Ethical and environmental considerations for knitters and crochetters

A recent post by Sandra of Wild Daffodil – https://daffodilwild.wordpress.com/2021/09/23/ethical-socks/ looking for socks with ethical credentials started me thinking about how such considerations affect people who knit or crochet.

I may have had a few issues with Stylecraft Special DK 100% acrylic yarn from time to time but I find myself returning to it again and again because as a Rainbow Junkie I love having such a wide colour palette. I also like the fact that is soft, easy on the hands and lighter weight for a blanket than cotton or wool would be.

However we are now told that acrylic fibres are bad for the environment and of course they are made from petroleum products which are non-renewable. I comfort myself by thinking that I don’t wash my blankets very often, since washing apparently produces lots of microfibres that are bad for the environment.

This is not the first time that I have wondered what would be the best alternative to acrylic yarn, although, since at present I have enough yarn of various types to keep me going for quite a while, I have not actually planned a project based on such choices.

So let us consider the alternatives.

Cotton

Cotton yarn

At first sight cotton as a natural product would seem to be a good choice and these days there are certainly some manufacturers who offer a good range of thicknesses and colours. It appears to be about half as heavy again as acrylic. I also find using it to be harder on my wrists when crocheting which is perhaps a point against it.

However when one looks into the matter further one comes up against all sorts of arguments against cotton based on the use of fertilisers and large quantities of water in the manufacturing process. So maybe let’s look at other things.

Wool

Drops Merino wool

Now I presume that Vegans would not like the fact that it is an animal product but I am not a vegan. However there may still be animal welfare considerations to take into account.

I do like wool, although it rarely has such vibrant colours as acrylic or such a wide range of choice. Like cotton it appears to be about half as heavy again as acrylic, easier on the hand than cotton and in fact some really soft wools can be a delight to work with. Although I have never had problems with woollen socks, I do have a ‘summer’ cardigan that I made that makes my arms itch, so has had to be re-designated as an extra ‘winter’ layer. I have found Merino wool is much better next to my skin.

Sock wool most often includes 25% synthetic yarn for strength.

sock wool

One yarn I did not include originally.

Alpaca

 

This is the only Alpaca yarn I have used and it was a couple of balls given to me by a friend who had no use for it.

It comes from the coat of an alpaca.  Looking at this – Drops Alpaca It comes in lots of colour and is is very soft and light. This is thinner than DK but there are other people who make it in thicker versions. It is often mixed with wool as well. I know they keep alpacas for wool in this country but don’t know for instance where Drops gets theirs from or how well the alpacas are looked after. It is hand wash only though.

Bamboo

production is held to be gentler on the environment than cotton and I did once use it for a knitted gilet. (See pinky coloured garment on the left.)wedding reception photo

(The little girl in the photo is now eighteen!)

I found it soft and silky but with no elasticity. I still wear the garment but washing has made it stretch and lose a lot of it’s shine.

Bamboo is often combined with cotton.

Doing some research did suggest that there were some downsides to bamboo fibre production.

Tencel

This was a new one on me until recently. Looking the other day I could find various tencel yarns but only one that was 100% tencel. Tencel was also combined with other yarns like bamboo. The colours did seem a little bland but maybe that is what most people prefer.

Tencel would appear to be made of wood and so biodegradable. As a child we had Rayon which was something similar although I only had experience of rayon as a fabric which was lightweight and creased easily. The manufacturing process is reported to be environmentally friendly.

I would like to try tencel when I need to buy yarn for a future project and be able to report more fully on what it is like in use.

Of course

there are other fibres that I have not mentioned here, like silk, linen or hemp, which are less common.

So

Do you care about the ethical and environmental effects of the yarn you use?

How do you rate different yarns in this respect?

Have you tried Tencel? What did you think of it?

13 thoughts on “Ethical and environmental considerations for knitters and crochetters

  1. I know a few people are also considering the air miles involved with the yarn industry. Turkey is better than China but UK is even better. Sadly a lot of yarns don’t state their origin or are grown/made in one, dyed in another and balled/skeined in yet another. Minefield.

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  2. This is the first I have heard of Tencel – thank you for the introduction.

    I have heard that the production of Merino wool in Australia is a pretty gruesome experience for the sheep, but New Zealand has a better animal welfare regime.
    I am concerned about using Stylecraft Special DK, for the same reasons as you, but I use it because it is hardwearing, machine washable, does not shrink and doesn’t attract moths (like wool does). I find it the most practical.
    I will have to look into the production of the cotton yarns I have been using.

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  3. I have a pal who is allergic to wool. She has found (after our local wool shop told her) that superwash merino has been washed before spinning and this makes the scales lie flat, so she has no itch at all now. I have decided not to buy any synthetic yarn, (even recycled because of the shedding of the microfibres) in the same way as I avoid clothing made with synthetics, and after being caught out a couple of times, I’m choosing yarn that’s retailed and dyed locally, from yarn spun in the UK from UK breed critters. These will be mulesed free sheep and of course our UK regulations mean that the welfare is going to be better (or less evil) than from elsewhere.
    It is costlier, but definitely worth it, in my opinion. Buying from small indie sellers is also something I’m trying to do.
    To be honest, it’s the same principle I try to apply to all my shopping – local, organic, low footprint in every way, not just carbon. Sometimes I manage to strike the golden area of the Venn diagram of all three, often I can only manage one or two, but I’m convinced it’s better for me, workers conditions and the environment. And if it means I consume less, then that’s no bad thing either 😉
    And as for the washing issue – I have washed a scarf I crocheted with superwash merino DK from http://www.KosyKitchenFibres.com twice in the machine with MrG’s Tesco uniform, just for the hell of it – no shrinkage, and no damage or dye loss. On the other hand, I’ve a cardy I crocheted using Scheepjies Cottton ‘ Light Skies’ and that’s also not shrunk at all, but has faded whilst being worn and crocheted and lost dye in the machine on both washes.
    The other advantage so far is reduced pilling and bobbling – my first project was a blanket made from a pack of 80/20 cotton nylon and that is bobbling as we use it.

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    1. It is hard to take care of all these considerations especially when shopping as information is not always available. I have machine washed the bed jacket I made from the merino wool shown two or three times (it did say you could) It did stretch a bit but I think that is the twist in the yarn and I used fabric conditioner the first time which I have since realised is not necessarily a good idea. Also can’t lay it totally flat for drying.

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    1. Well I suppose they would have us not have the sheep in the first place. I love the sight of sheep on the Welsh hills and elsewhere. The world would seem a poorer place without them but we all have our different perspectives I suppose.

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  4. I do like tencel from a shine point of view (though you can’t beat good old silk there!) It’s a shame it doesn’t seem to be a very common fibre. One of the issues with bamboo is that it requires some fairly horrible chemical processing to spin it into fibres (soaking in very concentrated sulfuric acid) which leaves you with a lot of problematic waste to neutralise. I believe this can also be done mechanically – but this makes it massively energy intensive. It’s a real pain to know what the ‘best’ choice is especially when, as other commenters have highlighted, there’s the question of shipping and transport as well… Not an easy decision! But thank you for brining this up and hopefully more people will want this sort of information – though I am a little cynical now that companies are just ‘greenwashing’ more and more rather than improving sustainability in their manufacturing.

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    1. Thank you for the information about bamboo yarn. It does get so complicated to know what is best and I met a Green Peace Climate Change petition person who said there was lots of fossil fuels left. Running out always worries me. Plus I read that they are working on a way to take plastic fibres out of waste water. So maybe acrylic isn’t that bad.

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