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.

Japanese House of Craft

On a whirlwind "bachelor party," my friend was in town very briefly this weekend. So I made sure part of her bachelor party consisted of a visit to Uwajimaya Village, home to the greatest Japanese bookstore in the U.S.: Kinokuniya. Her eyes practically burst from her skull when she first entered. After a cursory inventory of the entire store, we both settled down on the floor in front of the craft section and proceeded to drool for the next hour.

I don't know when I started to fall in love with Japanese crafts. Because it's so hard to resist the Japanese's talent for combing cute with whimsy with simplicity, I'm sure I was blindsided the second I first saw a picture of some form of Japanese craft. What I do know is that when I first visited New York last winter, I made sure to visit Kinokuniya in Manhattan (near MoMA) and came home armed with my first three craft books. And then when I returned a few months later, I again made sure to visit Kinokuniya, and once again came home armed with more craft books. Somewhere along my multi-year journey into obsession (the obsession started way before visiting New York), I found out about the Seattle branch of Kinokuniya. However, I brushed it aside as I also knew it was an "extension" of Uwjimaya, and I was therefore convinced it was a tiny little outfit not worth my time. And then when I first saw the New York store, I became convinced that it was the only truth and that the Seattle store was a mere speck of dust in comparison.

If only I could time travel. I would do so just to smack my slightly younger self into sense. Not only is the Seattle store as good as the New York store, I'm now convinced it's bigger! At least, it certainly feels much more open and easier to navigate than the New York store. And at the very least, their inventories are a close match. Why, oh why, was I too snotty to visit before now? Oh, why!!! I guess it's a good thing I still live in Seattle and have the ability to make up for lost time.

Anyway, If you ever find yourself near any of the 21 oversees stores, make sure you visit. Japanese craft booklets are craft ninja porn, and Kinokuniya has no shortage of them. And speaking of craft ninja porn, I decided to compile a list of Japanese craft sites. Ittadakimasu!

Crafting Japanese, I Really Think So

Sea Silk Lace

Oi, back again to that 2007 knitting resolutions post.

A Seasilk in Progress

That's the progress shot of my Grumperina melon scarf—a modified version of the melon shawl from Victorian Lace Today, by Jane Sowerby. Being busy (and highly lazy), I mostly copied her modifications, including the Sea Silk from Hand Maiden Fine Yarn (in the "sangria" colorway). The one difference, though, is that I did 70 repeats per the books original instructions. I also think I will add a border to the ends, rather than around the entire scarf. I do think if one were to follow her modifications word-for-word, the lace pattern, yarn, and Grumperina's hard work make for a very special scarf that is incredibly easy and rewarding—perfect for someone who's busy and lazy (like me!).

And let me tell you, it's absolutely stunning in person. Even more so when the low winter sun streams through the bus windows and catches the sheen and variegated colors.

Melon Stitch

The original intent was to make this much later from now—maybe in Fall 2007. It was to be a Christmas present for the manflesh's mother. However, that blasted Backyard Leaves Scarf that was to be her belated 2006 Christmas present requires hella concentration. Hella. And after the whole birthday fiasco, which also included a surprise party that fell flat on it's rumpled ass, I decided it was time to spoil the manflesh mother and lavish her with both scarves and a pair of gloves that I have been ignoring for the past 12 months. Because this scarf does not require hella concentration, I've been tackling it more successfully.

That book, Victorian Lace Today, by the way, is simply amazing. If it weren't for Grumperina's review, I wouldn't have bought it sight-unseen. The original plan was to browse through either a library copy or a copy at a bookstore/yarn store. However, it has been consistently sold out from all the local bookstores and knitting stores, not to mention has 359 holds at the library. After a few weeks of hunting it down locally, I finally whipped out my credit card and purchased it from Amazon. Even the giant online bookstore of doom and destruction had a hard time getting my copy—it took them a mere 3 weeks to ship with 3-5 day shipping.

Knitting With a Dash of Crochet

My personal preference has always leaned towards the fabrics that knit and purl stitches create, rather than the thicker and knottier stitches of crochet. Now that I have learned basic crochet and have spent time experimenting with the types of stitches (and fabrics) available to the form, I feel comfortable in saying that my personal preference still leans towards the fabrics that knitting creates.

However, that's not to say that I don't see the potential crochet stitches offer. Amigurimi (stuffed animals) being just one of the many things crochet excels in above knitting. And lately, I've been toying with the idea of using crochet motifs and flowers mixed with basic knit stitches for scarves. Crochet offers the ease of building out motifs and shapes by the simple fact that you can shape whatever and wherever you want—just insert the crochet hook and make a stitch. To create wildly complex shapes in knitting is a much more complicated task, and often lacks the streamlined finished product of a crocheted motif.

I'll save the extensive critique of crotchet versus knitting for another time. Today, I wanted to share some particularly awesome and free patterns for crocheted flowers I stumbled across:

I currently have no plans for using the Picot Flower, though it's so lovely that I would love to build a project around it. I am, however, currently in the (slow) process of using Bam Boo, to make the Crochet Flowers. I plan on using these to embellish a scarf knitted in the very lovely Byzanz, in violet.

By the way, I highly recommend both Bam Boo and Byzanz. Aside from it's incredible softness and luster, the eco-friendly nature of Bam Boo has secured it's place as one of my favorite yarns. Byzanz, on the other hand, makes a wonderful splurge yarn for an easy project. The yarn is flat and thick, with a cord of metallic thread running through the middle. It knits quickly and seems to shine more with very basic stitches. But because it requires US size 15 needles, I'm reluctant to recommend it for a beginner's scarf—I always recommend size 8 for those just learning.

There's a Hole in My Wallet!

In yet another continuing effort at making environmentally-friendly knits, I have been toying with the idea of using hemp yarn. Deciding to scout out my trusty yarn store after work today, I walked in not realizing they were having a sale. Not just any sale, but a once-a-year extravaganza sale where everything in stock is marked down 20% on Friday, 30% on Saturday, and finally 40% on Sunday in honor of Mother's Day.

Now being in my situation—that is, having suddenly become part-time without warning and soon to become unemployed—a smart person would have walked out the store immediately to return on Sunday. I am not a smart person. Instead, I bought yarn. Lots of yarn. Yarn that I use for my neck warmers, bamboo yarn, and other more expensive yarns that I often avoid. A whopping $100 later, I left with a giant plastic bag in tow.

Also, I blew more money on this book just a few minutes prior to walking to the yarn store.