Eco-friendly Yarns and Knitting

In honor of Earth Day, I’m continuing my fiber series by covering a few of the more eco-friendly ‘yarns’ available for you to choose from to help you recycle, reuse, and reduce.  The topic is worthy of it’s own discussion since eco-friendly yarns span the animal, plant and bio-synthetic categories.

Recycled yarns Several yarns that are available today are made from recycled silk saris and sarongs. Cooperatives in Himalaya, Kathmandu and Nepal carefully select the fabrics and spin the yarn by hand.  The fiber is handed off from one cooperative to another during different stages of the process but each are done carefully and fully by hand.  The resulting yarns are some of the most brilliantly, colorful you’ll find and are a terrific choice for knitting bags and accessories.  An additional benefit of using these yarns is that it supports the women who work in the cooperatives.

Brands/Where to Buy?  Frabjous Fibers carries the recycled sari silk as well as a variety of other eco-friendly yarns,  Mango Moon Yarns (supports the Nepali Women Empowerment Group) and the Wool Peddler are just a few of the places you can try if your LYS doesn’t offer recycled silk.

Reclaimed yarns I’m fortunate to have an eco-friendly yarn shop in my area that carries a reclaimed cashmere (Ellie’s Reclaimed Cashmere) and the price alone makes it worth checking out but there are a number of ways to get your hands on reclaimed yarn and not just cashmere.

Since reclaimed skeins are produced from previous pieces (e.g. a sweater), the resulting quantity is finite and there is no dye lot therefore, it is important to keep in mind that there is no going back to get more when that batch is gone.  Ellie’s ships all of the yarn from one source to a single shop in order to keep colors and weights together as batches.  When you find a source it is important to remember to get all the yarn that you need at that time because there won’t be any more coming from that source.

You can also undertake the process of reclaiming your own yarn from your local thrift store.  This isn’t as easy as it sounds in all cases.  If the garment / afghan etc. was not knit by hand, you may find that the seams have been sewn on a serger.  Sergers cut the yarn at the seams so you will wind up with lots of short pieces rather than a continuous  length of yarn so be sure to check out the seams before you check out of the store.

Also keep in mind that some fibers are very delicate and prone to breaking as they are being raveled so check the yarn to ensure it will have the strength needed to hold up under your efforts.  You’ll want to carefully cut seams, ravel the garment, skein the yarn and wash it prior to winding it in a ball.  (Wash the skein, not the ball.)

Brands/Where to Buy?  Ellie’s Reclaimed Cashmere.  If your LYS does not carry any reclaimed yarns, you can try looking on Etsy.  I have seen a couple of folks offering reclaimed fibers on Etsy (e.g. ASecondChance and Auracauna).

If you are more interested in reducing your carbon footprint, there are a couple more directions you can explore such as using an organic or bio-synthetic yarn.

Organic yarns Among old favorites in your LYS are organic yarns such as organic wool, cotton, hemp, linen and silk.  These fibers can be more expensive (sometimes significantly more so) than non-organic.  In a nutshell, organic fibers are derived from organically raised animals (no hormones, organic feed and pasture, etc.) or plants (no pesticides for example) and are then processed organically using biodegradable cleansers.  They can be dyed or not however if dyed, organic dyes are also more expensive than non-organic dyes.  All told, it is much more expensive to ensure a certifiable organic yarn thus, we pay more for them.

Brands/Where to Buy?  Organic yarns are widely available today so you’ll likely find some in your LYS however, if not, here are a few sources for you to try, some more familiar than others; Knit Picks, Lion Brand Yarn Jimmy Beans Wool,  and Fiber Organics.

Bio-synthetic yarns A good number of the bio-synthetic yarns that I covered in my previous articles such as Seacell, soy and bamboo are highly sustainable and bio-degradable making them good choices for more eco-friendly knitting.  If you are interested in experimenting with these fibers, I’ve listed a few sources in those previous articles.

This should get you going with eco-friendly yarns but what about the needles?  As long as we’re talking about eco-friendly knitting, how about considering home-made needles?  It can be done.  (This might appeal to our wood carvers.)  Why not consider recycling chop sticks or wooden dowels to craft your own.  A little bit of carving to craft the pointed end, a good bit of sanding, waxing and something to create the stopper (crafter’s clay for example) at the other end and Voila!, a homemade knitting needle.  hmm…something to think about.

Are you ready to or have you already gone green with your knitting?


10 Responses to Eco-friendly Yarns and Knitting

  1. Deborah May 6, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Linnea, I had no idea this industry was so diverse! I truly appreciate that you are concerned about going green,too! My mother used to knit and crochet. She also very seriously considered raising alpacas! You are obviously an expert in this field and have done your homework! I can’t wait to see more!

  2. admin May 6, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    Hi Deborah,
    What? You never learned to knit from you mother? Tis never late to start….we might just have to entice you to try :)
    Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

  3. felt crafts May 9, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    great post. thanks for sharing..

  4. admin May 9, 2010 at 9:59 pm #

    You’re most welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Kimberly Wagner May 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    I did not know that yarn was recycled formally. I have know people who unravel sweaters and make new projects when they really like the yarn. Two other recycling projects that I have seen came to mind. My mother buys clothing from a goodwill sale that occurs once a month in my town that are Christmas colours. She cuts the clothing to make drawstring Christmas bags that get reused over and over again. Second, a young crafter I met, recycles wool sweaters and blankets cutting them to make mittens that really have a lot of style.
    .-= Kimberly Wagner´s last blog ..Don’t Allow Social Media = End Bullying Issues =-.

  6. bullywool April 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    We are so with you on the eco-green yarns. We take it one step further and make local rare and endangered fiber animals. We are a small cottage hand mill and are on Etsy and Twitter. We would love you to check us out. And…if you mention this post we will give you free shipping and 10% off just because you are our kind of knitters.
    Owner of BullyWool Yarns and Fibers.

    Oh yes…we have some rather interesting and fun boards on pinterest for anyone who follows there.

  7. Linnea May 30, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    “local rare and endangered fiber animals”….now that is indeed fascinating. I will most definitely check out your sites and see what you have to offer. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  8. Kate February 1, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    Just read your articles on bio yarns, animal yarns, and green yarns. Although I don’t knit, I crochet and found all this information intriguing. I was fortunate to bring back some baby alpaca from Peru last summer and am waiting on my skills to improve a bit before I indulge in it. In the meantime, I love just fondling it. 😉 I also saw some milk yarn on a local swap which is what brought me to your page. Having read your blog on the subject, I’m definitely going to drop some bids on what is available. Can’t wait to try it out. Thank you for so much wonderful information beautifully presented.



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