Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sewing with Bamboo Knit

Lately there has been discussion and questions on Stitcher's Guild about sewing with bamboo knits. Particularly the bamboo knit from FabricMart. As I have sewn a few garments from this fabric, I thought I'd share my tips and experience.

First of all, this fabric is often referred to as bamboo jersey, even by me. :) But it is actually not a jersey, it is a very fine double knit. If you hoped to cut strips of this fabric and they would curl up, that won't happen as a doubleknit won't curl the way a jersey will.

The front is smoother than the back, which is very slightly fuzzy. Under good light, you can tell the difference because you will see the very fine knit stitches on the front, but it's hard to make out the knit stitches on the back. When I made my Teagarden T (pictured above) I was sewing at night and accidentally put the wrong side to the outside; it's fine either way - just be consistent.

As you will find with other bamboo knits (ever tried on a bamboo sweater?), this fabric is "heavy" and has a glorious drape. It has heft to it, even though it is very thin. This, of course, contributes to the drape, but might become an issue if you make a very long garment from it.

Bamboo is not a very elastic fiber, but this particular fabric that FabricMart sells contains 7% spandex, so it does have considerable stretch in both directions, but greater stretch in the length.

What has people most excited about this fabric, besides the drape, is that it is very soft. Like buttah. I find that it skims lumps and bumps and does not "catch" on them. Otherwise it would be banished from my sewing room. :)

This fabric needs to be handled gently, or you will become very frustrated. Here are some of my specific suggestions:

  • A hot iron can cause a shine, probably because of the spandex. So, either use a medium heat or a press cloth - but test it first.
  • If there were ever a time to press and not iron, this is it! Up and down motion is what you want. Dragging an iron across this fabric will pull and create undesirable tucks.
  • When sewing seams, they are likely to ripple a bit. Do NOT contribute to the rippling by pulling the fabric from behind the foot. (This might be a habit, but you really must avoid it here.) If you have a teflon foot for your machine, I suggest you try that. I have no idea where the teflon foot I bought 20 years ago might be hiding, so after sewing each seam, I lay the seam (closed) on the ironing board, lay it out how it should fall (with no stretching or pulling), and press up and down. The slight ripples can be almost completely removed in this way.
  • If possible avoid or eliminate facings. The Teagarden T does have a neck self-facing and I fused interfacing to this with no problems, but tread carefully.
  • For the hem, use a coverstitch machine if you have one - I gather they were created for this purpose. I don't have one, so I used Steam-A-Seam Lite 2 for hems and for inserting a zipper. I wouldn't even attempt to hem this fabric, or insert a zipper, without it.
  • Edgestitching is particularly dicey as the thicker the fabric under the presser foot (and generally there are 4 layers when edgestitching), the greater the drag. This is where I most wished I had a teflon foot for my old Bernina. ;) I did my best not to stretch the fabric by pulling on it. After it was sewn, I pressed the rippled edge, forcing it to behave as much as possible. The result was not perfect, there's only so much unrippling you can do in some seams, particularly bias seams, but it helped.
  • Use hand basting whenever basting is called for, such as when inserting a zipper. Less handling = less pulling = less rippling = happy sewist.
  • It is virtually impossible to rip a seam out of this fabric without creating holes. I wouldn't even try - I'd cut a seam off first. If in doubt, first pin the seam, or hand baste, and try on, before final stitching.

This is all I can think of for now. Do you have additional suggestions? The fabric is so soft, so swingy/drapey, so yummay, it's worth a little care when handling.

(By the way, I am not affiliated with Fabric Mart, except I loooove them. I want to marrrry them. And I do buy fabric from them. :D )


  1. Thanks, Shams, for such a complete look at sewing with this stuff. So: "fiddly, but worth it". There's a forlorn piece in my stash; I'll have to haul it out and see what I can do with it in light of your tips

  2. Isn't someone having a sale on this fabric? I looked at the prices and gasped a bit. Thanks for the great sewing tips.

  3. Thank you, Shams. After catching up on the Fabric Mart thread over at SG, I decided to order 2 lengths today.

    Do you think using your built in walking foot, if you have one on your machine would help with the ripples? Or NOT? I do have a teflon foot so could try both?

    Thank you so much for the pressing advice too.

    I only got 1&½ yard cuts so hope that is enough to make a couple of pretty tops.

    I LOVE your top. I have no idea where the Teagarden top comes from. Off to Google. ;-)

  4. Stash, the walking foot might also work. If you try it, please give us a report. My walking foot is hiding with my teflon foot. :)

    The Teagarden T is from Sewing Workshop. I've made it so many times, and mentioned it so often, I forget that not everyone catches the reference. :)

  5. Wow, what a comprehensive list of tips. Thank you so much! I just made a t-neck out of some bamboo "jersy" that I got at G Street. It was some stretchy stuff - but I used a VERY simple pattern. If I every try anything more advanced I'll come back here.

  6. Thank you for your tips on sewing this type of fabric. Your top looks great.

  7. Thanks for sharing such great tips for working with this fabric. I haven't ordered any yet, but definitely need to try it after reading your post.

  8. Oh no, I thought I was Fabric Mart's beloved one:-) I bought a piece of bamboo knit there this summer but have not cut anything yet. Thank you so much for this useful advice. I know I'll be referring to it again.

  9. Thanks for the info. I've been curious about bamboo knits. I don't sew a lot of knits and I'm always on the lookout for a knit that does what it is told.

  10. Thanks so much for all this great info. The T looks great on you and you can tell it has a lovely drape.

  11. I've started to look at the bamboo knits at FM longingly. I really want to plusize the Burdastyle turtleneck that everyone is making and I think the bamboo knits would be awesome in that piece.

    I whole heartedly agree with your last statement about Fabric Mart but if they are anyone's boyfriend they are can visit them, but under no circumstances can you marry them...because I'm first in line! ROTFLOL!

  12. Wow some FabricMart territorialism!!! :D

    Thank you for the great tutorial! I haven't tried this knit not from fear but I just shy away from plain solids... but the softness and lycra content has me tempted now (after a big closet cleanout!).

    I was also going to suggest the walking foot, may be better than teflon with the foot pressure those classic Berninas exert, or I've also used the knee lever to keep lifting foot slightly to relieve pressure and encourage feed.

  13. I'm sooooo in love with Fabric Mart too! I have a few of the bamboo knits from Fabric Mart on hand just waiting for the right pattern.

  14. Thanks Shams! This is making me rethink what I thought my cuts want to be. Did you try stitching with your finger at the back of the foot (making the fabric bunch up behind the foot) to control any stretching as you stitched? That works well for me for other knits.

    And just to set the record straight, FabricMart is not my boyfriend, husband or fiance. It is my "crush". I get all twitterpated when I get an email from them. My heart races, I blush a little... sigh :)

  15. You all are just so funny, and I have to agree! i love FM also. And I also love this teagarten top, Shams; it does seem to glide without sticking over the body parts. And for most of us, that is a real plus. I wonder about using a serger for most of the construction, since I have been so impressed with the recent flurry of serger made tops via BeeBee and others.

    Karen aka Karendee

  16. I also bought some bamboo knit from FM this summer. Thank you for all of your tips. I took a class once where it was recommended that we use tissue paper when sewing slippery fabrics. The idea is to make a sandwich with tissue on top and bottom. After the seam is sewn, tear the tissue away. I have never done this, so I cannot say for sure if it works well, but it sounds reasonable to me.

    I love the way the bamboo drapes on you. And the color is fab!