What is it about yarn that makes it so irresistible? Is it that it’s so snuggly and warm? The beautiful colors? That it’s relatively inexpensive? Or maybe it’s the potential we see when we look at it. That colorful skein of fiber and fluff could be our next pair of socks, a blanket for a beloved baby, a gorgeous sweater, a hat that is both practical and lovely…
Maybe that’s why so many of us (myself included) can never make it out of the craft store without at least one new skein of yarn, even if it’s not at all related to what we were supposed to be shopping for and we have no idea what we’re going to use it for. We just know we need it.
Thankfully, I’ve (mostly) trained myself to resist this urge. I follow my Sustainable Crafting Guidelines, make sure I finish existing projects before embarking on new ones, and also have a specific project in mind before purchasing new supplies.
Still, yarn is the most irresistible crafting material in my opinion. However, I do my best to make even my impulse purchases as sustainable as they can be. Pretty much all of the information about fiber types in my post on sustainable sewing holds true for yarns as well (you can find lots of high-quality yarns made of natural materials such as wool and alpaca, yarn made from recycled synthetics such as polyester, and it’s also becoming more commons to find semi-synthetic yarns made from lyocell). There are some nuances. For example, most wool used in sewing fabrics comes from sheep whereas it’s more common to find yarn for knitting and crochet made from Alpaca wool. However, for more information about specific fiber types and their respective environmental friendliness, I do suggest visiting my Sustainable Sewing Post.
This post is going to focus on where to source sustainable yarns made from various fibers, and also share some ideas for using up the odds and ends in your yarn stash.
Sourcing Sustainable Yarns:
Purchasing: As always, Etsy and Organic Cotton Plus are two of my favorite online shops for finding sustainable yarns in all of their forms including natural plant fibers, natural wool fibers, and recycled synthetic fibers. However, yarn is much easier to find locally at farmer’s markets, arts and crafts fairs, and fiber arts festivals. And of course, wooden, bamboo, or metal crochet hooks and knitting needles are preferable to plastic tools.
Repurposing: While cutting and repurposing old sheets, curtains, and clothing for sewing projects is fairly popular, don’t overlook repurposed materials for knitting and crocheting projects. An old, worn-out sweater or blanket can get new life as a hat, scarf, mittens, baby clothes… the possibilities are endless! When I was in college, I found an awesome oversized sweater at a thrift store. I cut off the sleeves, ran a ribbon through the top, and used them as leg warmers. I salvaged the rest of the yarn to make a matching hat and fingerless gloves. If you have a knit garment that is too worn to donate, you can salvage the yarn by unraveling the yarn, winding it into a ball, and then working with it as usual. If the yarn is very stretched out or doesn’t look it’s best, it can still be worked into potholders and dish rags.
Using Odds and Ends:
I think we all eventually end up with a stash of yarn consisting of amounts that
we don’t want to get rid of, but everything is too small to really do anything with. What then? Here are a few ideas for using up those odds and ends so they don’t sit and go to waste:
Magic Yarn Ball: Join your yarn scraps together to make a new ball of yarn. Instead of a bunch of scraps, you end up with a unique ball of yarn that you can use to make whatever it is you want. Like many craft enthusiasts, I tend to have a few preferred yarn weights that I work with most of the time. This is great because it allows me to join together yarns of multiple origins into a yarn ball of uniform weight that can be used to make colorful mittens, hats, scarves, and other projects. This excellent tutorial from My Poppet Makes will give you all the information you need to make your own Magic Ball of yarn.
Granny Squares: Never overlook the humble granny square! There are endless variations, and you can use them as the foundation for everything from blankets, to pillow clothes, to dish clots and sweaters. Because they often use creative color combinations, this can be a great way to use up even tiny amounts of yarn of similar weights in varying colors. The Granny Square Book has a wonderful collection of just about any granny square motif you could possibly need.
Flowers, Leaves, and other Small Motifs: Like granny squares, flowers and other small motifs can incorporate lots of small scraps into a single project. I like to use these little projects to make seasonal decorations. Flowers can be strung together into a lovely garland for a doorway or fireplace. Colorful leaves and pumpkins make a fun combination for full. You can even make a knit garland to wrap around the Christmas trees, or use individual motifs to hang as individual ornaments. 100 flowers to Knit and Crochet is a great place to get started if you’re looking for a jumping-off point into these smaller projects.
You can also attach flowers and other small motifs to hats, sweaters, and scarves as a way to freshen up an existing outfit. A drab sweater can suddenly be fab if you attach a few roses or leaves to it!
Scrap Socks: I am a big fan of wacky socks. By definition, they don’t need any sort of consistent design or color pattern. If you don’t mind weaving in a lot of ends, proceed with your preferred sock pattern until you run out of one sock scrap, and then proceed with the next. Otherwise, you can make a magic ball of yarn first and then work on your wacky socks (this is probably the most efficient way to do it).
No matter which projects you pursue, sustainable knitting and crochet are easy to achieve by following the Guidelines for Sustainable Crafting and taking steps to reduce waste. Indeed, finding creative ways to use scraps and repurpose materials is a great way to challenge your creativity and grow as a fiber artist.
If you haven't yet, be sure to check out the first two posts in this series: