FREE SHIPPING on yarn orders over $300*

Sustainable Stitching: How Ethical Yarn Choices Impact Our Planet

  • 9 min read
ITO Sensai yarns made of mohair and silk blend (Photo by Thread Collective)
ITO Sensai yarns made of mohair and silk blend (Photo by Thread Collective)

In the world of crafting and textile arts, the choices we make as creators can have a profound impact on the environment. One important decision that often goes overlooked is the selection of yarn. The type of yarn we choose for our projects can contribute significantly to the overall sustainability of our creations. Whether you're an individual crafter or part of a larger industry, opting for yarns made from eco-friendly fibres like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, wool, or recycled fabrics can significantly reduce your environmental impact. This blog post will tackle the importance and impact of ethical yarn choices on the planet.

A Guide To Eco-Friendly Fibres and Why We Should Care About Sustainable Yarn Production

Embracing sustainability in the realm of yarn and fibres is not just a trend but a necessity. The impact of these choices resonates through environmental, social, and economic dimensions, urging both producers and consumers to prioritise responsible options. Sustainable yarns, derived from renewable resources and produced with eco-friendly methods, serve as examples of deliberate choices. Let's discuss the characteristics that define sustainable yarns and emphasise the need to shift towards these ethical alternatives in the textile industry.

What are the Characteristics and Benefits of Sustainable Yarns?

A sustainable and ethical yarn or fibre is characterised by the environmental, social, and economic impact throughout its lifecycle.

Here are the characteristics and benefits of sustainable yarns:

    • Renewable Resources: Derived from a natural fibre such as wool, cotton, bamboo, or hemp, sustainable yarns reduce dependence on finite resources.
    • Eco-Friendly Production: Low-impact dyeing processes and water conservation techniques mitigate pollution and resource depletion.
    • Reduced Ecological Footprint: Promoting the use of renewable fibres minimises water consumption and decreases reliance on harmful chemicals and pesticides.
    • Climate Mitigation: By opting for sustainable yarns, manufacturers and consumers contribute to mitigating climate change and preserving ecosystems.
    • Fair Labour Standards: Upholding fair labour practices ensures ethical treatment, fair wages, and safe working conditions for workers.
    • Social Equity: Supporting fair labour practices fosters social equity and strengthens communities dependent on the textile industry.
    • Economic Benefits: Investing in sustainable yarns can spur innovation, create job opportunities, and enhance market competitiveness, driving positive change within the textile sector.

The Consequences of Using Non-Sustainable Yarns

Choosing non-sustainable yarns can have significant consequences on our planet across various dimensions, such as the following:

    • Environmental Degradation: Extraction and processing of non-renewable resources lead to soil depletion, habitat destruction, and ecological harm.
    • Climate Impact: High energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions contribute to detrimental climate change and air pollution.
    • Chemical Contamination: Toxic chemicals in dyeing processes harm waterways, soil, wildlife, and human health.
    • Exploitative Labour Practices: Non-sustainable yarns perpetuate exploitative labour practices, particularly in developing countries.

Choosing sustainable yarns is a collective commitment to preserving our planet. By opting for eco-friendly fibres, we contribute to preserving ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources. It's a conscious effort towards building a world that is equitable, resilient, and sustainable for generations to come.

The Sustainability of Natural Yarns versus Man-Made Yarns

Today's consumers are increasingly becoming concerned about the environmental impact of their choices, leading to a growing interest in sustainable options. One significant debate in the yarn industry revolves around the sustainability of organic and natural yarns versus mad-made yarns, such as acrylic yarn.

Natural & Organic Yarns

Natural yarns are derived from natural fibres, usually sourced from plants like cotton or animals such as sheep, alpacas, or goats. The cultivation of these natural fibres typically involves environmentally friendly farming practices that exclude synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, promoting soil health and biodiversity. Look for organic and natural yarns that carry official certification(s) to ensure they meet specific environmental and social criteria set forward by local and global bodies.

Cotton farm (Photographer: Karl Wiggers)
Cotton farm (Photographer: Karl Wiggers)

Advantages of Natural Yarns:

  1. Reduced Chemical Exposure: Natural yarns are produced without the use of harmful chemicals, making them safer for both the environment and human health.
  2. Sustainability: Natural yarns are typically sourced from renewable resources such as plants or animals, contributing to sustainable practices in the textile industry.
  3. Biodegradability: Being derived from natural fibres, natural yarns are biodegradable, reducing environmental impact and waste accumulation.
  4. Enhanced Comfort: Natural fibres like cotton, wool, and silk offer superior breathability, moisture-wicking properties, and comfort compared to synthetic alternatives.
  5. Biodiversity Conservation: Natural farming methods used to produce these yarns promote biodiversity by avoiding synthetic pesticides and fostering healthier ecosystems.
  6. Soil Health: Natural farming practices support soil fertility, water retention, and erosion prevention, ensuring long-term environmental sustainability.
  7. Reduced Water Footprint: Some natural fibres, such as hemp and organic cotton, require less water for cultivation compared to conventional crops, contributing to water conservation efforts.

