Poking through bins of luxurious yarn, whether in-store or online, is a relaxing (if potentially expensive!) pastime for most knitters, and now it's becoming more environmentally friendly. Organic yarn has been picking up speed in the mainstream market, getting picked up by a number of knitting stores across North America. Some of the trendy fibres spinning their way into the hearts of knitters are organic wool, organic cotton, hemp, linen, soy silk and bamboo from companies like Blue Sky Alpacas, the Vermont Organic Fiber Co. and Near Sea Naturals. Here's a guide to what the terminology means and some brands you can try.
For wool to be certified organic, it must adhere to the same rigorous requirements as organic meat. Sheep must be fed organic food and cannot be injected with growth hormones; plus, among other restrictions, fleeces cannot be washed in chemicals. 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.
Even the farming space for managing organic livestock is very different from mass farming operations. Farmers cannot exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which the sheep graze, says the Organic Trade Association, because overgrazing contributes to land becoming unsustainable.
Brands to look for: Vermont Organic Fiber Co., The Fibre Company and Handmaiden (which uses seaweed in many of its blends)
Organic plants used for yarn, like cotton and linen, must be grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Megan Ingman, owner of Toronto knitting store Lettuce Knit, says that cotton especially uses a lot of pesticides when not grown organically, and she attributes this to why organic cotton has such a strong following.
The website for the Sustainable Cotton Project says 10 per cent of all agricultural pesticides produced worldwide are used on cotton. So by purchasing organic cotton, you're sending a strong message about the use of pesticides on plants.
Brands to look for: Lion Organic Cotton, Near Sea Naturals and Blue Sky Alpacas
Canada is one of the few countries where it is legal to produce hemp, one of the most renewable resources available for yarn and other products such paper. "Hemp needs no pesticides or herbicides because it is unpalatable to insects and it grows too quickly for any weed to compete," explains the website of Lanaknits Designs. Hemp is a tough plant that can grow in almost any climate or quality of soil -- and no, while it is related to the marijuana plant, it can't be used as a drug.
Brands to look for: Lanaknits Designs, a Canadian company that offers 100 per cent hemp yarns as well as hemp/cotton, hemp/wool and even hemp/cashmere blends.
Linen is made from the flax plant, which requires very little fertilizer as an added environmental bonus. Since linen is a stronger fibre, it blends well with other fibres that have more bounce to them. One yarn at The Naked Sheep that's been getting rave reviews is a blend of merino wool, soybean fibre and linen from The Fibre Company. "I call it my granola yarn, because you just want to sink your teeth into it," says Ladan.
Brand to look for: Euroflax
As a byproduct of manufacturing tofu, soy silk is made of 100 per cent recycled material, making it one of the most environmentally friendly (and expensive) yarns. Soy silk is usually blended with other organic fibres to create a luxurious and affordable yarn.
Brand to look for: Soysilk yarns
"Some of the most beautiful yarn coming out right now is made out of bamboo," says Ladan. "It feels just like silk."
Bamboo is an extremely resilient plant and spreads with weedlike ease, making it one of the most sustainable plants for human consumption. Yarn made from bamboo, if not treated with chemicals, can be fully biodegradable.
Brands to look for: Classic Elite Bam Boo, South West Trading Company's Love and Twize
Be sure to ask your local yarn store to bring in certain brands; your request may set off a chain reaction of interest in organic yarn options. But in the meantime, you may need to look online to get your eco-friendly yarn fix. Here are a few sites to visit -- and don't forget eBay as a great yarn source.
This online version of one of New York's favourite yarn stores carries several organic yarns from companies such as Blue Sky Alpacas, The Fibre Company and Hand Jive.
Carries a variety of Foxfibre organic cotton
Carries hemp, organic cotton, organic linen, soy bean, and bamboo
Organic cotton and bamboo from companies such as EcoKnit, Euroflax, and bamboo yarn from the South West Trading Company
Online store is coming soon. Offers a list of retailers across Canada. Carries popular organic cotton.