Today I’m taking on the challenging subject of sustainable knitting or eco-friendly knitting. I know, big topic, right?
It’s no secret that being a creative of just about any type generates waste. Sometimes a lot of it. But today I want to narrow us down to the fiber arts, specifically knitting because that’s my personal specialty.
Let’s start by defining sustainable knitting. Sustainable. Sustainability. Eco-friendly. Eco-conscious. Earth-friendly. Environmentally-friendly. We have so many words for it and they all have their unique definition. The way I define sustainable knitting is the practice of being intentional with our supplies, tools, and accessories in a way that minimizes their environmental impact so as to be able for all of us to continue knitting.
Okay, so the mere fact that we are making our things creates a more sustainable way of living. The fact of the matter is that commercially made anything is almost always going to be more harmful to the environment than our small-scale making. The exception might be a truly eco-focused made-to-order company. Think about the sheer quantity of items made for even just one store. Let’s take the example of a basic t-shirt. Even if this t-shirt is made with environmentally-friendly fabrics, dyed in an eco-friendly way, and the company boosts one of the environmentally-friendly certifications, even then the t-shirt will likely end up as just one of many, perhaps dozens of t-shirts in consumers’ closets not to be worn with the enthusiasm of something that was handmade. And then it ends up in a landfill after the annual closet purge. And we haven’t discussed what happens with the leftovers that weren’t sold from the stores. Actually, there are quite a few more things we could talk about here, but let’s try to keep it simple today.
So, well done, you for pouring your time, energy, and money into making instead of buying.
But let’s hone in on knitting specifically. What can we do as knitters to create more sustainable knitting practices?
1. Focus your knitting on projects that you or someone else will truly use.
This includes things that are decorative, in case you’re wondering. For example, the gorgeous throw pillow you knitted for your sofa.
I’m also a realist. Do we hit it out of the park with every project we knit? Absolutely not. But the key here is to knit the things you think you’ll love and use most. So if you live in Florida, maybe take a pass on knitting heavy-weight sweaters! But if you DO really love knitting heavy-weight sweaters, do you know someone that lives in, say, Minnesota, that would appreciate a handmade wool sweater and wear it?
The key here is to make something with a purpose even if that purpose is purely decorative. This brings me to my next point:
2. If your knitting project doesn’t turn out, or if for whatever reason you aren’t using it, frog it (undo the knitting) and find another purpose for the yarn.
One of the beautiful and somewhat unique facets of knitting is that we can almost always take out our knitting and reuse the yarn. This isn’t as true for creatives who use fabric and, say, wood. Once fabric or wood is cut and used, you can’t often reuse it for something else, or at least as easily. So make something else that you do love with that yarn!
So rip out that yarn, wind it around the back of a chair, tie it off, and add some ties throughout so it doesn’t get tangled, and drop that baby into a sink of water and let it soak a bit. Gently pull it out and hang it to dry. If the yarn is really hanging onto the kinks, hang a small weight from the bottom of the loops to help ease them out. Let it dry and wind back into a ball. Cast on something new! Yes, it takes a bit of effort, but why hang on to something you no longer want or need when you can transform it into something new and beautiful and something you can once again appreciate and love?
3. Love and appreciate your stash, but if it’s no longer bringing you joy, consider donating or selling what you no longer love.
I’m totally guilty of this one. I love yarn. Obviously. I wouldn’t be a yarn dyer if I didn’t! I view my stash like I would an art collection. It brings me joy to collect beautiful things in the form of yarn! I love to look at it, admire it, pet it, and use it to dream up all the different possibilities for it! It brings me comfort knowing I have it. If we ever fell into difficult financial times, I know I could pull from my stash and keep my hands busy through the tough times. My point is: I get it!
But you know what else I love about my stash? I love that when some of it no longer feels like something that brings me joy and comfort, I can give it to someone else who needs that joy and comfort! A friend and fellow fiber business owner, Dawn of Twice Sheared Sheep did something absolutely beautiful when the pandemic hit in 2020. She organized a massive yarn stash exchange. Well, it wasn’t so much an exchange, as a chance for those of us with excess to share with those hit hard by the pandemic and finding themselves in need of the comfort yarn can bring. It was brilliant and beautiful and I wonder if I shouldn’t arrange another!
