i choose not to knit with animal fibres, but there are all kinds of interesting yarns that i do choose to knit with. this is a constantly-updated list of non-animal yarns that i have heard about, have knit with or have been coveting.
i will extend this over time to include detailed reviews and pictures of yarns i have knitted with, and information about spinning non-animal fibres. if you produce non-animal yarn and would like me to review it here, feel free to send a sample to moira/ p o box 7754/ wellesley street/ auckland/ new zealand.
cotton is the most common plant-based yarn, and there are all kinds of readily-available 100% cotton and cotton/ synthetic blend yarns. “putting cotton through its paces” on crochet me compares the characteristics of five common, basic cotton yarns.
there are environmental issues with cotton yarn: conventional cotton crops are some of the most intensively sprayed plants in the world (“25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants.)”) if you want to knit with cotton but not increase pesticide use, you could use organic cotton & recycled or second-hand yarn.
blue sky organic cotton comes in four naturally-grown shades.
patagonia nature cotton is minimally processed and hand-dyed by a women’s collective in chile.
habu textiles makes some beautiful cotton yarns: spec-dyed cotton, cotton moire kasuri, aresco, 5 ply, sumi cotton tegasuri, hand-dyed kasuri cotton, cotton nerimaki slub, kakishibu cotton cord, cotton viscose, cork chenille, cotton curl & others.
casablanca is made of cotton & rayon scraps from south indian sari manufacturing.
the yarn above is denim freedom by twilleys of stamford (100% cotton).
humans have made yarn and cloth out of linen for thousands of years. linen is spun from flax fibre (not the same plant as new zealand native flax). here is some information about traditional flax spinning.
euroflax comes in different weights and lots of pretty colours.
shoshenshi paper by habu textiles is 100% linen paper. habu also make kasuri linen paper, 2-ply linen paper, paper moire (50% linen, 50% nylon), paper ring (64% linen, 36% cotton) & other linen paper yarns.
other things habu does with linen include crinkly linen, lace-weight, cotton-linen cord and the stunning fishnet yarn: 100% linen with persimmon tannin coating, made out of used fish nets! (wait, is that vegan?)
the yarn above is linnen by thorobred scheepjeswol (40% linen, 60% cotton).
hemp fibre comes from the (non-drug) cannabis plant. hemp fibre has historically been used for all sorts of things, including cloth, paper and rope.
house of hemp has “natural” brown and hand-coloured hemp in fine, 2 ply and DK weights. they’re based in the UK, but you can order from their website from anywhere in the world.
hemp for knitting has various weights of hemp yarn, hemp/ cotton blends and hemp fibre for spinning.
hemp traders sells hemp/ cotton yarn and hemp fibre for spinning.
the yarn above is actually twine, but i’m going to try knitting it. it’s 100% organic hemp from trade aid.
bamboo yarn is made from the processed fibres of bamboo.
south west trading company’s bamboo yarn is a sport-weight woven tube. “twize” is the same thing, but in tweed-ish colours. swtc also make a “bamboo feather” yarn which is 88% bamboo/ 12% nylon.
alchemy: yarns of transformation make an 100% bamboo yarn in lots of amazing solid colours and colourways.
classic elite makes “bam boo”, a medium-weight 100% bamboo yarn in lots of bright colours.
madil “eden” is another 100% bamboo yarn that comes in solid colours and variegated prints.
the yarn above is south west trading company bamboo.
soy silk is made from byproducts of the tofu manufacturing process! south west trading company makes soy silk in lace weight (”infinity”), sport weight (”oasis”) and worsted weight (”phoenix”) and 4-ply (”pure”). knitter’s review wrote a detailed review of phoenix.
kollage yarns make a 100% soybean yarn called delicious.
knit one, crochet too make wick, a sock yarn which is 53% soy, 47% polypropylene and is so called because it “wicks” moisture away from your feet.
the yarn above is oasis by south west trading company.
yarn traders sells handspun banana silk from nepal.
the yarn above is banana silk from yarn traders, in “cherry” and “coal”.
other plant fibres
other plant fibres that can be made into yarn include:
- nettle (e.g. nepali nettle from yarn traders, handspun nettle from habu)
- ramie (e.g. habu textiles make fine, sport-weight, knitted ramie tape, kakishibu naturally-dyed ramie, hand-tied twisted ramie & others)
- kenaf (e.g. habu textiles)
- pineapple (pineapple fiber is taken from the vein of the pineapple leaves; see habu textiles & pineapple ramie)
- fique (see kpixie)
- corn (e.g. cornucopia by kollage yarns – see the detailed review on knitter’s review, a-maizing by south-west trading company)
- pine (e.g. pine paper by habu textiles)
synthetic/ plant fibres (which start life as plants, but go through transformative chemical processes to become yarn) include tencel/lyocell (from wood pulp), ingeo (from corn), rayon, viscose, modal and lenpur (from pine trees).
