April 9, 2007

Knit* Green



(* = crochet, embroider, etc.)

I was a little girl growing up in Southern California when my mother taught me to knit. Living in Southern California where the temperature rarely dropped below 70 degrees, did not inspire me to become an avid knitter. It was not until I moved to North Carolina, befriended an environmentalist, and started stitch-n-bitch chapel hill that I truly became the knitter I am today. Aside from a knitter, I am an ecologist, and at the time I was doing research on organic farms on cabbageworms. It was a combination of my involvement with the organic farming community and the amazing activist girls of my stitch-n-bitch that lead me to thinking green.

So why knit* green? Well, one of our greatest powers as individuals is our power of purchase. The demand for higher environmental standards have, at least in part, brought about the increase in organic products at your market, and the higher production of fuel-efficient cars. Why not put that same pressure on the textile industry as dutch girl suggested in her earlier sew green post ?

Here are a few facts, guidelines and suggestions on how to knit* greener that I have accumulated through my years as a knitter and ecologist:

Knit* Local.
This is a similar principal to buying your fruits and vegetables from local growers. Although the statistics are not available on the cost of transporting yarn, large amounts of fossil fuels are used to get products to you. It is estimated that food products travel 1,500 miles before being consumed (Heller & Keoleian). How far do you think yarn travels? One would imagine, since a large proportion of yarn comes from countries outside of N. America and Europe, that the mileage might be even higher for yarn. The closer the farm is to you, the less fossil fuel used. Check out your local farmers market or sheep and wool festival (google it for festival near your town) to find out where to get yarn close to home. Not only are you knitting* greener, but you are also supporting small independent farmers and artisans.

Knit* Recycled.
Local yarn can be very expensive. Some of us don’t have that kind of money to spend on being greener, so an alternative is using what has already been produced and transported. This requires a different perspective on knitting* since you can’t necessarily plan on what to knit*, but rather let the yarn inspire you. There is no doubt this could lead to incredibly creative projects! I am always amazed at how much yarn ends up at thrift stores (think about your own stash of yarn). Sometimes you can find very nice yarn and lots of it. Admittedly a huge proportion of the yarn I find is acrylic - but that can be used for a blanket or baby clothes that need to be washable. Another alternative is find and unravel a wool product like a sweater that may be perfectly hideous but is knit out of beautiful yarn. There are some great articles about recycling old sweaters for new projects here, here, and here. You can also use old cotton sheets or t-shirts ripped in strips to knit* a rug, or plastic shopping bags to knit* a sturdy shopping or tote bag. Hell, you can even knit* yourself a 1950s outfit!

Knit* Alternative
More and more yarn companies are offering eco-friendly (and animal-friendly) wool yarns (including my beloved cascade yarns). These are generally yarns that are not dyed, or that are acquired using sustainable and/or humane farming practices. But for those who want to avoid wool altogether, there are now a number of yarn alternatives on the market made from organic or alternative fibers. It is important to be aware that classic alternatives to wool yarn are neither sustainable nor eco-friendly (see below).

What about Acrylic and Cotton?
Acrylic yarn is made from acrylonitrile, which is considered an environmental pollutant and hazardous to human health (more info. here and here). Producing acrylic is a highly chemically-dependent industry and produces pollutants, such as the organic solvents N,N-dimethylmethanamide and sodium thiocyanate, vinyl acetate, and methyl acrylate .

Avoid yarn made from conventionally grown cotton because of the industry’s dependence on pesticides (“…nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides -- more than 10% of the world's pesticides and nearly 25% of the world's insecticides,” according to the Pesticide Action Network North America). Seek out organic cotton alternatives, such as Blue Sky Alpacas or Green Mountain Spinnery.

What’s the Alternative?
Its amazing what you can knit* with nowadays. There are numerous alternatives to wool, cotton, and acrylic for eco-friendly and animal-friendly knitters. Including silk (note: silk does kill silkworms/caterpillars), soy, bamboo (but see comments on post), corn, hemp & nettle! Check out more options here and here.



Six years later and 5 hours north in DC, I am still studying bugs and still knitting*. Am I a greener knitter? Well... I do not knit* with hemp yarn or make recycled plastic bag rugs but I do buy most of my yarn from eco-friendly companies. I promote buying local yarn and the DC stitch-n-bitch en mass heads to the sheep and wool festival each May. So yes, I am getting a little greener every year. And every little green step counts.

