Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Funky Fibers

We at Rosie’s are big fans of natural fibers – and with good reason. Among other things, natural fibers feel good to wear and they are easy on the environment. In the past few years, yarn manufacturers have begun to show interest in finding new, natural sources for making yarn. Corn, bamboo, and soy are just a few of the untraditional sources used to produce these new yarns. Some of these new fibers are already being sold as yarn; others are only available right now as fiber for handspinning.

When I think of bamboo, I think of stir-fry and pandas. But bamboo is now being used to produce yarn. And it’s really soft, silky stuff, too. Rosie’s is currently stocking Classic Elite Bam Boo, a yarn made from 100% bamboo.

The yarn is made from the stalk of bamboo grass. It has a short staple, and the plant has a quick growing cycle. The bamboo is processed in a way similar to tencel: the starchy pulp of the plant is processed, then extruded into fiber (think those plastic toys that push out Play-Doh into spaghetti). Bamboo is a renewable resource – when your crop of bamboo is used up, you can just plant another one – and the entire process is better for the environment (it takes less time to produce the pulp, less energy to process than comparable fibers like viscose, and more of the byproducts can be reused). Interestingly, bamboo fiber has natural antibacterial properties and is used to make medical supplies, like surgical clothing and masks. (But don’t expect to see knitting patterns for scrubs any time soon…)

Best of all, the end product is lovely. Bamboo yarn is very soft and feels something like silk – drapey and cool. It’s breathable, non-allergenic, takes color well (check out those colors!) and has luster. Jim is working on a wonderful vest using Classic Elite Bam Boo – check it out:

We’ll update you when he’s finished.

In addition to bamboo, you can find yarns and fiber made from soy (using the waste that comes from manufacturing tofu); ingeo, derived from corn; and milk (using the milk proteins). How about peanut shells and poultry feathers? Textile researchers at our own Philadelphia University and the USDA are now experimenting with ways to chop up these items, add heat and pressure, then extrude a fiber. And blending these new fibers with existing ones means even more new yarns and fibers to try.

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