Image credit: Max and Herb
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When a reader asked us about sustainable yarn options, we were delighted to find so many brands making gorgeous, high-quality, and eco-friendly yarn. But that’s not always the case!
What Yarns to Avoid
Synthetic fibers, besides being made from fossil fuels, don’t have the odor-blocking performance of natural fibers. That’s why you get that particular brand of B.O. in the winter when you’re sweating in a synthetic sweater. When abraded and fluffed to create yarn, they also have a nasty tendency to shed microfibers into the air, your home’s dust, and the water if you wash your knitwear. Here are the different types of yarn to avoid:
Acrylic: 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 manufacture it.
Nylon: Basically a type of plastic derived from fossil fuels, nylon is not biodegradable. A better alternative is ECONYL, which is nylon made from recycled fishing nets and carpet.
Polyester: Another type of plastic derived from fossil fuels.
Synthetically dyes: Many people often overlook the dyes used in fabric, but the dyeing process is actually one of the most detrimental aspects of production.
Performance: If a yarn comes with promises to be washable, that is often achieved with a chemical or polymer finish, which makes even natural materials synthetic and non-compostable. Buy yarn that comes with instructions to hand-wash and lay flat to dry.
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: Organic is always better, as 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.
Local or Artisan: Only buy from brands that can show you how the yarn is made and where. That could be from a local farm in California, or from a cooperative in Peru. Transparency isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes the process of choosing your yarn more meaningful and fun!
Our Favorite Beautiful, Sustainable, and Ethical Yarn Brands
Wool and the Gang doesn’t just carry wool. It offers non-toxic Tencel yarn made from 100% renewable energy, wool made from pre-consumer waste fibers, sustainably-sourced Peruvian wool, and upcycled denim and jersey yarn made from fashion factory scraps. You can read a lot about each type of yarn and its sustainable characteristics right on the website. You can also get knitting and crochet kits and tools, too.
London, United Kingdom
All of We Are Knitters’ fibers are natural and made in Peru. You can find yarns made out of sheep wool, baby alpaca, merino and Pima cotton. The brand has all kinds of kits for every level knitters, along with other supplies, patterns and video tutorials.
Every ball of Loopy Mango yarn is sustainably sourced from 100% domestic merino wool and is hand-crafted by artisans. The brand has all kinds of fun-colored yarn, knitting and crocheting tools, video tutorials, and free patterns.
New York, United States
Misti Nolan takes discarded sweaters, unravels them, and turns them into 100% recycled yarn for your next project. You can see the before and after photos of the sweaters and yarn on her Instagram and shop by yarn type (cashmere, alpaca, cotton, linen, wool, blends, and more) on her Etsy store.
Virginia, United States
Darn Good Yarn started with 100% silk from recycled saris and now carries other types of natural fibers like hemp, wool and linen. From the artisan who hand spins the yarn to the person who fulfills the packages, every piece of the Darn Good Yarn supply chain makes a positive impact in some way, whether through job creation or non-profit partnership. It also carries kits and patterns, yarn bowls, pre-made clothing, jewelry, home goods, and more.
New York, United States
Manos del Uruguay is an Uruguayan non-profit that creates ethical and sustainable yarns. It has 12 cooperatives, and each one is a workshop located in a small village in Uruguay’s countryside. The cooperatives equip the artisan to develop and gain independence, keeping their roots and traditions close to their community and families. The artisans are the owners of the company, and Manos’ profits are shared among the cooperatives or re-invested in the organization. Every yarn has a tag with the artisan signature and the name of the village where the cooperative is located. All of its yarns are hand-dyed in small batches using big pots heated by wood kettles. Its products are demanded by high-end brands such as Gabriela Hearst and Stella McCartney.
Max and Herb sources eco-friendly, recycled, and low-impact fibers from around the globe. It reduces its footprint, upholds fair trade principles and aims to preserve local communities’ culture and traditions.