My Current Concessions

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.

How I Choose Project Yarn

When I’m shopping for yarn, there is a lot that I consider. I attempt to identify the best choices, then be realistic from there based on what actually exists, is available, and is what I consider to be a reasonable investment. My process is ever-changing too. Sometimes I make more concessions, sometimes I want to be as strict as I can. I almost always start with a project in mind. I don’t think I’ve ever, for example, bought a sweater quantity of yarn then figured out how to use it later – that gives me the straight up willies, I can think of 10 “what if”s that could go wrong. Anywho, here’s a basic list and some information on my decision-making process.

    1. Fiber – After I’ve identified a pattern that I’d like to hitch my wagon to, I figure out what I’d like the fabric to be like. I’m pretty steadfast about using natural fibers – wool, cotton, linen, bamboo. However this is where the gray area creeps in. There are fibers made from natural things like Lyocell, which is a strong fiber made from recycled cellulose that adds sturdiness and shine to yarns, especially sock yarns. A totally natural fiber that I didn’t mention above is silk, but there are some moral/ethical concerns since most silk requires the silk worms to be culled in order to harvest the silk itself. There are companies now that do not need to sacrifice the silk worms in order to get the silk, which may play into my decision making process if possible. Then there are the entirely man-made polymers like nylon and acrylic. Nylon is often added to sock yarn to increase it’s strength and durability. Acrylic yarn is usually very soft and affordable – this is widely available in mainstream craft stores. I generally don’t use acrylic yarn because I don’t like the way it feels, if it gets exposed to flame it could melt (unlike wool which is flame resistant), and I’m not sure how it’s made. Some synthetic fibers are made from a large percentage of post-consumer recycled materials which is great, but it is still true that the raw materials needed to make synthetic fibers are petroleum-based non-renewable resources. Not only that, but any plastic manufacturing process is not a green one.
    2. Treatment – Once I’ve chosen which type of fiber I’m working with, I go a bit deeper into its story. Looking into its “treatment” can mean a lot of things, and I have a set of ideals that I’d like my selections to meet.
      1. For synthetic fibers, ideally they’d be 100% recycled materials
      2. For silk, ideally it would be ethically harvested without harming the silk worms
      3. For cotton & linen (and bamboo if applicable), ideally they would be organically grown
      4. For wool, ideally it would come from sheep who were raised as humanely as possible, in a carbon-sequestering farming method, and the fiber would not have the superwash treatment
      5. And it should go without saying, but unfortunately I know it doesn’t – ideally every person who handles the fibers from raw materials to the factory would be paid a fair wage and work in adequate conditions. This means ranchers shouldn’t have to cut corners with their flock because of external budget reasons, field workers should not be doused in pesticides and diesel fumes, factory workers should be safe and have reasonable hours – you get the picture.
    3. Country of Origin – Growing up in the United States, it was normal for pretty much everything in our house to have a “Made in _____” label on it, the country in question almost never being the United States. Sometimes this can be a good thing when another country’s business is properly supported by international trade, but other times this can be a supernotgood thing. American companies will often outsource parts of their business, especially manufacturing, abroad for mostly nefarious reasons. Other countries will often not have as strict of guidelines about building the factory itself and the treatment of workers (occupational health & safety, number of hours worked a day/week, living wages), and they can do it for less money since raw materials are cheaper and wages are lower. I waffle on the sourcing of my yarn a little bit, but I usually come back to supporting American businesses. The more local the better. If there is a yarn that would be perfect for a project that I just can’t find closer to home, or that is doing it right from an ethics & such perspective (like Pichinku whose Kickstarter I supported!), I’m happy to support their business. Living in the United States, though, I can find practically anything I need. When I am looking for a project’s yarn, I do like to go the extra step to investigate whether not just the retailer/dyer has their business in the US, I like to see where the sheep were raised or the crops were gown where they sourced the yarn base from. Sometimes this information isn’t easy to find, but often those who are committed to supporting or running a US-based yarn brand will say so proudly.
    4. Dye – Dye is arguably the most fun part of choosing which yarn you’ll use for a project. This is where the artist in you can come out if you yourself aren’t the pattern designer. And while choosing the color palette is extra funsies, there are still some things to take into account. Most yarn whether dyed commercially or by your favorite indie dyer is dyed using acid dyes. These are pigments that set into the fiber using acid, usually acetic acid (vinegar). There are also acid dyes that have a more environmentally friendly spin because they eschew heavy metals in their pigments. Then there are a plethora of plants and other natural items that can be found around your very own environment that give off a shocking amount of color. Often, many of these plant dyes won’t be as color or light fast without the use of a mordant (natural tannins in things like walnut husks or a compound called Alum for example). While the end product yarn dyed with any of the above won’t be toxic, the manufacturing of and disposal of some dyes and accouterments  may not be entirely Earth-friendly. Heavy metals are among the compounds that I wouldn’t want in my garden soil, yanno?

