usually a stretch 75 (that’s my go-to needle for stretch knits). I almost always use a serger to sew seams on bamboo. However, if you don’t have one, you can use a straight stitch length 2.4-2.6 mm and pull the seam very slightly as you sew. This pulling of the seam will allow the seam to stretch as you wear the garment. If you don’t pull the seam a bit, the seam may pop when worn.
To sew elastic on rayon, the same rules apply as when sewing on any other fabric. Keep the edges aligned (pin if necessary) and slow surely and steadily. You will find that the bamboo co-operates quite nicely. I do tend to pin bamboo fabrics, especially along long seams so don’t feel guilty if you do too.
Bamboozled by bamboo – no more!