What do we mean by ‘eco wools’? Actually this is a bit of a grey area. ‘Eco’ is a trendy buzz word just now – the January issue of Inside Crochet had some lovely reviews of ‘eco wools’ for example, but without saying what they actually meant by it. As far as I’m concerned there are several ribs to this umbrella, not all of which touch on the same concerns.
1. Yarns made of sustainable fibres: this means not stripping resources which can’t be replanted, re-grown or otherwise replaced. Pure wool is an obvious example, but bamboo fibres is another since this is a fast-growing plant which rapidly replaces what is harvested. I’m using bamboo yarn in the baby blanket I featured in the post on using up your bits and pieces. It’s lovely and soft, and although it has a tendency to twist, this doesn’t affect the finished article, whether knitted or crocheted.
2. Natural fibres: this can be connected with point 1, but is also a matter of reducing processing, and perhaps also of quality. Processing is an important issue as it can be very stressful for the environment, requiring more energy for the various stages, more dyes, and perhaps more transport costs. If this is a significant issue for you, then look out for pure wool, avoid acrylic, and go for yarns dyed with natural dyes. You might not find such a range, but there are many pretty colours out there. Natural fibres are also considered to be better quality as they often warmer (wool has had to keep a sheep warm after all). Just check the washing instructions before tossing your finished garment in for a spin cycle!
‘Happy sheep’, taken by David Masters, on creative commons
3. Linked to this, wools and materials labelled as ‘eco’ ones may have reduced carbon footprints because they’re local, are small companies, or particularly aim to keep packaging to a minimum. Animal welfare should also be a factor, with flocks allowed free range, or even deliberately moved around the local hillsides to minimise their impact on the countryside. That’s a big plus for me as animal welfare is high on my own personal agenda – but so are air miles, so that would rule out some of the other animal-friendly yarns out there (possum wool, for example!). As with so many ethical questions it’s a matter of deciding what factors matter most to you.
Buying ‘eco-yarns’ isn’t necessarily the economical option and you might have to look a bit harder to find them. But they don’t have to break the bank, and you might feel it’s worth it for a special project. Many of the bigger companies are getting into these markets and it’s likely they will expand if it’s popular. I found the above yarn at my local haberdashery shop and picked up a couple of balls to test it out. It was a bit more pricey than the others but it has a nice variegated shading which makes the finished article look particularly nice. I tried it out using a pattern from the January Inside Crochet for a notebook cover. I’ve had lots of compliments on it at work and can feel good about those happy sheep, too!