There are definitely more things to consider like breed-specific wool, how the yarn is plied, whether to buy from your local yarn shop or online and more. I could likely come up with a longer list, but the gist is that I don’t walk into a chain craft store and buy whatever is cheap and a neat color.

TL;DR Version

  • Personally, I stick with almost exclusively wool with other natural fibers here and there. I do make a concession for nylon in sock yarn if I’m spellbound by how pretty it is :).
  • I try to buy yarn that is the least chemically adulterated and is produced using the most ethical means. Obviously, perfection is hard to come by, but I make sure at least a few boxes are checked.
  • I buy as local as I can as often as I can, but don’t beat myself up from supporting good businesses in other countries.
  • I enjoy the natural beauty and frankly genius of natural dyes, but I don’t let that hold me back from selections at the moment. That would SEVERELY limit the choices available to me.

Phew. Okay bye, love you.

Projects on My Needles – Dec 3, 2017

As I mentioned in a previous post, I almost always have more than 1 project in progress at one time. I like to post my progress shots on Instagram, but I think it will be fun to have a more detailed write up every now and again of the things I’m working on!

Right now I have 3 things going.

The first is called the Cloud Cover cardigan. I noticed myself always being drawn to the one open-front cardigan that I own, the others with buttons being neglected on the shelf. I was drawn to the big rolled collar on this one and the way it drapes. I wanted to create a fabric that was drapey but at the same time soft and fuzzy (with 2 Zs). To create a DK weight that the pattern calls for, I combined Quince & Co.’s Sparrow in the colorway Birch which is a fingering weight organic linen and Plymouth Yarn’s Kid Gloss Hand Dyed in the colorway ivory which is a lace weight 72% kid mohair and 28% silk. The piece isn’t big and heavy enough at this point to know how it’ll drape, but I love the feel of the fabric, and I’m stoked to have another open-front cardigan in my closet.

Pattern: Cloud Cover by Heidi Kirrmaier
Yarn: Quince & Co. Sparrow in Birch held together with Plymouth Yarn Kid Gloss Hand Dyed in Ivory
Ravelry Project Page: Icy Blue Fuzz

Hi kiddo!

Next up, we’ve got a design by me! This design came from me staring at yarn that was leftover from other projects and wondering what to do. I figured I could just use it on a pattern that was already established or that I had made before, but it wasn’t a priority to figure out, so I just let it hang out. Then I got hit by the pattern like a bird hitting your windshield. I HAD to make this into a shawl with sections of textured solid parts and pretty lace parts. So I cast on. Then I kept getting ideas and trying them out as I went, so this piece turned more into a canvass to see “I wonder what this would look like” than what the pattern is going to be. But trust me, the pattern that I’ve landed on is going to be hella cool. It’s got a cool name and a cool theme and cool yarn and you can wear it during cool weather. Sorry.

Pattern: To be announced by me!
Yarn: Swan’s Island Natural Colors in Vintage Lilac held together with Shibui Silk Cloud in Mineral
& Madeline Tosh Merino Light in Night Bloom
Ravelry Project Page: I’m-Not-Telling-You-The-Name-Yet Shawl


And finally, I’ve been drooling over this yarn ever since I was perusing Simply Socks Yarn Company to find options for a gift sock knit. This was a sock I cast on when I realized to my horror that I only had 1 thing on the needles that I was totally not feeling like I wanted to work on. So obviously I cast them on and binge watched Punisher with my husband after kiddo was in bed. Can I just say that I will always do socks magic loop 2 at a time from now until forever? I’ve never used a DPN and I’m cool with that. Also toe-up makes me happy because you can use up all of your yarn instead of guessing how long to make the leg. For these I did 2 at a time Judy’s Magic Cast On, cast on 12 and increased up to 60 stitches using LLI and RLI (Google it, I don’t know how to explain how to do it). Once I get to my desired foot length, I’m going to put in some waste yarn a la Susan B. Anderson’s Smooth Operator Socks Pattern, knit an inch or so, then do the afterthought heel with the other ends of the yarn balls, then continue the leg until I run out of yarn. I’m trying to find my ultimate personal sock recipe for socks that don’t piss me off to wear for more than a photo op.

Pattern: Smooth Operator Sock by Susan B. Anderson
Judy’s Magic Cast On
Yarn: Turtlepurl Yarns in Burberry
Ravelry Project Page: Burberry Socks

And there you have it! My queue of things to make for myself and to design and gifts to give keeps getting longer, so tune in next time for another installment of Projects on My Needles!

I’m Not a Monogamous Knitter

There’s nothing like casting on a new project. This is why I always have more than 1 on the needles at any point. Actually, a few weeks ago, I realized that I had finished a pair of socks, a sweater, and a hat within a few days of each other and I was down to ONE PROJECT ON THE NEEDLES OMG NO. I immediately cast on socks that I had waiting and got on the ole internet to order yarn for a cardigan. The cardigan planning had been in the works for weeks already at that point, so it wasn’t an impulse buy. If you were worried about my spending habits.

