When one thinks of bamboo, usually paper, furniture, flooring and other household items come to mind. However, in recent times, this grass has been put up to other uses as well, apart from the usual ones that we all know of. Pioneered by the Chinese, the use of bamboo fiber for textiles was introduced in the 20th century. From there, this eco fabric grew in popularity and has carved a niche for itself in the textile industry. Most of the fabric is chiefly manufactured in China and other Asian countries, from where it is shipped to the US. There are a number of patents for this man-made fabric, the oldest one being in the year 1894 (Feb 16, 1984 to be precise). The patent includes the procedure for producing the fabric and manufacturing items like cloth, cordage, mats and paper, etc.
The process of making bamboo fabric is similar to that of the methods used in other fabric and paper. Bamboo is crushed, post which it is soaked in lye solution for a couple of hours before cooking it at a high temperature till the fibers separate. This method is known as pulping. The obtained pulp is then ground and dried. It is then treated with carbon disulfide and lye, and transferred through sieve-like plates called spinnerets. These raw fibers are cleaned and pulverized chemically with sulfuric acid. Once the fibers are separated and hardened, they are bound tightly into yarn. The freshly wound fibers are light-weight and airy, similar to a spool of unspun cotton. Before weaving the fiber into fabric, it is dyed accordingly, creating vibrant patterns and designs.
► Bamboo fabric can be classified into four different varieties, based on the procedure and contents of the fabric. These four types are pure, blend, viscose and mechanical.
► As the name suggests, pure fabric is solely made out of bamboo, without adding any other materials. This fabric is rare and is normally not used for manufacturing textile, since it is not that flexible.
► Bamboo is combined with other materials like cotton and other fabrics to yield clothing. The percentage of other materials in the bamboo cloth may vary according to the manufacturer. Some may have 10 percent, while others may have up to 50 percent of cotton or jute. This blended fabric highlights the features of bamboo as well as cotton (or any other material used) and normally lasts longer.
► The mechanical version of the fabric is created with the help of machines. The bamboo is first broken down by hand and then treated in machines to create the fabric. This is rougher than the earlier versions and is not much in demand.
► The commercial product, which is quite popular among clothing manufacturers, is the viscose fabric. Viscose bamboo fabric is preferred over other varieties to weave textiles. This cloth is made by breaking down the bamboo using chemicals and forming a pulpy mixture. The material created in this method is quite flexible and is easily wound.
► The end product is soft, light in weight and has a glossy appearance (similar to silk). Being smooth in texture, it does not cause any allergic reactions or irritation to the skin. It also absorbs moisture, which helps the skin breathe easily.
► Due to its biodegradable nature, the fabric costs relatively less when compared to cashmere or silk. Soon there may come a day, when most people opt for this fabric.
It is a highly sustainable and environment-friendly material that has woven its charm around naturalists and fashionistas equally. Owing to its insulating properties and versatility, bamboo fabric has become a hot favorite among modern designers, who are exploring this new material and converting it into bright, stylish outfits.