Are you struggling to find a more sustainable way to knit and are unsure which yarns to choose? Let me show you how…..
Sustainability is a real buzz word at the moment but what does it actually mean, and what does it mean in the context of knitting and knitting yarn?
Sustainable is defined as: something made with “people, the environment and economy in balance.” For knitting yarn this means it is made in a way that does not deplete the earth’s resources in production or distribution; is not made using pesticides, and animal and land welfare are maintained. The workers who produce the yarn are also paid and treated fairly. Sustainable yarn is often organic, but organic yarn is not always sustainably produced. (Yarn Plaza.com)
However, sustainability is not just about the production and distribution of a product to the customer. It a is also about its use and environmental impact afterwards.
Wool is often described as the ultimate sustainable yarn. It grows naturally and can be “harvested” without any harm to the sheep. It can be processed in a way that has a low or zero carbon impact.
In addition; did you know that sheep consume carbon in the plants they eat and it is “locked” into their wool, so sheep are carbon neutralisers! Amazing huh?
- Once the wool has been manufactured as fabric or knitting yarn it has a long life span and lasts longer than other fibre products.
- Wool needs to be washed very little, and at lower temperatures which also contributes to its sustainability credentials. (Wool, unlike man-made fibres does not shed micro-plastics which are known to contribute to the pollution of the oceans)
- Knitting wool is easily recyclable, by unravelling and reknitting, or by using as a felted textile. Recycled wool accounts for 5% of the worldwide recycled textile market.
- Lastly as a natural fibre wool easily biodegrades and does not contribute to microplastic pollution.
- Ideally, if you can buy knitting wool produced locally to you, or in the same county, it will have fewer carbon miles on the clock too.
So wool is the ultimate yarn for sustainable slow fashion.
Bamboo is also considered to be a very sustainable fibre; ideal for those who cannot wear wool for allergen or ethical reasons. As a crop it grows quickly without the need for pesticides, and crops heavily with a good return. However, most bamboo is grown and produced in China. Limited information is available about intensively it is grown, and what habitats are being cleared to grow this cash crop. Just because it doesn’t need pesticides to grow doesn’t mean they aren’t used to get heavier harvests.
Bamboo needs to be very intensively processed to get the soft fibre we associate as knitting yarn. Certainly the initial preparation, combing and spinning of the bamboo fibres produces a yarn which is more like linen. Soft bamboo rayon is produced using chemicals to break down the tough bamboo fibres and make them pliable enough to spin. Some manufacturers are less than scrupulous about where the waste chemicals go. If you are considering a bamboo knitting fibre, look for the brand name Tencel ® or Lyocell. This company uses a “closed loop” process which reuses 99% of the chemical solution. Want to know more? Have a look at this blog for more.. https://greenecofriend.co.uk/is-bamboo-fabric-eco-friendly/
Cotton could be considered a sustainable yarn choice but it’s very thirsty and usually requires a lot of pesticides! The WWF says “Cotton farming uses more pesticides than any other area of agricultural production. Freshwater pollution due to high inputs of fertilisers and pesticides, wasteful water use and salinisation are the major problems.”
Eco-farmed organic cottons are slightly better because pesticides aren’t used but the cotton plants still need a lot of water. If you want to buy cotton knitting yarn, consider buying from a organic producer who is able to use harvested rainwater for irrigation.
Be aware that recycled cotton textile yarns may use cottons that are not sustainably produced in the recycling process. Is it better to reuse these fabrics rather than grow and produce cotton yarn unsustainably, yes probably. Its an ethical dilemma all the same when trying to be more sustainably conscious.
So what now?
How to find Sustainable Yarns?
- Shop with a reputable company. Do you know what you are buying, have you got enough information to make a choice?
- Ask if you aren’t sure. If a yarn is sustainable, the shop should be able to provide you with information about the provenance and traceability.
- Buy a brand you know sells sustainable yarn or one that has been recommended to you as ethical and sustainable
- Check out this link….. https://ecocult.com/the-best-sustainable-and-ethical-knitting-yarns-for-your-next-project/ in the Us and this one in the UK.. https://realgoodyarns.co.uk/directory/
Which Gorgeous Yarns are Sustainable?
The Purely Gorgeous yarns are all sourced from ethical, small, independent mills. Most are wool fibre based, whether it be Merino, Blue Faced Leicester or Corriedale. The alpaca in our yarns is farmed with the highest welfare standards.
The Purely Gorgeous Cotton is organic, so although not the most sustainable fibre in our collection, it is produced without pesticides. It is a great alternative for vegan knitters who want a non-animal sustainable yarn.
Our Naturally Gorgeous Range are all purely gorgeous yarn based and dyed with natural dyes from plants. (except cochineal which is a small farmed beetle). They are all dyed by hand, and the dye stuffs then composted in the garden! I wash the yarns with an eco-certified liquid wash (SESI) and if possible dry them in the fresh air. If I can, I use rainwater to rinse in.
Nurturing Fibres are an ethical company in South Africa who produce the yarns hand dye them too. They have eco-cotton which is 100% organic cotton, and eco-fusion which is a 50:50 cotton bamboo mix. Read more about Carle Denning and her team here….
If you’d like to know more, please ask.
Sustainable yarn choices are growing as more and more knitters demand earth friendly fibres. The choice is wide but getting the right balance is not always easy. It pays to do some research beforehand.
My personal choice would always be wool. The days of an itchy scratchy jumper like Granny knitted are long gone. The range and quality of sustainable wool yarns is huge. I like the way quality wool feels as I knit with it; the way it creates beautiful textures and stitches; the way it lasts, rewarding me for all the time it took to knit. A hand knitted garment is a treasure which will last for years.
If wool is not for you, then my second choice would be bamboo cotton from an organic, ethical producer like Nurturing Fibres. The yarns knit and crochet beautifully and get softer and silkier the more they are washed. Ideal for children’s garments.
I prefer hand dyed yarns to commercially dyed ones. I like the subtle tonal changes of colour, and of course I prefer naturally dyed yarns for the best sustainability. They will fade eventually, everything does, but that just adds to their beauty.
So what will you choose to knit with next?