As hand spinners, we are very fortunate to have a wide selection of fibers available to us. One that has a great deal of potential as both a blended fiber, or used exclusively is bamboo. Like most natural hand-spinning fibers, bamboo is a renewable resource. However, because it is trendy, some of the processes used to extract the fibers has been overlooked. The processs of extracting the fiber requires the use of dangerous chemicals, and creates a tremendous strain on the environment. Yet bamboo is being touted as the latest "eco-friendly" fiber?
Why is it that only the trendy fibers are being labeled as “green”? Come on spinners, we were green before green was cool! If you think about it, most spinning fibers are harvested at least annually, which depending on how many fleeces I get in a year, is far faster than I can use them. I have also found that fiber farmers are far more environmentally conscious than most.
When it comes to spinning, I would have to compare bamboo, like many other spinners do, to silk. It adds luster to wools when blended. However, it does not add elasticity, or memory to camelid fiber, so I would still add wool to the camelid fiber in addition to the bamboo. An advantage to using bamboo instead of silk is that it is less likely to form kemps in the carder as the staple length is usually about two and a half inches. I recently blended 73 percent alpaca with 14 percent Shetland wool, and 13 percent bamboo. The results were fantastic. Not to say that the alpaca and wool weren’t special in their own way, but once the bamboo was added, it became something very special.
When spinning bamboo alone, it is a very slippery fiber, which I found to be a benefit as a primarily long draft spinner. The fibers draft almost effortlessly, and create very fine yarn that is consistent. I added a bit more twist than I would with protein fibers, just to be sure of good fiber contact. I am thinking of using the straight bamboo yarn as a weft in my table loom, but I’m sure it would also be more than suitable as a warp yarn. Now, I just need to decide to which weaving project am I going to add it.
Another interesting result that I was able to dye the blended roving mentioned above using an acid dye, so the protein fibers, alpaca and wool, took up the dye. The bamboo, being a plant fiber did not take the dye, instead it sparkles white among the dyed fiber yielding a spectacular result.