the yarn above is nettle yarn from nepal (via yarn traders).
synthetic yarns include acrylic (including dralon), nylon/ polyamide and polyester. lots of recently-made “novelty” yarns are synthetic, or a blend of synthetic and natural fibres. this article has some basic information about different synthetic fibres and their history.
lots of cheap, basic acrylic yarn is made to look like wool, so acrylic can be a substitute for wool in a lot of patterns. the downside to using acrylic for garments is that it doesn’t “breathe” as well as natural fibres.
acrylic, nylon and polyester are petroleum-based, and are refined from petroleum byproducts using chemicals and energy. there is obvious potential for environmental impact in these processes, and this is something i’ll be investigating more.
in online discussions of the “vegan knitters are crazy” variety, people often use the fact that acrylic comes from petrol as justification for using wool, as though wool production doesn’t also have massive environmental impact (organophosphate sheep dip? eutrophication of waterways? greenhouse gas production?) and doesn’t also use a great deal of petrol (in transporting animals and their body parts across countries or around the world).
oil is an industry as huge and sketchy as the meat industry, and western society is as dependent on oil as it is on animal farming. it’s a seperate issue to veganism, but related in a lot of ways. i definitely sympathise with the desire to use less oil, but i think that refusing to use synthetic yarns is often a symbolic rather than practical step when it’s in the context of a life lived in a car-dominated society. if you genuinely want to reduce your reliance on oil, other things to consider include reducing your use of petrol and dependence on car culture (ride a bike and support better bike infrastructure in your area, take public transport, consider living closer to where you work or study, etc), buying locally made stuff and locally grown food, and reducing your use of plastics (use reusable shopping bags, don’t buy things in single-use plastic containers, etc).
i’m not saying synthetic yarns don’t have environmental impact, i just think it’s worth putting their impact in some context.
and of course, knitting with recycled or reused synthetic yarns doesn’t increase oil profits or environmental impacts.
panda makes reasonable quality synthetic yarns that are widely available in new zealand.
kasumi by habu (100% polyester) is cute.
the yarn above is jester by mosgiel ltd
things that aren’t yarn
anything that’s long and thin and relatively flexible can be knitted, regardless of whether it’s technically yarn.
some ideas for non-yarn yarns are:
- computer cables
- wire (e.g. habu silver wire, see down to the wire on the anticraft for tips on wire knitting)
- rope or strong
- strips of fabric or plastic (see jessprkle’s gorgeous plastic yarn on flickr)
- cassette tape…
check out this thread on craftster (”alternatives to yarn”) for some ideas.
the knitted swatch above is made from cat5 cable.
places to get handspun or hand-dyed non-animal yarns include:
- insubordiknit handspun yarns spin lots of plant fibres, and often has all-vegan yarns.
- midnight sky fibers has a vegan yarn section, and uses vegetarian and environmentally friendly dyes and mordants.
- motomo hand-dyed yarns hand-dyes all kinds of fibres, including plants and synthetics.
- the black stitch has hand-dyed cotton sock yarn.
the yarn above is mutiny handpainted egyptian cotton from the black stitch.
about animal fibres
many people who are concerned about animals and the ethics of their yarn feel okay with using animal fibres that are produced in a way that they feel ethically okay with (e.g. wool from small farms where they know the sheep are treated well, “tussah” silk that is harvested after the silk moth has emerged from its cocoon, angora brushed off a pet bunny, etc) and/or second-hand fibres (e.g. the wool from an unravelled thrift store jumper).
i haven’t included sources for those kinds of yarns and fibres here because i don’t personally use them, but i don’t intend to condemn people for their choices, and i’m not saying that those choices are necessarily not okay for vegans.
other yarn resources
- non-wooly sock yarns – a list by grumperina
- vegan yarn – a new site that aims to be a big list of vegan yarns referenced by fibre and weight.
- michelleknits has a list in the sidebar of vegan yarn that michelle has used or likes the looks of.
- wise needle yarn reviews
- knitter’s review yarn reviews – listed by fibre
- vintage yarn descriptions (so you can figure out what yarns to use with vintage patterns).
- green choices on the environmental impacts of fibre production.
- tips for substituting yarn from knitty.
- fiber burn test – figure out the fibre content of mystery yarns.