It obviously goes the fastest to get your project done if you’re only working on one thing at a time, but I just can’t. I get sick of the color, sick of the yarn size, sick of the needle size, bored of the pattern, or dread transitioning to the next step in the pattern. Let me say though that I almost never abandon a project. None of these reasons that make me want to do something else mean I don’t like the project anymore, I just need variety.

When I taught myself how to knit, I had been crocheting for 2 years already. But I knew knitting was where I wanted to end up. I REALLY wanted to make my own clothes. Like actual clothes that look like you bought them at the store, not a janky-looking crocheted sweater-like object that awww did your grandma make that, omg so sweet. (This isn’t to say that there aren’t lovely crochet garments, I’ve made some before, but generally clothes from stores are knitted and I’m dumb enough to try to make my own crochet sweater pattern and it would have looked like someone put a granny-square afghan in a blender and gently draped it over my shoulders and patted me on the head.) After I made my first hand-knit sweater, I couldn’t get a wardrobe full of sweaters fast enough.

So this is where I am now.

  • I always have a sweater on the needles or I am planning my next sweater either for myself or my husband or son. Or for a test knit. Or a gift. I really like sweaters.
  • I really like having socks on the needles. Especially if they’re just stockinette, sometimes they are the best palate cleanser from something frustrating, or the best procrastination tool. And hey maybe one day I’ll be fast enough or prepared enough to knit socks for gifts in advance of the occasion – yet another use!
  • I have a lot of design ideas, so I’m challenging myself to have something on the needles that I’m creating a pattern for. This is a new endeavor and can be frustrating or much slower to knit the thing than write the pattern, so it’s nice to have the other projects to gravitate to when something about the design du jour is annoying me.
  • And I’m always open to a little project. Winter came JUST LIKE NED STARK SAID IT WOULD and I was unprepared. My nearly 2-year-old kiddo was without mittens except for the big-ass ones you use to build a snowman, so I took a day to make him a pair. And I had leftover yarn from my husband’s sweater, so I used that and another partial skein to make him a quick colorwork hat. These less-than-a-week long projects are nice to get that delicious finished object satisfaction in a hurry.

So, variety is the spice of my knitting life apparently. How bout you?

Baby Hat Pattern

For some reason, when you’re a knitter, everyone thinks that “you could totally sell things” that you’ve knit. It’s mostly well-meaning, and if you’re an Obliger like me, you feel compelled to actually do it. So I did it. I started my Etsy shop to sell baby hats. I went with baby hats because 1) I have/had a baby and 2) they’re one of the few things that you can actually profit from when you factor in materials needed and time it takes to knit it.

So, I embarked on making simple baby hats that were generic but unique. In doing so, I came up with a recipe for different sizes that I liked along with a method to put simple stripes in if desired. To make my own life easier, I wrote my pattern recipe down for all the sizes I offer in my Etsy shop, and thus my first published pattern was born! It’s a free pattern called Jogless-Join Stripes Baby Hat and it’s available on my Ravelry shop. Go download it if’n it interests you!

Superwash Wool and Me

One of the things about my knitting that is unique is my rule about superwash yarn – I choose not to use it when I can. Let me preface this by saying I do have a proficient understanding of chemistry – I was a biochem major in college, so the use of the word “chemicals” is probably not going to appear without a qualifier. I’m definitely not an expert on the subject of superwash wool, though. Ashley at Woolful has a wonderful blog post that goes much more into depth than I am going to here.

To sum it up, superwash wool is when wool is descaled and coated in a type of plastic so that the fibers don’t felt and shrink when agitated a lot, as in the washing machine and dryer. In general, when I’m concerned about the toxicity or processing of a product, I am not concerned about the end product being a dangerous substance. This used to be my main concern when being more careful about unnatural chemicals in my home, products and environment. Generally, the most damaging part of using man-made chemicals to create or adulterate an item is in the manufacturing process. And mostly I’m concerned about the environment – plastic taking the Earth’s lifetime to degrade, degrading plastics leeching substances into the soil, the chemicals being released into the environment polluting the soil and water harming flora and fauna from the microscopic level up to big-ass birds and trees, and the carbon emissions of powering the manufacturing. This probably isn’t an exhaustive list.

Anywho, what I’m trying to say is that when I can, I choose wool that has not had the mainstream superwash treatment. I don’t mind hand washing my hand-knits. It makes me nervous to even put superwash items in the washing machine. I do make some concessions so I don’t go crazy, though (like letting myself buy whatever sock yarn I want because FUN and using superwash for non-knitter gifts). There are definitely plenty of companies that offer yarn that is the least amount processed as possible, so I don’t struggle with locating yarn to knit with. That being said, there are tons of indie dyers who have amazingly beautiful handpainted yarn, which is hard to resist.

Although it’s a small part at the moment, I hope to affect the environment positively an eensy bit with my knitting!