Man-Made Yarns (Acrylic Yarns)

Acrylic yarns, on the other hand, are synthetic fibres or man-made from petrochemicals. While acrylic yarns offer affordability, durability, and a wide range of colours, they come with significant environmental drawbacks.

Microplastics washed up on the beach (Photographer: Sören Funk)
Microplastics washed up on the beach (Photographer: Sören Funk)

Environmental Impact of Microplastics:

  1. Microplastic Shedding: Acrylic yarns shed microplastic particles during use and washing, contributing to the global microplastic pollution crisis. These tiny particles can find their way into water bodies, soil, and even the air.
  2. Marine Pollution: Microplastics released from acrylic yarns pose a threat to marine life. When these particles enter oceans and waterways, microplastics can be ingested by aquatic animals, potentially causing harm to the entire ecosystem.
  3. Persistence in the Environment: Unlike organic fibres that break down naturally, acrylic yarns persist in the environment for hundreds of years, exacerbating the issue of long-term pollution.

Choosing Sustainability in Yarn Crafts

In the pursuit of sustainable and eco-friendly choices, the selection between natural yarns and man-made acrylic yarns becomes an important decision for environmentally-conscious consumers. Natural and organic yarns, characterised by their diminished chemical footprint, potential for neutral to positive impacts on biodiversity and the environment, and biodegradability, present a more sustainable alternative when contrasted with acrylic yarns, which exacerbate the global problem of microplastic pollution. As the textile industry continues to evolve, informed choices by consumers and a commitment to sustainable practices by manufacturers can contribute to a more environmentally friendly future for the world of yarn and fibre arts.

What Does the Future of the Planet Look Like if More People Choose to Use Sustainably and Responsibly Sourced Fibres?

(Photographer: Jan Kopřiva)
(Photographer: Jan Kopřiva)

If more people start using sustainably produced yarns, it could make a big difference for our planet. This choice would help reduce how much the textile industry harms the environment. By picking organic, recycled, or responsibly sourced materials, we can save natural resources, lessen pollution, and cut down on the gases that harm our atmosphere during yarn production. It would also protect nature and all the ecosystems that are crucial for the health of our planet.

Using sustainably produced yarns doesn't just help the environment – it also supports fair treatment for workers in the textile industry. It means better conditions for them and helps communities, especially in places where the textile industry is a big deal. As people become more aware of how their choices affect the world, asking for sustainable yarns can make the entire process of making clothes more fair and eco-friendly.

As more and more people choose sustainable yarns, we can expect new and better ways to make them. This could lead to using resources more wisely, making less waste, and creating alternative fibres that are even kinder to the environment.

How to Choose a Sustainable and Ethical Yarn?

Choosing sustainable yarns involves considering several key factors to ensure that your selection aligns with environmental, social, and ethical principles. Here are some guidelines to help you choose sustainable yarns:

  1. Fibre Source: As mentioned previously, yarns made from renewable and eco-friendly fibres are sustainable choices. This includes organic wool, cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, Tencel, or recycled materials like recycled cotton. These fibres often have lower environmental impacts compared to conventional ones.
  2. Certifications: Seek out certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Oeko-Tex Standard 100, or Fair Trade certifications, which ensure that the yarn meets specific environmental and social criteria throughout its production process.
  3. Production Practices: Research the yarn manufacturer's production practices. Sustainable yarns are typically produced using methods that minimise water usage, energy consumption, and chemical usage. Look for yarns that employ eco-friendly dyeing processes and adhere to strict environmental standards.
  4. Transparency: Choose yarns from companies that prioritise transparency and provide information about their supply chain, including sourcing practices, labour conditions, and environmental impacts. Brands that are open about their practices are more likely to prioritise sustainability.
  5. Packaging: Consider the packaging of the yarn. Opt for yarns that use minimal or eco-friendly packaging materials.
  6. Durability and Longevity: Select yarns that are durable and of high quality. Textiles made from durable yarns last longer and withstand wear and tear. This reduces the need for frequent replacements and, as a result, minimises waste.
  7. Local and Artisanal Options: Explore locally sourced or artisanal yarns, which often have lower carbon footprints due to reduced transportation distances and support local economies and communities.