Be open to letting go of what no longer brings you joy. As the famous Marie Kondo says, “Ask yourself if it sparks joy.” And, I might be over-emphasizing this point, but bringing joy may come in the form of something beautiful to look at.
4. Purchase the supplies you need, and share the rest.
I’m speaking here about those knitting tools and accessories I shared in last week’s post. I shared the ones I actually use and love, but there are others I either never enjoyed using or my preference changed.
I have a small box of knitting accessories that I almost never use. I bet there are knitters at different points in their knitting journey who would appreciate and absolutely use them. And speaking of tools:
5. Choose quality, sustainable knitting tools whenever possible.
Not every tool is created equally. We all know this. It’s why we become diehard Chiagoo fans (that’s a knitting needle company), or why we only use circular needles, or wooden needles, or wherever our preferences fall. But next time you’re on the hunt for a knitting needle or tool, take a few minutes to learn about the company. Dive into their business ethics and practices. Are they doing their part to promote sustainable knitting? Are they doing their part to be an earth-friendly business? The truth of the matter is that we can purchase nearly everything in plastic form, a form that does not biodegrade. We can choose tools that were not made in an environmentally-friendly way. Or we can purchase them not knowing a thing about the company that made them or how they were made. It’s super easy to do. But I think now more than ever it’s critical for us to ask ourselves these questions before supporting companies. I believe in voting through our dollars.
6. Choose to purchase the most sustainable knitting yarns you know.
You had to have known this one was coming from a natural yarn dyer, right? Choose yarn fibers that will biodegrade such as organic cotton, linen, and wool. Skip the superwash treatment unless you absolutely need it. Find yarn with a more eco-friendly method of making their yarn washable.
Choose yarn spun from domestic flocks. Yes, it’s possible to find these! Besides Mountain Meadow Wool, which is my yarn supplier, there are plenty of small-flock businesses to be found. My friend Erin of Crafty Housewife, runs mylocalwool.com which specializes in exactly this. You’ll find all sorts of family farms selling yarn from their beautiful flocks. Another larger company whose claim to fame was providing the wool for the U.S. Olympic athletes for the 2014 Winter Games and the 2018 Winter Games and Paralympics, is Imperial Stock Ranch.
The other aspect of sustainable yarn is the dye. I’m obviously going to plug natural, plant dyes because they come from Mother Earth and it’s what I use exclusively here at Henlia Handmade. Take some time to learn more about natural dyes and how they can help add to your sustainable knitting practice.
7. Use up your bits and bobs.
I always love watching knitting pattern releases around December and January. With the popularity of Yarn Advent Calendars, I’ve loved seeing how knitwear designers are working to create patterns designed to use up small bits of yarn. You can use this to your advantage whether or not you’re able to snag a Yarn Advent Calendar full of 10-20 gram minis. Only when the stars align do we completely use up the yarn for a project. If you knit, you have partial skeins. Find ways to use them! My kids are always coming to me for pieces of “string” they need for their various games and crafts. Yarn bits to the rescue! You can also use them as stuffing or filling for pillows or toys. Or just go on a hunt for the beautiful designs specifically created for you to use those bits and bobs.
So there we have it. Seven ways to build a more sustainable knitting practice. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good place to begin. When we all work together to do what we can, we truly do make a difference. By choosing to be intentional about what we knit, using what we already have, finding environmentally-friendly knitting tools, and purchasing the most eco-conscious yarns we can, knitters can help make our earth a healthier, safer place for us and for future generations. And let me mention here, anything you do helps. This isn’t an all-or-nothing type of situation. I’m definitely not perfect, but I do try. I encourage you to give it your best shot too, without any judgment here.
So, help me out. What am I forgetting? Do you disagree with any of the points I suggest? What are you doing to create a sustainable knitting practice? I’d love to hear all your tips and tricks below in the comments. Let’s work together to show our planet how much we love and respect her!
If you’d like to check out my selection of naturally dyed U.S. yarn, you can do that here.
If you’re new to Henlia Handmade, I’d love to give you 20% off to give naturally dyed yarn a try. Click here for 20% off.
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Thanks again for being here. Happy knitting!