Yarn is from our land, cultivated from our plants by (mostly) human hands.
What Yarns to Avoid
Acrylics: If you walk into a typical craft store like Michael’s, this is going to be the most common type of yarn you’ll find. It’s cheap, low-quality, and toxic to the people who make it, craft with it, and wear it.
Nylon: Basically a type of plastic derived from crude oil, nylon is extremely energy-intensive to produce and it’s not biodegradable. A better alternative is ECONYL, which is recycled nylon that’s produced in a closed-loop system.
Polyester: When polyester breaks down, it just becomes millions of tiny plastic microfibers, which wreak havoc on ocean life and human health. It’s synthetic, carbon-intensive, and low-quality, which means your gorgeous knitted sweater won’t last very long either.
Synthetic dyes: Many people often overlook the dyes used in fabric, but the dyeing process is actually one of the most detrimental aspects of production. The toxic, chemical dyes get washed off into rivers and streams which people and animals then wash, drink, and cook with.
What to Look for in Sustainable Yarn
The brands listed below have some great natural, biodegradable, and non-toxic yarns. But if you’re in a craft store in front of an overwhelming wall of yarn, here’s what to look for:
Wool: Of course, it matters where the wool is being sourced from and how the animals are being treated, but when sourced ethically, wool can actually be beneficial for the environment, since it helps to sequester carbon from our atmosphere and into the soil. Specifically, alpaca wool is super soft, durable, and performs better than other fibers like cashmere or polyester. You can also go for American or Argentinian wool, where sheep don’t undergo mulesing, which is when the skin folds around their derriere are cut to protect them from black fly infections, which are fatal.
Silk: Since silk is an animal product, it’s been the subject of controversy among conscious consumers. But the truth is, silk production can be done in a very eco-friendly, closed-loop way. Plus, the “less cruel” Peace Silk is actually not as great as some say it is. You can read about that in depth here.
Upcycled: Although you’re still dealing with the microfiber issue, upcycled yarn is always a better choice than using virgin fibers. It saves some of those synthetic materials from our landfills and oceans and gives them a second life, plus has a lower carbon footprint.
Organic cotton: You already know that organic is always better, since it’s grown without any toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers.
Tencel: The conscious consumer’s dream, Tencel (generically called lyocell) is made out of sustainably-sourced eucalyptus trees using a completely closed-loop system.
PS! We also got help brainstorming these yarns from our friend Heather, who writes gorgeous, modern, Brooklyn-ready knitting patterns. Check out her patterns!