Knitting is a fantastic hobby, it is a great way of making dishcloths, jumpers and socks all whilst watching the television, listening to podcasts or even at the pub.
But there is no denying that knitting wool can be expensive and many yarns have a high environmental cost. Cotton yarn for dishclothes is just as bad for the environment as cotton fabric; acrylic yarn is effectively plastic and a by-product of the unsustainable petroleum industry and even some pure wool yarns (which are generally very sustainable although expensive) are being shipped to China to be spun cheaply and then returned here for sale.
Unless you want to learn to spin (not a bad idea as buying raw fleece is often very cheap and a very renewable resource) then finding affordable, sustainable yarn is still easier than you think:
1. Scavenge your wardrobe!
Do you have jumpers you don’t love, scarves with holes in them? If so then this is your first place to look for yarn.
My best example of such cannibalisation was a long, heavy rainbow cotton scarf in very thick yarn. I loved the colours (not everyone can carry off a painter’s palette but I can) but the damn thing was made of cotton. Too heavy and hot in the Summer and cotton does not keep you warm in Winter. I never wore it. Then one day I decided on a whim to make dishcloths and voila, within 20 minutes the scarf was unpicked, balled up and on the needles.
What comes through Freecycle (or similar sites) is often very variable, but I have seen some great bundles of yarn and needles over the years.
You won’t get to be picky about the colour or the fibre in the yarn but there are plenty of fun projects you can make if you don’t mind getting a pick n mix.
Don’t be shy about asking, people often have part balls or a forgotten crafts stash they are only too happy to pass on.
3. Charity Shops
Charity shops are an important and cheap source of second hand knitting needles, knitting pattern, balls of yarn and occasionally really high quality garments in 100% wool which can be unpicked and turned into a ball of yarn.
But watch out, some Charity Shops like the Sue Ryder shop sell new yarn not second hand yarn – it always seems to be acrylic and isn’t a very sustainable option although at least the money goes to supporting a charity.
There are a few important tips for getting second hand yarn and reclaiming yarn from jumpers.
Moths – these are your Nemesis. Stick a photo of them on your yarn storage box and refer often. When I get second hand (and sometimes even new yarn) I chuck it in the freezer in a bag for a couple of days to kill the eggs. Nothing is ever worth getting an infestation.
Cut seams – many modern jumpers have overlocked seams on the inside. If you are thinking of scavenging yarn from your wardrobe or a charity shop jumper then turn it inside out and check the seams first. You should be able to tell the difference quickly between an overlocked seam that has been cut and a seam that has just been sewn together. If you unpick an overlocked jumper you will just end up with a lot of very short lengths of yarn that you can’t really do anything with so always go for jumpers that have been properly seamed. In some charity shops you will find hand knitted garments which will be even easier to repurpose as they will have been seamed by hand, not machine.
Getting kinky – when you unravel a jumper the yarn will be kinky. It is best to put the yarn into a long skein (I do this by winding it around my hand and elbow) and then soak it in some water for 20 mins and hang up to dry, this will help to relax the yarn. It will probably never be the same as unknitted yarn but it will be better than completely kinked up yarn. When it is dry, ball it up and you are ready to knit. You can knit with kinky yarn (like my scarf to dishcloth example above) but the finish on it won’t be as neat looking. That isn’t a problem for a dishcloth but might look odd on a jumper.
This is a whistle stop tour of thrifty knitting and I’d love to hear all about your tips and hacks for stretching a yarn budget and knitting the environmentally friendly way!