Is knitting clothes yourself more environmentally friendly?

No, unless you are shearing your own organically-raised free-range sheep with manual clippers, prepping and spinning your own wool, and are happy to only have clothes in the natural colours that come off your sheep. Or, if you’re bartering your organically-grown vegetables (or whatever) with a neighbour within walking distance who does.

If you want to use plant fibres, even those grown, prepped and spun by you or your neighbour, then you’re pretty much straight-up damaging the environment from the get-go. Cotton is hellaciously bad for the environment, linen may be somewhat less damaging – though your neighbours will be less willing to barter with you after you’ve filled the air with the stench of rotting flax plants.

I hope I don’t have to explain why synthetic fibres are bad for the environment.

I don’t, do I?

You can minimise the environmental impact by buying your yarn from local producers, and looking particularly for yarns that have been dyed with natural, or at least minimally damaging dyes: for example, vinegar can be used to fix dye in animal fibres, though the colours are likely to fade over time. You can also mitigate the damage by reusing yarn from old garments.

However, by making your own clothes, whether knit, crocheted, or woven and sewn, you are helping the environment. For example, you will probably make better-quality clothes, which will last much longer than Primark’s finest. If you do somehow manage to wear out a home-sewn tweed jacket, much of the material can be repurposed for quilts, children’s clothes, and as patches for other clothes – avoiding landfill, and saving you money in the long run. In addition, fabrics like wool don’t require regular washing, so you’re cutting down on the water, electricity and detergent you use: if it gets muddy, just let it dry and then brush it off; if it gets sweaty, hang it in a draught for an hour or so; if it gets soaked, lay it flat near a heat source. A couple of sheep will keep your lawn down with less impact on the environment than a lawnmower.

And so forth. It’s about finding a balance.

Quora linky.

Is organic wool better?

….

Not really. It depends what you’re looking for.

Organic anything is not necessarily better, and in many instances much ‘worse’. Organic vegetables, for example, are often smaller because they are grown in natural fertiliser (dung) which has fewer nutrients; they may have minor blemishes and scabbing, because they are not treated with commercial pesticides which produce better results, and so on.

Organic wool comes from sheep who are grazed on naturally-fertilised land – which may have less grazing, of less nutritive value. The sheep themselves are not given certain medications, and not put through certain dips, so they are potentially less healthy. The wool itself undergoes processing without the usual chemicals. Undernourishment, and limited veterinary intervention, can produce a finer wool*, though usually in smaller quantities. The finished yarn, organically processed in organic-only mills, can be greasy and full of VM**. Some people love this, others get hives at the thought. Come to market, it’s pricey and usually in limited supply – so no wandering in a month later when you realise you need just one more ball.

I rarely use organic wool myself, but much of my knitting is for pattern-writing – there’s no point in me writing a pattern for that limited-run almost-organic mohair-Wensleydale blend produced by a nice lady vet locally, because by the time it would be written, she’d be sold out of this year’s shearing. But I do bagsy a few batts to spin myself, and make a cowl or gloves just for me, and I know she doesn’t starve her animals or deny them treatment. Lesson being: buy organic when you can visit the sheep it comes from.


* – The best cashmere comes from half-starved desert and mountain Cashmere goats, not their well-fed and well-cared-for brethren in the south of England (ND: half-starved because the native forage is so poor. Not because they’re denied food).

** – Vegetable matter. Twigs, hay, thorns, and occasionally poop.

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