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 )