Guide to Eco-Friendly Yarns

The range of eco-friendly yarns and organic yarns that you can find at your local yarn shop and online is expanding every year. Some individuals are concerned about the impact their crafting has on the environment. Other people are concerned with allergies and reactions to synthetic yarns and dyes. The joy and challenge of working with new materials can be worth the exploration of some of these interesting fibers.

Reclaimed Yarns

Reclaimed yarns include recycled sarongs, saris, and wool sweaters. The production of the fiber probably didn’t involve organic or eco-friendly means; however, through a pain-staking unraveling process, the item can get a second life. In some cases, reclaimed yarns give work to women in Third World countries.

The project you knit or crochet will be unique. Unfortunately, if you run out, there is no hunting down a dye lot for more of the yarn you were using. Reclaimed yarns may feel stiffer because the fibers are being reworked after already being made into a fiber that became part of a garment.

You can make your own reclaimed yarns by unraveling a wool sweater, cutting apart a tee shirt, or even cutting a plastic bag into yarn.

Animal Yarns

If the yarn is labeled ‘organic’ that means that the animal wasn’t given hormones, was fed organic feed, and grazed on organic pastures. After the fibers were collected from the animal, they were cleaned with biodegradable cleansers.

Animal fibers tend to be breathable, lightweight, and warm. Items made with these yarns are soft and elastic – the material will have some give (say around the ribbing of a sock or sweater) while returning to its original shape. You’re probably already familiar with wool from sheep and angora from angora rabbits and angora goats. You may have also tried working with cashmere and mohair.

Expand your yarn horizons and look for camelid yarns from alpacas, camels, guanacos, llamas, and vichuna. Other unusual fibers include beaver, buffalo and bison, possum, and qiviut (from musk ox). You may even find yarns from dog hair (or spinners who will turn your pup’s shed fur into yarn).

Plant Yarns

Plant fibers are gathered from the leaves, stems, or seeds of different plants. Plant yarns tend to be cool and absorbent. Although the fabric drapes nicely, it isn’t particularly elastic (if you have ribbing at the wrists of a sweater, the fabric will be stiff). Plant yarns can also feel stiffer than animal yarns. Another disadvantage is that a garment may lengthen if it’s hung, changing the shape or look of the item.

Organic yarns are grown without pesticides. While the familiar cotton is stronger than wool and flax/linen is stronger than cotton, many plant fiber yarns aren’t as durable and are most often found in blends to increase the lifespan of items made with these yarns. You’ll usually find hemp and ramie in blends because otherwise the fibers are stiff and difficult to work with.

Biosynthetic Yarns

Unlike petroleum-based manmade yarns, biosynthetics are from sustainable sources and are biodegradable. The fibers are soaked and cooked into slurry that gets pumped through the holes of a spinnarette, forming the fibers. Biosynthetics aren’t as elastic as animal fibers.

Look for bamboo yarn, which is available at your local craft store, not just specialty yarn shops. Bamboo is softer than silk, naturally antibacterial, hypoallergenic, as well as biodegradable. Over time, items made from bamboo yarn can lose strength and split. Look for it in a blend.

Other biosynthetic yarn options include banana (from the bark of banana palm trees); chitin (from crab and shrimp shells), which is antibacterial and humidity-absorbing; corn; milk; rayon, tencel, and viscose (from wood cellulose); soy (from the waste produced by the manufacture of soybean oil, soymilk, and tofu); and even seaweed. This is a category where manufactures will experiment with creating different fibers.

Yarn companies, both large and small, are always developing new yarns. If you are looking to try eco-friendly yarns or organic yarns, go to a company that produces fibers you enjoy working with and see what new yarns they’re selling. Or, do an internet search of “corn yarn” or whatever type you are curious to try so you can compare the colors and costs of several lines.

Eco-friendly and organic yarns are more expensive than synthetic and non-organic yarns. If cost is a factor, try the yarns on a small project, such as a scarf, which will also allow you to see how the fabric hangs and wears.

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