Similar to how people are having a closer look at how their food is actually produced — and whether this is done in an ethical and eco-friendly way — crafters like knitters and crocheters are having a closer look at how their supplies are created. Many are also switching to ethically-produced yarn and supplies.
What are natural fibers?
Natural fibers are fibers that can be spun into yarn and that comes from animals or plants. For example, different types of wool are natural fibers as well as cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo, etc. which come from plants. Silk, which is a protein fiber made by silkworms, is also a natural fiber.
Synthetic yarn is made from man-made fibers which can be described as being plastic-like or, to be blunt, plastic. These yarns do no break down like natural yarns do.
For example, a knitted item that is thrown away will compost if made from natural fibers, while it will take many, many years for a synthetic item to break down, much like a plastic container. Synthetic fibers include nylon, rayon, and acrylic. (This is also why KnitPal prefers that yarn-bombers use natural yarn.)
Natural yarns are eco-friendly and sustainable
As can be seen from the example given above, natural fibers are the eco-friendly choice when it comes to yarn as it will break down naturally.
The natural yarns are also sustainable as the animals (for example sheep, alpacas, and llamas) that are shorn for their fleeces are not killed or harmed to make the yarn. Rather, they are shorn once a year (or more in some cases) and then left again to grow their fleece. KnitPal’s 100% Merino yarn, therefore, is also a lot more eco-friendly and sustainable that similar yarns that is made exclusively from acrylics or other synthetics.
The plants like cotton, hemp, and linen, etc. from which yarn are made, are also replanted when necessary or can be harvested year after year if the plant is perennial.
Natural yarns - flame retardant, antibacterial
A lot of natural fibers - unlike man-made ones — are naturally flame retardant and no other chemicals are needed to create this characteristic.
Not only clothing, but also blankets and other home items can therefore be made safer by using a natural fiber, like wool.
Many natural yarns are also naturally antibacterial and, again, no chemicals need to be added to keep bacteria and fungus from the clothing or home item.
This is one reason why clothing — like socks — made from, for example, Merino wool, do not gather odors like acrylic yarn does. For the same reason, you can use KnitPal’s 100% Merino yarn without worrying about chemical smells or other odors.
Natural yarns don’t contain petrochemicals
Acrylic and, in fact, most man-made yarns are made from petroleum products and therefore contain petrochemicals, unlike natural fibers.
If you choose organic plant fibers to work with, the plants would also not have been sprayed with pesticides and the like. This means that your yarn, in this case, is an especially clean product.
Natural fibers, also usually require a lot less energy to produce in comparison with synthetics, which makes them an even more environmentally-friendly choice.
They’re a dream to work with — even for beginners
Not only are natural fibers’ final products absolutely beautiful to look at, they are also a dream to work with.
The stitch definition are oftentimes much more visible than that of acrylic fibers — especially after blocking. Something like a knitted lace shawl or lacy crocheted piece can be blocked to show off the pattern to perfection. This isn’t possible with acrylics.
In it for the long run
Natural fibers may be biodegradable, but they are also very hard-wearing and durable. So, while a project may cost more to make when you decide to use natural fibers, it is a lot more cost-effective in the long run.
This is why KnitPal decided to use not only yarn made from natural fibers, but 100% Merino yarn made from ethically sourced wool.
Cool in summer, warm in winter
Unlike synthetics that trap heat and moisture, natural fibers are breathable with many even wicking away perspiration and moisture to release it into the air and keep you feeling comfortable whether it’s warm or cold.
For example, wool insulates against both heat and cold, while bamboo, cotton, and the like breathes, keeps you cool, and is perfect for wearing during hot days. Acrylics, on the other hand, traps much of the heat — not to mention perspiration — to leave you hot and uncomfortable. Just think how different it feels to sleep on pure cotton sheets as opposed to poly-cotton or synthetic sheets!
Good for sensitive skin
Allergies or rashes are less likely when wearing or using items made with natural fibers. Studies have even shown that natural fibers like Merino wool can help to relieve eczema.
Although some do have problems when wearing wool, there are so many different natural fibers to choose from, that it’s basically impossible to find that you can’t wear natural fibers at all.
Supporting local fiber artists
Many times natural fiber yarns are sold at small, locally owned shops instead of department stores. If you work with small-batch hand dyed yarn — like that of KnitPal — you will not only be supporting a fiber artist, but also supporting small, women-owned businesses and your yarn and wool community.
Keeping traditions alive
Lastly, there is a definite different emotional connection when working with natural fibers as opposed to large-scale, machine-produced synthetics.
It’s not only a tangible connection to the past and those who’ve passed on their artistry and knowledge over the centuries, but it is also a tangible connection to nature — which we desperately need in these times.
As you can see, working with natural fibers mean much more than just working with an exclusive type of yarn. Switching to using only natural yarns — like the 100% Merino yarn that KnitPal sells — is a step in the right direction to make your craft more sustainable, more eco-friendly and to lessen your carbon footprint!