Spinning the New Fibers: Adventures in Soy, Bamboo, Banana, Steel, and More

What are you spinning right now? We'll bet it's not bananas!

Patsy Zawistoski Oct 15, 2021 - 5 min read

Spinning the New Fibers: Adventures in Soy, Bamboo, Banana, Steel, and More Primary Image

Patsy Zawistoski explores how eco-friendly materials like banana plants can create great fiber for spinning

There's a joy in spinning how and what our ancestors did–but there are fibers available today that our spinning forebears never dreamed of! The textile industry is inventing new fibers at an astonishing rate. Many of these are based on recycled waste materials (yep, recycled, which means they are eco-friendly): tofu liquid, banana plants, sugar cane stalks, and more. The results are often finer and softer than their natural counterparts (silk, cashmere, cotton), and gentler on the environment.

But even if the idea of "synthetics" makes you itch, you'll want to know about these new offerings–how you can identify them, blend them, dye them, spin them, and use them. Patsy Zawistoski has researched a wide range of these fibers in-depth, and has used them to spin up beautiful and useful yarns. Here, Patsy shares a bit about her explorations which are featured more in-depth in her video, Spinning the New Fibers. -Editor


Patsy uses a simple burn test to identify a fiber

by how it burns, how it smells, and what

the ash looks like.

“So I can learn about things I’ve never heard of!” Hazel (3 ½), July 7, 2014


My granddaughter’s statement pretty much sums up my outlook on exploring spinning techniques and fibers.


Nothing will ever replace the four historic fibers: silk, wool, flax, and cotton, in the hearts and minds of spinners and weavers. However, there are times you want a blanket for the new mom/dad who desires/needs the expediency of machine washing and drying all the new baby things; or your friend is concerned about the high pesticide and water demands of cotton, but needs warm-weather items; or you might want to just create something sparkly but soft for a special occasion. Many of these newer, high-tech fibers may fit the bill.


Identifying unfamiliar fibers

This video explores many of the newest manufactured fibers and gives spinners tools for learning how to identify unknown fibers. The most important tool is burn testing, particularly for very new fibers. Few standard burn test charts have been updated to include many of the new fibers you’ll see here. I consider it critical that students learn how to perform this test safely, and then accurately read the results. 

Spinning Firestar nylon along with other nylons adds sparkle to a lovely, soft yarn.


However, problematically and frequently, vendors label anything that is shiny or sparkly as “glitz”, an undefined term. Actually, the available fibers for sparkle could be any number of fiber types like: nylon-Firestar™; polyester-Angelina™, rayon-Tencel™; or rayon from bamboo. Understanding the differences between these fibers will help you choose just the right one for that next project.


The second problem is that there is a great deal of information online, some accurate and some advertising. Taking the time to understand the history of these manufactured fibers will help you distinguish between the various types and hypes. There are differences between regenerated fibers from cellulose sources, like rayon, and synthetic fibers from non-cellulose sources like polyester.  Historically, those were the main two categories. Today we have fibers that are from mixed sources like milk generated from 30% casein and Ingeo™, a polyester-like fiber from the corn starch in the corn kernel.


Learn about choosing, blending, carding, spinning, plying, and finishing the new fibers with this great video resource.  Yep, it’s time to “learn about things you may never have heard of.”


Patsy Zawistoski is a frequent contributor to Spin Off. She has taught spinning and weaving for over 30 years in the United States and abroad. Find out more about her at Spinnin'Guru.