Sustainable Knitting and Spinning

I first started knitting as a 15 year old, in a youth shelter. I grew a small collection of yarn...which sat around for a few reasons (which will not be covered here).

Once I started knitting as an adult...I bought the cheapest acrylic yarn. I didn't realize there was a difference, I didn't realize what acrylic was, and honestly, I didn't think I was good at knitting so what was the point of spending money on myself at that point.

Yeah.

My first sweater I made for our oldest was 100% acrylic bulky yarn that was self striping. We still have it today but its definitely showing its wear.

When we started being very conscious of what we were purchasing, what the fibers were made of, where the fiber came from, I started to evaluate what I was knitting with,

I hated knitting with cotton, something I still can't really explain to this day, so I relied and rely currently on wool. 

A few years ago now, I learned how to spin. We bought a wheel on consignment from my favorite yarn shop in the whole country (possibly world), Ewetopia Fiber Shop in Viroqua, WI. I bought my fiber from them, which came from local sheep, and started spinning.  It was rough at first but after watching youtube videos and finally attending a spinning class, I walked away with a beautifully 2 ply yarn. My heart was so light.

Because I started spinning with fiber from local sheep, I became more interested and passionate about ensuring the sustainability of my fiber and subsequently yarn. Anyone who has been following me on my journey knows that sustainability is a HUGE factor in everything I do. HUGE. I haven't blogged enough about it though, so I hope to change that this year.

Here are the guidelines I set for sustainability in the home.

1) NO synthetic fibers

This means that I can only knit with natural fibers....wool, cotton, bamboo, hemp, flax (linen) etc. There are additional factors too. I will cover the wool factors later in this post but cotton in particular needs to be organic as cotton is one of the most highly sprayed crop. It isn't as common to find bamboo, hemp, flax, nettle etc so I don't really have additional factors on them YET. There is definitely a lot of processing that has to occur in things like bamboo which increases its impact on the earth...and it not something I could do myself...so knitting/spinning with it will be minimal.

Acrylic, polyester etc are all out of the running. These are plastic fibers at the most basic level. They will shed in the wash and lead to microfibers entering our water system. They require the extraction of fossil fuels (all petro-based products like plastics do) to create. Not to mention they are usually produced in China which has its own impacts on both shipping and ethical treatment/pay of workers. They are in no way natural and should not be part of a natural knitters collection.

Some people will argue that knitting with these will mean less consumption at the stores, a rise in handmade (after all arcylic is much cheaper than wool), and are higher quality than store bought ultimately leading to less waste in the landfills. I see that BUT it is still a plastic product that once its life is over...can't be recycled and will not decompose. It is not sustainable in the long term.  I will be writing a post about arguments like this at another time because its an important discussion to have.

2) Wool Should Be from the US and from Well Loved Sheep.

I had a vegan once tell me all the cruelty of how a certain breed of sheep has a lot of folds in the skin and when they are sheared they cut skin too.  Had I not known that this was not normal, I would have been appalled. Let me clarify...what she was talking about is NOT okay and is not what good sheep shearers do. 

Thanks to women like Amanda Soule and Kathryn (from Ewetopia), I was able to see the right way to raise sheep and the right way to shear. 

icelandic wool handspun yarn

 

By supporting the good ones, we can ensure that the welfare of our animals are in high standard.

This is a difficult guideline because most yarn stores don't carry small farm yarn. Spinning my own helps me get around this because I have been able to find local(ish) fiber from yarn stores and, thanks to Etsy, have been able to connect with others to get fiber I feel good about.

For those that don't spin, or for times that I need more yarn than I can spin in a reasonable amount of time (like an adult sweater)....I can still find that online. Down here in SW Louisiana, I have yet to find or hear about a small fiber shop...so I am kind of forced to order online. But it is still a better option than what you will find at big box stores.

3) Dyes

Trickier still is the color of the yarn. Again, purchasing fiber gives me a lot more wiggle room, especially if I order white/natural fiber and dye it myself.

But dyes have an impact on the earth. Support yarn shops/business that use natural dyes or buy yarn you can dye yourself. Its actually not that difficult to dye yarn and there are even books about how to grow a garden just for dying yarn!

green handspun yarn

4) Superwash

Superwash is a chemical process to change the natural felting habit of the scales of wool. It basically burns them flat so they don't felt in the wash. I have superwash in my collection but am working on using non superwash wool.


So these are my guidelines that I have set for myself to create sustainable knitting and spinning habits.

No, my collection is NOT perfect. It is all wool, some of it is superwash. I am not sure about all the dyes but I am on this journey so I allow myself to not have guilt over what I currently have. 

Thankfully, Ewetopia will be helping me with my goals! They offer subscription boxes of fiber and yarn from local, happy sheep. I chose the fiber box (and am madly in love with the yarn I spun from it last month) to help me get better at spinning.

If this speaks to you, I encourage you to take a look at your knitting, crocheting, and spinning. Is it using sustainable fiber? What about the business you are supporting?