By considering these factors and doing some research, you can make informed choices and select yarns that align with your values of sustainability and ethical responsibility.

Upcycling and Recycling: A Creative Approach

Another way crafters can make a positive impact is by embracing upcycled and recycled yarns. These yarns are created from post-consumer textile waste or remnants from manufacturing processes, diverting materials from landfills and reducing the demand for new resource extraction. This approach not only lessens the environmental burden but also adds a unique and creative aspect to projects.

Recycled yarns often contain post-consumer waste like recycled plastic bottles, discarded garments, or industrial waste from textile production processes. The recycling process involves meticulous steps such as sorting, cleaning, and processing the fibres to eliminate impurities, preparing them for the subsequent spinning into yarn.

Once the recycled fibres are prepared, traditional spinning techniques are employed within the mill environment to create yarn. The resulting yarns exhibit diverse textures, weights, and colours, influenced by the types of recycled fibres used and the specific spinning processes applied. Mill-spun recycled yarns stand out as a sustainable alternative to traditional yarns by lessening the demand for virgin materials and diverting waste away from landfills. Highly regarded for their eco-friendly attributes, these yarns actively contribute to the circular economy, promoting the reuse and repurposing of materials.

Explore a variety of recycled cotton yarns at Thread Collective and make a positive choice for sustainability in your crafting projects.

How To Care For Natural and Organic Yarns

You can help prolong the life of your natural and organic yarns and minimise their environmental impact throughout their lifecycle by following a few care tips:

  1. Follow Care Instructions: Read the care instructions provided by the yarn manufacturer. These instructions often include recommendations for washing, drying, and storing the yarn to ensure optimal performance and durability.
  2. Hand Washing: Whenever possible, hand wash sustainable yarns using mild detergent and lukewarm water. Gently agitate the yarn in the water and avoid wringing or twisting, as this can cause stretching or damage to the fibres.
  3. Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Refrain from bleach, fabric softeners, and other harsh chemicals, as these can degrade fibres and harm the environment. Opt for eco-friendly detergents that are designed to be gentle on both the yarn and the environment.
  4. Air Dry: Preferably air dry the fabric made of natural or organic yarns by laying it flat on a clean towel or drying rack in the shade. Minimise exposure to direct sunlight or high heat to avoid colour fading and damage.
  5. Storage: Store sustainable yarns in a cool, dry place to prevent mould, mildew, and insect infestations. Consider storing yarns in breathable containers or cotton bags to allow air circulation.
  6. Prevent Pilling: To minimise pilling, gently hand wash the yarn and avoid rubbing or friction during washing and wearing. Use a fabric shaver or lint remover to remove any pills that may form over time.
  7. Mend and Repair: If you notice snags, tears, or loose stitches in the yarn, mend them promptly to prevent further damage. Learning basic knitting or crochet repair techniques can help extend the lifespan of your sustainable yarn projects.

Caring for natural and organic yarns isn't just about keeping our projects in good shape – it's a pledge to be environmentally conscious. Following care instructions, choosing gentle washing methods, and opting for eco-friendly detergents are steps toward reducing our impact on the environment.

Supporting Ethical Yarn Brands in Australia

Ethical yarns for sale at Thread Collective
Ethical yarns for sale at Thread Collective

With the escalating demand for sustainable and ethical yarn, an increasing number of brands are stepping up to meet this crucial need in the crafting community. Crafters, whether seasoned or just starting, have a wonderful opportunity to make a meaningful impact by consciously supporting companies that champion eco-friendly practices, transparent sourcing, and fair labour conditions. By selecting yarn from these brands, individuals play a vital role in steering the market towards sustainability, inspiring others to adopt responsible practices.

Several notable ethical yarn brands have gained recognition for their commitment to environmental and social responsibility. International brands such as Maurice Brassard, Venne, Ashford, and ITO, as well as local Australian brands like Full Circle Fibres and Ada Fibres, have become synonymous with high-quality yarns that not only meet the needs of crafters but also align with ethical values. As the demand for such ethical yarns continues to grow, crafters play an essential role in shaping a more sustainable and responsible future for the industry.

Let's Weave a Sustainable Future Together!

Sustainable stitching is more than just creating beautiful projects; it's about making choices that align with our values and respect for the planet. By opting for ethical yarn choices, you can reduce your environmental impact, support sustainable practices, and contribute to a global movement towards a more eco-friendly future. As the crafting community continues to embrace these principles, we can collectively weave a fabric of positive change that benefits both our creative pursuits and the health of our planet.

Share your creations made using sustainably sourced or recycled materials by tagging @thread_collective on Instagram!

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.