My students won’t be surprised to read this. They know I always choose to knit with wool. Or linen, hemp, mohair, cashmere, or nettle fibre. What I will not use in my knitting, or my clothes for that matter, is acrylic, polyamide or any other form of synthetic yarn. I made this decision years ago mainly because synthetic fibes and fabrics don’t breathe and become hot and smell bad very quickly, which means they feel uncomfortable and they have to be washed more often. I also found that knitting with acrylic yarn felt horrible and made my hands hurt, probably because there isn’t any ‘give’ in the yarn.
Over the last few years we have become much more aware of the impact of plastics on the environment and how synthetics shed microplastics into the water system, ending up in the oceans, inside fish and reappearing in our food. When you add the fact that synthetic yarns are made from oil, contributing to our fossil fuel problem, there’s a very compelling case to avoid them.
But there is also a positive case for choosing wool.
- Wool is a natural, biodegradable fibre
- Wool keeps you warm in cold weather, and cool in hot weather
- Wool breathes and wicks away moisture
- Wool is easy to wash and doesn’t need washing as often as synthetic garments.
There are arguments that we shouldn’t be exploiting sheep for their wool. I think this is false reasoning: sheep have been bred by humans for thousands of years for their fleece. They need to be shorn regularly, or the wool becomes heavy, water-logged and a breeding ground for parasites and flies. It is cruel not to shear them. Many farmers care a great deal about their animals and are dedicated to keeping them as healthy as possible, using careful organic methods of sheep-raising.
I choose to support farmers who are trying to preserve rare breeds, producers who are trying to develop alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic. We need to support them and choose to buy their products. This has been brought home to me recently as I have been trying to find a sock yarn without nylon. And believe me this is not easy. It has become accepted that sock yarns need to have a percentage of nylon in them to make the socks more hardwearing. But there are alternatives to nylon, including silk and mohair. And of course there are sheep breeds with tougher wool that can be incorporated into sock yarn to make it more durable. Or if, like me, you don’t mind darning, you can factor that in when you knit socks and just use any 4ply or fingering weight yarn. If you want to know more about nylon-free sock yarn I recommend this excellent article on nylon-free sock yarn by Clare Devine of KnitShareLove.
Whatever you decide to do, please make an informed choice. Do your research and work out what’s important for you. Just bear in mind that farmers and suppliers need to be encouraged to provide cruelty-free, 100% wool or natural fibre yarns. They need to know there is a demand and a market.
I’ll list some of my favourite places to buy real natural fibre yarns and some suggestions for nylon-free sock yarn. Please send me your favourite natural yarn shops too and I’ll make a downloadable list. And let me know what you think of the whole wool, natural fibre versus acrylic issue.
Places to buy wool and other natural fibre yarns
Great British Yarns
Maridiana Alpaca Farm
Nylon-free sock yarn
Daughter of a Shepherd