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Friday, July 24, 2009

Go Green with Natural Fibers and Yarns

For artists and craftspeople, being green includes the practices and methods we use as well as our materials. I’m a knitter and crocheter, so my concern is with yarns. I use natural yarns and only infrequently will use a novelty yarn as a trim. My favorite yarn is Merino wool; it has all the softness and loft of cashmere, but the price is a bit lower, it’s a stronger yarn, and it doesn’t pill so readily. I also adore fine hand-dyed and handspun wools, alpaca for its warmth and softness, and high-quality cotton yarns.

Of course it’s a good idea to try to use recycled materials whenever possible, but it’s also important to use materials that don’t harm the planet in the first place. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I find acrylics to be actually an irresponsible choice. They are made from petro-chemicals which are, of course, what the gas you put in your car is.

With the worldwide shortage of petroleum and the ensuing international conflicts over it, I find it hard to justify using a product like that. Also, acrylics, like all plastics, remain in the environment forever, causing tremendous pollution and environmental problems. In addition, acrylics really aren’t warm, they make your skin feel clammy because they don’t wick moisture, and they’re highly flammable unless they’re treated with very toxic chemicals. If you hold a piece of wool over the kitchen sink and put a match to the end, the flame will quickly go out and a soft ash will form that easily disintegrates. On the other hand, if you do the same thing with a piece of acrylic yarn, the flame will last for a long time (until you blow it out) and a hard plastic bead will form.

For those people who fear that they can’t wear wool or that it’s itchy, please realize that high quality wool is very soft and almost never causes an allergic reaction. What people are sometimes allergic to is the lanolin found in natural wool and the easy solution to that is to simply wash the garment before wearing it. For those few people who truly are allergic to wool, there are many natural substitutes such as cotton or rayon which is the same thing as bamboo. There are also new yarns made from soybeans, corn, and even milk. These are all soft and hypoallergenic.

As a responsible knitter and crocheter, I urge people to avoid using or wearing synthetic fibers. Do it for your own comfort and also for the planet.


Here are some places online to buy natural fiber yarns. Some of these sites also sell synthetic fibers, so check the fine print before buying! - This is the Webs site where they have constantly changing beautiful knitting, crochet, and weaving yarns on sale as well as their own line of gorgeous yarns. I adore their Valley Yarns wool and alpaca. It's so luscious. - KnitPicks has beautiful yarns at reasonable prices. - Elann is a Canadian yarn supplier of really lovely yarns at good prices. Their Peruvian wool is a favorite of mine and comes in wonderful colors. - I love Smileys and often go to their Queens, NY store sales as well as their extravaganza held in Manhattan during November. In among the synthetics they sell are some outstanding buys on natural fiber yarns. Smileys prices are THE BEST -- often up to 90% off retail for beautiful wool, mohair and cotton yarns.

I would also recommend that people look into and They sell lots of synthetics and what I would call junk yarns like Red Heart (ugh!). However, Herrschners makes their own wool worsted which is inexpensive and comes in lots of colors. Joann sells some good wools, too, such as Paton's Merino Worsted and Joann's own Sensations yarn called Kashmira. Finally, don't forget about Ebay. If you search for wool yarn or cotton yarn, for instance, you'll find lots of great buys. I buy most of the DMC perle cotton I use for crocheted jewelry there and have never been disappointed. Hint: it's a good idea to look up what a particular yarn retails for before bidding. I hope this list is helpful for people looking for alternatives to Walmart and ways to be ecologically responsible!

-by Veena Burry

Don't forget we're having a huge sale and scavenger hunt for Go Green with the Etsy Twitter Team!! See here for the five prizes up for grabs!!


ecokaren said...

This post couldn't have come at a better time.

I was about to get rid of all my acrylic yarn stash that I've accumulated since I started learning to kit and crochet, way back when - 15 year ago. These are still new since I quickly found out that my skin doesn't like the feel of acrylic. But they were good enough yarn to start learning how to knit. Besides, my local craft store didn't sell organic or bamboo 15 years ago.

So I was about to knit some scrubbies for household cleaning for my shop. I can't throw out the yarn so why not use them up in a creative way? Is this bad? I mean, I can justify this idea by saying that I haven't bought commercial sponge for my kitchen for years since I started using cleaning scrubbies that I knitted with acrylic yarn. So I'm reducing waste, right?

What do you think? I wish I never bought these skeins but I have them, so now what?


P.S. I only buy organic cotton and bamboo yarns now. I even shy away from cotton as they use a ton of chemicals to dye cotton.

KnittingGuru said...


Glad you liked this article. We all have acrylics lurking in our stash. Using it up is a good idea. After all, that's what recycling is all about. You are definitely reducing waste that way.

My comments were just to alert everyone that those Walmart skeins are not so great to buy now. I hope you all find good yarns at the resources I suggested and that you'll tell us about places you've found.


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