Eco-friendly Wool Yarn for Green Knitters

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Does the cold winter weather have you staying in to knit warm woolen mittens and scarves? If so, you may be going through the same conundrums I'm dealing with. DIY knitting can be a very eco-friendly hobby, but knitters who want to keep their handmade goods environmentally-friendly and cruelty-free will likely find wool yarn shopping challenging, to say the least.

I started to realize this when I got some new woolen yarns to try from Stitch Nation by Debbie Stoller. Yes, the Debbie behind the Stitch & Bitch books I love has come out with a new line of pretty-colored yarns -- a 100% Peruvian wool yarn called Full o' Sheep, a blend of viscose from bamboo and wool called Bamboo Ewe, and a wool and alpaca blend called Alpaca Love.

These yarns are described as "100% natural, 100% affordable" -- so naturally I wanted to give them a try. Unfortunately, the yarns arrived with no additional information as to what "natural" meant -- and a request for more information didn't yield any more details.

And as eco-smart people know, "natural" can really mean anything. Cotton T-shirts, for example, are often marketed as "100% natural" -- never mind that they're usually grown with pesticides, dyed with not-so-natural colors, and responsible for a whole host of environmental problems.

The same types of issues are concerns with "100% natural" wool yarn. Unless the yarn company discloses specific environmental criteria, "natural" wool simply means that the wool grew on animals -- and is not a guarantee that the wool is pesticide or chemical free.

That's why more eco-conscious knitters are seeking out organic wool yarn -- both for the environment and for their own health. As Dayna Boyer at Canadian Living writes, "Not only is organic wool better for the sheep, it could be better for your skin: Lorena Ladan, owner of yarn store The Naked Sheep in Toronto, says a lot of people aren't actually allergic to wool -- they're allergic to the chemicals and dyes that go into processing it."

Since wool comes from animals, eco-friendly yarn also brings up issues of livestock treatment. For example, Tobin Hack writes in Plenty about muesling, a "gruesome wool shearing technique" that cuts out chunks of flesh off lambs. Tobin says Australian merino wool's especially known to be harvested using this painful technique.

Lest you're starting to feel that all wool yarn is bad wool yarn, rest assured that sustainably harvested wool from well-treated livestock does exist. You simply need to ask more questions -- about organic and sustainable farming, eco-friendly processing and dyeing, and humane treatment of animals -- to figure out which wool yarns to buy. A few that come recommended by green bloggers:

>> O-Wool by The Vermont Organic Fiber Company. Abigail Doan at Ecouterre raves about this organic certified yarn that she says is "the wool of choice for eco-fashion designers such as Bodkin, Bahar Shahpar, Deborah Lindquist, Susan Woo, Ekovaruhuset, FIN, and Elena Garcia."

>> Da’vida Fair Trade Store yarns. At Crafting a Green World, Victoria Everman recommends Da'vida's fair trade yarns, most of which are fair trade yarns from small-scale farmers in Uruguay, Bolivia and Peru. Some of the yarns actually come from a New York sheep farmer called Lisa Meriam, so New Englanders can get locally grown, locally hand-painted wool yarns!

>> Llamajamas 1855 Handspun Wool Yarn. Recommended by Jasmin Chua at The Worsted Witch, Llamajamas' yarns are spun by artisan women in Ecuador, fairly traded, and naturally dyed. And natural here really means natural. Llamajamas' website says the dyes are created by roasting "plants, bark, nuts, and other natural materials over open fires for many hours."

Of course, some of the most eco-friendly -- and most affordable -- wool yarns are pre-loved yarns. If you're balking at the price of these gorgeous-looking and eco-friendly yarns, simply head over to your nearest Goodwill and browse the sweater section, looking not at the styles but at the colors and textures. This way, you'll have a wider selection of yarns to pick from -- and you'll be upcycling yarn, thereby requiring no new resources. Or for an even cheaper option, dig through your closet for ugly sweaters or other knits you no longer wear!

Once you've got an old sweater in hand, take it apart using these directions from the Cashmere Connoisseur, and reknit it into the woolen shape of your desire. I'm proud to say I've made everything from a camera cover to cat toys using this upcycling method.

Not a knitter yourself -- but have lots of ugly sweaters? A new service called Reknit lets you send in a sweater to be handknit and upcycled into a striped scarf -- for the bargain price of $30.

Photo via Joanne
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BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel is currently knitting a teddy bear from pre-loved yarn that used to be part of a sweater at Goodwill. She also blogs at greenLAgirl.com.

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