As I’ve noted in a previous post, I try to make informed decisions when choosing yarn to buy. The broad categories are fiber type, treatment of the fibers (and everything surrounding their production), country of origin, and how it was dyed. In an ideal world, every strand of yarn would be made from the best quality natural materials, under the best circumstances by somebody I personally know, and dyed with plants/natural materials (and maybe some fairy dust).
Where I concede for whether the materials are natural plant or animal usually falls under the category of performance. At the moment, I’m letting myself buy whatever sock yarn I want, which is a good example of where a synthetic fiber (Nylon) is used to increase the strength and durability of the sock. Nobody wants to spend weeks (or days, idk how fast you knit, ya speed demon) knitting socks only to have holes in them after only a few hours of wear. If you want a certain property in your yarn, but don’t want to fork over a mortgage payment, synthetic fibers are going to make it less expensive and be a lot easier to find.
If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t like to buy superwash wool yarn. The fact that the process makes the wool less woolly bothers me a lot less than the means in which it gets to that state. Yes, the ability to throw your knits in the laundry with the rest of your clothes without the risk of ruining a hard-earned garment is very convenient. However, I’d much rather spend a few minutes a week handwashing my knits for the peace of mind that I didn’t contribute to the descaling and polymer coating process of superwash yarns that is not exactly environmentally friendly. The concession here is, again, the sock yarn. It is very hard to find non-superwash sock yarn, folks. And harder still to find non-superwash sock yarn that is dyed omg-so-cute-and-pretty-I-need-it. While I really like neutrals for my wardrobe garments, socks can be SO FUN. Also, when I’m knitting a garment for somebody who does not live in my house and over whose laundry I have no control (a sweater for my cousin’s 4 year old daughter for example!), I always use superwash yarn. There are yarn companies who have managed to find a means of procuring washable yarn that is processed in an environmentally friendly way (which is another post altogether) and this is always my choice if I can afford it.
The fact that I can drive 3 minutes to my local Target and buy literally anything I could need and a whole ton of crap I didn’t know I wanted is pretty awesome on the surface. But when you think all the way upstream of where the raw materials came from and whose hands made it, it can be a less romantic story and a lot less local. It’s a monumentally baby-step process, but I’m trying more and more to know who – the actual person – the items in my life came from. Not only has this ideal stocked my meat freezer with animals I’ve met, this has also led me to seek out yarn companies based in the USA and whose yarn materials originate domestically as well. For me, this is the easiest way to know whether the sheep have been raised and handled humanely, that the people who work for that company are compensated fairly, and that all of the business standards are at least up to whichever governing body controls them in the United States. It’s also important to mention that the more local you buy an item – and the more local its components – the less fuel is used to ship it to you, the presumed end user. But this is not to say that every US yarn company is infallible, so this is where my concession comes in. Maybe I’ll support a local indie dyer, my local yarn shop, or a US-based retailer, as well as international yarn suppliers who I know to be doing right by the process. I waver about whether it’s more important to support American people or good practices anywhere. I don’t know the answer to that question, which is why the baby steps may walk in circles sometimes.
The way yarn is dyed is kind of an anomaly to me. I tried to dye yarn once with things I found in my backyard. I kind of followed instructions, but my yarn just came out looking dirty. I have almost no constrictions on buying yarn based on the way it’s dyed. However, if a yarn is promoted to be dyed with plants or using non-toxic dye, I may see what I can do to prioritize it, but that’s almost a novelty reason at this point. From what measly research I’ve done, I know there are heavy metal-free versions of wool dye, which must mean that all of the other ones contain at least some amount of these compounds. I have no idea if huge companies dye their yarn with different materials than indie dyers. And I know that for most plant dyes to actually stick to the yarn, a mordant must be used, and I’m 100% unsure whether the mordant is environmentally friendly. It’s possible that there’s a dose-response curve leaning to safety or otherwise for all dyes. I don’t really know whether the manufacturing process of any kind of dyeing materials is toxic, and to what portion of the environment. What I do know is that I like undyed fibers, and the rest are a big hunko chunko research away from being understood by me.
All of that being said, I’m looking forward to each new-to-me brand of yarn I try out in the future. It will be a learning experience as well as funsies knitting times.