Everything to Know About Bamboo Yarn

everything to know about bamboo yarn


As the world's fastest growing plant, bamboo is a naturally occurring resource with a plethora of practical applications. It can be manipulated into becoming most anything; fabric now as one of them. With a late start in its history, bamboo yarn has finally come to be, via bamboo's intrinsic nature within a civilization in need of sustainability. This article covers the historical background of bamboo textiles coming to fruition, as well as the developmental process bamboo undergoes in order to be strung into yarn. Subsequently, the best practices of bamboo yarn usage will be revealed, as well as its inherent traits, followed by a list of the drawbacks of using bamboo for clothing.


textile depicting a colorful samurai holding a hat made from woven bamboo

For almost 150 years, bamboo textiles struggled to be a forerunner in the manufacturing world. For hundreds of years prior, one of the few ways bamboo was used to make garments was by stripping the wood and fashioning it into a hat by weaving (as seen in picture above). There had been many attempts to re-purpose bamboo into a fiber functional enough to make cloth. The initial patents for turning bamboo into a textile occurred back in 1864 by a man named Philip Lichtenstadt, who envisioned a unique method to expand the uses of this ever-useful plant (4). In the patent, it is explained how he wanted to create a "new and helpful procedure for disintegrating the fiber of bamboo so that it might be utilized as a part of the manufacturing cordage, cloth, tangles, or pulp of paper (1). Following the patent approval, bamboo never really manifested into a product which could be mass produced as a workable fabric. Not until 1881 did another patent bring about the notion of using wool with bamboo to create cloth. Yet, due to expensive costs from equipment and other processes, such as transporting, the sought-after production of bamboo textiles still did not stick as anticipated.

It took another century before Bamboo clothing even became a thing. In the year 2001, Beijing University found a way of configuring the process of making fabric out of bamboo (3). Mixed with modern bleaching compounds, finally bamboo was set to be sold commercially across the world. Since that point in time, bamboo textiles have paved the way for several new innovations in fiber mixing processes, such as more advanced rayon methods.

It is hard to say exactly what caused the slow development of bamboo as an available textile. One critical explanation, as to the causation of bamboo fibers only garnering traction recently, may be due to the overpowering domination of the cotton industry, which had existed long before it, along with the current social movement of pressing for sustainable resources.


man tying together bamboo bundles

There are two different processes in which bamboo fibers are manufactured: mechanically and chemically. The mechanical process entails mashing up the part of the plant comprised of wood, then adding in natural enzymes to create a mushy mixture. This mass is then sifted through to comb out the natural fibers to then spin into yarn. Most yarn is not made this mechanical way, due to it being time-consuming, laborious, and costly.

Typically, chemical production is the method most commonly used to comprise bamboo textiles. Through the use of the viscose process, hydrolysis is performed. Essentially, the bamboo shoots and leaves are cooked in chemical solvents, then pushed through a sieve, where it is placed in a chemical bath, in which it hardens and forms into strands. This is then followed by a multi-stage bleaching process. The chemical methodology for creating fibers is considered a "rayon," which is oftentimes also seen in the formation of cotton (2).


woman smiling while crocheting colorful bamboo yarn baskets

The best D.I.Y. projects to make out of bamboo yarn are items designated for warmer weather. Bamboo yarns come in most every weight category, which means it can be applied to almost any knitting or crochet works imaginable. Ideal projects to create with bamboo yarn would be any sort of top, especially a tunic or a dress. The reason for this is explained later in this article. Other wonderful options to consider making are sweaters, shawls, shrugs, and socks.

Creating items with bamboo yarn is best done with bamboo needles, seeing as bamboo can have a tendency to slip and even fray with other types of needles. Bamboo needles are the best to offset these issues in general with any type of yarn. One thing to note is bamboo yarn is heavier in its nature, therefore the yardage will typically be shorter than other yarns of the same weight and gram size.


woman knitting with bamboo yarn with her feet in a pool

Bamboo yarn has a great amount of natural features to it, all of which make it superior to other types of yarn. Below is a summarized list of its features:

Hypoallergenic. Due to it not being a byproduct processed from an animal, there is a much lower likelihood of allergic reactions from the wearer of fabricated projects.
Antibacterial. Bamboo is anti-fungal in nature, therefore any clothing comprised mainly of bamboo will be odor-resistant.
UV-Protectant. The natural fibers act as a resistor to the sun, making it one of the best types of yarn to combat the summer sun.
Breathable. Naturally, it is a fiber that allows for air to circulate through easily.
Absorbent. Permeable, water will evaporate from it into the air. It wicks moisture away at a rapid rate.
Anti-static. Very unlikely to cling from static electricity.
Slippery. It is not likely that is will felt, keeping distinctly nice patterns in works.
Elastic. Regularly, contains about 20% elasticity, reducing the need to have additive synthetic stretching compounds as other yarns need.
Shiny. Has a luster similar to mercerized cotton.
Soft. Oftentimes softer than silk!
Machine washable. As long as a delicate cycle is used, it will hold up nicely.
Eco-friendly. Biodegradable, which means it will decompose eventually. Also, bamboo crops are ideal, due to its rapid development and ability to reduce atmospheric gasses.


mess of different yarns mixed together

Bamboo is undoubtedly a wonderful resource to use for yarn. But with anything, there will always be certain characteristics to be weary of, and using bamboo yarn is no exception to the rule. Here are a few tips to know ahead of time before considering using bamboo yarn for a project to refrain from feeling bamboozled.

Heavy. This yarn has a lot of natural weight to it; therefore it is more likely to sag over time like how cotton does. Also, keep in mind because of this, any knitted item will be naturally longer than expected when following a pattern. After washing, dry flat to avoid it becoming elongated from hanging.
Delicate. It is known for not having the best fiber cohesion. When wet, it the strands will lose its strength and be more likely to be damaged. The best thing to avoid splitting is to hand-wash the material to prevent it catching on something.
Chemically unsound. Due to the chemical process of how it is made, bamboo yarn isn't as good for the environment as it seems. Although using bamboo materials has countless benefits to the environment compared to others, the chemicals used to make bamboo yarn do pose an unwanted threat to ecosystems.


Need to try bamboo yarn out for yourself?
Here's a great place to find some


1. Lichtenstadt, P., Verification of Bamboo Fibre, US Patent & Trademark Office, 1864

2. Rose, C. (2008). Have you been bamboozled by bamboo? Retrieved from https://coralrose.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/02/have-you-been-b.html

3. Smith, S. (2011). What is bamboo fabric? Foster, N. (Ed.). Retrieved from http://www.wiseGEEK.com

4. Waite, M. (2009). Sustainable textiles: the role of bamboo and a comparison of bamboo textile properties. Journal of Textiles, and Apparel Technology and Management, 6(2), 1-21

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