Eco-Friendly Yarns

In the past few months, I've noticed the term "eco-friendly" is on everyone's lips. From Oprah, to newspapers, to entire fashion magazine issues, "leaving a smaller footprint" is ringing across so quickly and loudly that I'm starting to fear it's just another seasonal fad. And the mis-information being bred by newspapers and fashion magazines (I don't have a TV so I can't comment on Oprah), is reaffirming my fears.

Take bamboo, which seems to be the runner-up for our holy grail to eco-friendly materials. It's easily renewable, requires minimal pesticides to grow, and is touted as antibacterial and non-allergenic. Bamboo flooring, furniture, and even fabrics and yarns are widely available--and will only become more so with steadily rising demand. But before you rush out and install bamboo flooring in your next home remodel, be aware that depending on the manufacturer, you may be doing more harm than good. These same adverse social impact and pesticide issues noted by TreeHugger apply to bamboo fibers (clothing and yarn), with the added caveat that dyes and/or chemicals needed for the dyes to bond on bamboo fibers may also be environmentally harmful. Furthermore, depending on the eco-consciousness of the fabric or yarn company in question, they may use harmful chemicals to ship the fibers or in order to keep mold or pests from hitching a ride overseas.

So, what's an eco-friendly consumer and knitter to do? Researching all the chemicals used in treating and dyeing different yarn fibers, as well as researching the fiber source and whether it adhered to fair-trade and fair worker treatment consumes valuable knitting time.

The most eco-friendly and failsafe way is to recycle your own yarn using unwanted sweaters. This helps to reduce post-consumer waste and prevent good materials from filling our landfills. And don't forget, recycling yarn is also much cheaper. With a good sense of touch and a little luck and persistence, you can secure high-quality yarn that rivals that $16 skein of cashmere-silk blend you longly petted last week in the local yarn store. For a great and well-detailed tutorial on recycling yarn from unwanted sweaters, check out How to Unravel a Sweater by Ashley Martineau.

And I do realize there are times when unraveling sweaters won't work, as well as the fact that there are times when a special splurge of brand-spanken new yarn off the shelf is in order. My ultimate goal for this site is to track down and research every major yarn out there that claims to be eco-friendly, taking into consideration dyes, processing, and foreign trade/labor policies each company employs. However, that's a heck of a lot of work for someone with a full-time job who will also soon traipse across Roman cobblestones for two months. So, in the meantime, I'm going to leave you with this non-exhaustive list of yarns that claim to be eco-friendly.