46 comments:

Eunice said...

just wanted to add there is a yarn company, Buckwheat Bridge Angoras, that uses solar power for their mills. You can look on their website, though i'm not sure where they sell their yarn (probably NY region).

Nichola said...

I stopped buying yarn that is not in Australia a while back. Although i don't knit a whole lot when i do i try to buy locally (bendigo woolen mills). Love the 50's outfit!

ms. pea said...

personally, i drool for the organic cotton. some *free* knitting patterns for organic cotton here: http://fpea.blogspot.com/2006/04/free-pattern-fridays.html
now i'm all jazzed up about unraveling a sweater for my next felting project - thanks for an inspiring post!

Carlene said...

What a great post! I am all about unraveling a (really nice) sweater from Sal's, and yarn shopping from my own stash.

Janet said...

This is a great post. I have found lots of great yarn, as you mentioned, in thrift stores. And recently the mother of a good friend gave me ALL of her old wool yarn from Germany ~ what a wonderful stash!

this single spark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shari said...

fantastic post gwen! xo

Dutch Girl said...

Here here Gwen! That was a great post! The buying local wool is so great. So is going into your LYS and asking about organics and sustainable yarns. Even if you weren't going to buy anything that day it looks as though you had an idea and they lost a sale. :)!

I would just like to add that in terms of chemicals Bamboo is actually *just* as bad as acrylic yarns to produce. While Bamboo itself is an eco material (requiring little water and the ability to grow 12" a day) it is not an eco textile and marketing has lead the education campaign on this textile.

The bamboo yarn/fabric process is the same as any other rayon or acrylic. They mash the bamboo fiber up with a slurry of nasty chemicals and then extrude that into a thread. Then the by-product and waste get washed out again. Not too hot.

cally said...

oh i just love this post!

lisa s said...

yee haw. this is fantastic gwen... i wish i could knit that 1950's outfit...

Deb G said...

This is a super post. I've been trying to only buy local wool yarn, organic cotton, or hemp too. I'm also going to try unraveling some sweaters in my stash that I'd saved. I haven't seen yarn made of corn but want to point out that unless it's organic, it's probably made with corn that is a GMO.

val nick said...

What great ideas! I am going downstairs into my kitchen right now and cutting up all those plastic bags to knit! Thanks for all the great tips and links.
I know this doesn't deal with knitting, but I'd love to see a sewgreen post about home cleaning. I use many natural alternatives, but what about using supplies that I can buy locally. Any tips?
Thanks for all of you imput, and keep up the great work. Sewgreen is invaluable!

bugheart said...

thanks everyone!

please note:
* f.pea's patterns available
* dutch girl's caution on bamboo
* deb g's caution on corn
and
* val nick,
i'll plan to do that
on my next post.
thanks for
all your feedback,
additions
and suggestions!!!

amisha said...

this is a fantastic post. it's so nice to see more and more companies offering eco-friendly yarns (cascade + green mountain are amazing) and i loved all of these new suggestions and things to consider. sadly in florida there is very little local yarn but in the meantime i will do what i can till i am in a wool-producing area... one day...

shash said...

i 15th the comments about this being a great post. thanks gwen! (and that 50s outfit is so cool.)

knitrat said...

Speaking of green knitting..
I don't really know where to put this link, but I just saw it today and wanted to share. What a great idea.

http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=165049.msg1677498;topicseen#msg1677498

bugheart said...

knitrat-
what a great link-
a knitted swiffer!!!
brilliant.
i will include it in
my cleaning green post
coming soon!

kim goodnight said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jox said...

Great article, it's made me think about what I knit with.
I already search local charity shops for wool and needles but I am going to try to use more 'reclaimed' yarn.

RecycleCindy said...

I crochet with plastic bags, cassette tape, vcr tape, and even cut denim. It's lots of fun and so eco-friendly. If anyone is interested I have many free patterns and ideas available at my site. I love to share!

Cindy
http://www.myrecycledbags.com

ed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
feltandcrafts said...

nice post. it's really commendable... great job... thanks for sharing..

Sylvia said...

I've found that it's much easier to implement a new way of doing things when you have a friend or friends that are doing the same thing.. it makes me feel like I'm not so out of place. thanks for this blog, feels like i have a place..
-Sylvia
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Victoria said...

Great article, good resource for those of us that want to learn more about eco friendly knitting.

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Hi
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