I know it's not a fibre that people have traditionally used for knitting, but I've just ordered my first own-label consignment of bamboo yarn. It's all very exciting. I wanted to create something for summer in a sustainable fabric. Variegated yarns seem to be very in at the moment, and they also happen to be one of my favourites, so I've worked with a textile mill to produce a limited range of variegated colour-ways for Spring/ Summer 2016.
Did you know that bamboo is actually a grass? No, me neither! It's the largest member of the grass family, and the fastest growing woody plant on the planet. One Japanese variety grows at the staggering rate of 1 metre per day. There are over 1600 different species of bamboo with habitats ranging from the cold mountains of Asia to the steamy tropics. They're naturally drought-resistant and their vigour makes the need for pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers almost non-existent, making them the perfect organic crop.
Today most textiles are made from Moso bamboo, which is the most frequently occurring bamboo in China, where it covers a vast area of some 3 million hectares. Being a grass, it regenerates, just like a hay meadow, after it has been harvested. And, like the grass in a well-tended lawn, it grows back stronger and more vigorous after each cutting, increasing the total net volume of biomass per area of land.
Bamboo forests tend to be thick and dense with a large volume of plant material growing in each acre of land. As the world's population grows this useful crop, which can provide food, fibre and shelter produces the maximum amount of material output per unit of land, reducing the overall pressure on land use. The plants absorb carbon dioxide helping with greenhouse gases, their roots safeguard against soil erosion and the availability of a cheap, easy-to-harvest, fast-growing timber reduces the logging pressures that might otherwise lead to deforestation.
Very few bamboo forests are irrigated. The water efficiency of bamboo is twice that of the most drought-resistant trees. Compare the irrigation needs of bamboo with those of cotton, which requires 20,000 litres of water to yield 1 kilogram of yarn, making it one of the world's thirstiest crops, using more fresh water than just about any other agricultural commodity. It's clear that bamboo is a much more sustainable proposition.
The facts speak for themselves: bamboo is one of the greenest, most environmentally-friendly yarns available, but what's it like to work with? Much will depend on how it's spun and processed. For the most part it's a silky yarn that knits up to produce a smooth textile with great drape, making it perfect for all those lighter spring/ summer projects.
But don't just take my word for it. There are lots of bamboo yarns on the market to try, and there's a raft of choice with mixed yarn blends. Last year, for example, I used a cotton/ bamboo mixed yarn for my Spotty Dotty Knitted Bag project. It knit up like a dream.
And, in the meantime, watch this space for more bamboo pattern ideas ... .
All the best for now,