Wool quilt batting seemed the obvious choice for the insulating layer in the season-spanning jacket in the photo, but if I’ve learned anything in decades of creating one-of-a-kind handmade garments and accessories, it’s to go where the materials take me.
So when I discovered wide bolts of bamboo batting tucked into the quilting corner of the fabric store next to the huge array of wool and nylon batting, it piqued my curiosity.
I’ve seen bamboo used for everything from kitchen cutting boards to undergarments, but hadn’t known it is used to fill quilts. It intrigued me enough that I’m using four full layers of bamboo to add cosy warmth between the outer fabric and the sleek black lining.
Bamboo batting has the most seductively soft hand. “Hand” is the word fabric-lovers use to describe how a fabric feels against bare skin, the same idea as foodies’ talking about “mouthfeel.”
Physiological and psychological factors, as well as physical, play into determining fabric hand, and enjoying a fabric’s hand is as vital as appearance and fit in clothing – especially for the person creating the garment, who is handling the fabric so much. (I once mightily offended a potential customer by declining to work with her fake fur. I would have had to wear gloves to keep it from touching my skin. Like a wine supertaster, I’m a superfeeler.)
Besides the silky soft hand, bamboo batting is feather-light, drapes beautifully, and adds warmth without bulk. These qualities enhance the silhouette, and they build comfort into a jacket that comes out of the closet as soon as the bitter cold eases. The batwing sleeves I’ve designed on this jacket allow plenty of room for a sweater to extend the jacket’s wear past the shoulder seasons because however beautiful it is, clothing also has to be practical.
The bad news about bamboo is that the same properties that make the batting feel so delightful make it difficult to work with. It slips and slides and requires much time-consuming hand-stitching to stay precisely in place.
The environmental claims made for bamboo are exaggerated, more’s the pity. It does grow incredibly fast, and under natural conditions in a mixed-wood forest doesn’t need fertilizer or pesticides, but it’s often cultivated as a single crop. Ironically, growers who once endangered giant pandas by turning bamboo forests into farmland are now nurturing bamboo stands. Beyond its easy growth, though, processing requires not-green mechanical and chemical processes, like all fabrics.
Given that every product made, including fabrics, has an environmental impact – rayon made from tree pulp harvested in old-growth forests, indigo dye on denim, or pesticides on cotton – my goal is to choose the most sustainable materials and make them into the most enduring garments possible. Given this first experience with bamboo, I would say it has secured a place for itself in my workshop.