Bamboo Silk :: A Sustainable Fabric Alternative (if chosen carefully) ::

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

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Let's be honest I never had a lot of silk in my stash - in fact I only have one piece of silk which I have been too scared to actually start cutting into. I bought it on sale some time ago, it was pretty, cheap and I felt quite brave at the time. And now it is stuck in my stash. 

Later on I read about the process to obtain silk - basically boiling the worms alive inside their cocoons. To ensure that the silk filament is whole, culturists must destroy the chrysalis. This is done by stoving, or stifling the chrysalis with heat.This is heavily protested against by animal rights activists and vegans, who view the killing of these chrysali which would soon emerge as moths, immoral and cruel. So I  decided that silk would not be added to my stash (or wardrobe) anymore - but that was an easy decision - the same however applies to yarn of course - a harder decision for me. 

However I do love the feel of silk. A silk top will always add a bit of glamour to an outfit. I like the drape, even though I am not that keen to work myself with silk. So what ethical alternatives could provide a similar glamour factor? 

This top from this collection
I looked alternatives to silk, such as "Peace" or "Ahimsa" silkMost cultivated Ahimsa Silk is Bombyx mori. It is raised just like conventional cultivated silk, right up to the point where the cocoons would be stifled, or processed with heat, in order to kill the pupa and keep it from breaking through the cocoon. The Ahimsa cocoons are all allowed to hatch and breed, and the silk is processed from the hatched cocoons. In some cases, the cocoons can be cut open and the pupa tipped out; this avoids the moth soiling the cocoon with urine. There is however some controversy about the cruelty-free aspect on this silk as well.  

Humane alternatives to silk—including nylon, milkweed seed pod fibers, silk-cotton tree and ceiba tree filaments, polyester, and rayon—are also easy to find. Another alternative is bamboo silk. I made a top with bamboo silk (not blogged yet) - and I loved the drape, and using the fabric. Although it is slippery, it is nowhere as slippery as silk. Whilst researching bamboo silk a bit more, I have now discovered that it might not be as sustainable as it might seem. 

Bamboo is an extremely fast growing grass taking only 4-5 years to fully mature and harvest (compare that with 20 years or more for other woods). It can grow up to a meter a day, and re-sprouts through its roots, so there’s no need for replanting. The plant’s growth puts little strain on the environment because it requires no pesticides or irrigation for growth, and can be harvested sustainably.

However turning bamboo into a silky fabric requires highly intensive chemical processes. The undertaking is a viscose rayon process, turning a cellulose fibre (plant material) into fabric. Any plant or tree—in this case bamboo—can be used as a cellulose source, but the fabrication transforms bamboo into rayon, and must be labelled as so. Not all ‘regenerating cellulose fibres’ are chemical intensive. For example, producing lyocell captures and reuses 99% of the waste.

The growing of bamboo is environmentally friendly but the manufacturing of bamboo into fabric raises environmental and health concerns because of the strong chemical solvents used to cook the bamboo plant into a viscose solution that is then reconstructed into cellulose fiber for weaving into yarn for fabric.

Bamboo silk fibre - picture from here
Some bamboo fibre manufacturing facilities put forward their sustainability and green credentials by establishing ISO 9000 Quality Management policies and ISO 14000 Environmental Management policies. This is largely a PR excercise because these ISO standards do not mean that the facilities, their manufacturing processes or their fabrics have been certified by any of the international certification bodies such as SKAL, Soil Association, Demeter, KRAV, or OKO-tex.

So not all bamboo fabric is eco-friendly. Some companies choose to chemically process the bamboo. Look for the Oeko-Tek certification (like this one in the UK) to ensure that you are purchasing true eco-fabric.

I will use the silk in my stash - it is there, it is still beautiful. But I like working with bamboo silk better, I have already made a top out of it, and there are cream and black fabrics in my stash ready to be used. 

Have you used bamboo silk or silk? Which ethical fabric do you like working with best? 

7 comments:

  1. I had no idea bamboo fabric wasn't as eco friendly, I do love silk and again thought it a natural product - not knowning about the boiling aspect. It is an eco minefield out there, as cotton is intensively sprayed unless buying organic and its still hard to find good eco choices - a favorite for a long time closed. Great to find a new fabric outlet that stocks eco fabrics.

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  2. Ugh... and just when I thought we were on to something good with bamboo... Thanks for the link. On a non-sewing side note we are in the market for a mattress made of organic materials and have gone down the rabbit hole of research... so many views on what's best. Had to send the original one we bought back because the fumes from the fabric were so chemical smelling.... sometimes it's easiest to stick your head in the sand :(

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  3. i love idea of bamboo silk, and bamboo everything, for that matter- as far as a sustainable wood-type product that has seemingly endless adaptations, it seems like a smart environmental choice. Looking forward to seeing the new top you made from it!

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  4. I love working with silk yarn and hated bamboo yarn (even though it is really soft, it is not suitable for knitting garments)... However I don't really like sewing with silk fabric. I recently sewed one and it was really slippery even though it was a textured weave. Haven't tried working with bamboo silk fabric though... Can't wait to see your new bamboo silk top!

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  5. My husband was a judge at the Intel International Science fair this year and came home raving about three students from a tiny village in Thailand who noticed that some of their families' silk worms would extrude the silk to the side instead of making a cocoon. The silk could then be collected and processed without the boiling. The students ran experiments to see why this was happening and found that if the worms were on a specific medium they would spit the silk out to the side. This is better for the worm (they live to propagate) and for the quality of the silk (the boiling not only kills the worm, but lowers the quality of the silk). Plus the production costs were cut in half. Hopefully, others will see this research and soon there will be more humane sources of silk - and improved economic conditions for the producers.

    https://apps2.societyforscience.org/intelisef2014/project.cfm?PID=ANIM062T

    ReplyDelete
  6. My husband was a judge at the Intel International Science fair this year and came home raving about three students from a tiny village in Thailand who noticed that some of their families' silk worms would extrude the silk to the side instead of making a cocoon. The silk could then be collected and processed without the boiling. The students ran experiments to see why this was happening and found that if the worms were on a specific medium they would spit the silk out to the side. This is better for the worm (they live to propagate) and for the quality of the silk (the boiling not only kills the worm, but lowers the quality of the silk). Plus the production costs were cut in half. Hopefully, others will see this research and soon there will be more humane sources of silk - and improved economic conditions for the producers.

    https://apps2.societyforscience.org/intelisef2014/project.cfm?PID=ANIM062T

    ReplyDelete
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