Many new crocheters & knitters begin with synthetic (or acrylic) yarns - because these are easily available, come in a wide range of colours and are relatively inexpensive. Natural yarns tend to be more expensive (and organic ones even more so), so many new crafters shy away from them. In today’s post, I’d like to share with you some reasons on why I work mainly with natural plant-based yarns, and tips on how to make the most out of them.
NATURAL VS SYNTHETIC YARNS
Natural yarns are yarns that are obtained from plant sources (e.g. cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, banana) or animal sources (e.g. wool, alpaca, cashmere, silk). Synthetic yarns (including acrylic) are made from polymers in a lab using chemical compounds.
The production of synthetic yarns uses a massive amount of fossil fuels, and produces toxic fumes that can be absorbed through our skin. In addition, washing of the yarn releases microplastic particles into our waterways. Such yarns are also non-biodegrable & will sit in our landfills for hundreds and hundreds of years.
In comparison, yarn produced from plants are friendlier to the environment. Such yarns are biodegradable and increasingly, there are many certified organic yarn that do not use toxic fertilisers or toxic dyes in processing. Some (e.g. hemp) are also sustainable crops in that they do not need very much land or water resources to grow well, and flourish even without the use of fertilisers & pesticides. If we look out & consciously choose such yarn to work with, we would be saying ‘no’ to plastic-based acrylic yarn with our choices. Added bonus - these yarn are breathable and hence very much suited for clothing & accessories for our warm & humid climate!
Most plant-based yarns are inelastic - this means when it stretches out, it doesn’t spring back like wool or acrylic does. Because of this property, such yarns are strong & durable and are great for items that need to withstand a lot of use, (e.g. washcloths, coasters) or items that need stiffness. In my Pebbled Crochet Basket pattern, I have purposely selected a recycled cotton cord so the basket is structured & doesnt flop over. If you are looking to make something that requires drape (e.g. a garment or shawl), use open lacy stitches & a bigger hook, or choose a yarn that is blended with some wool, bamboo, silk or tencel.
Use a hook with a matte metal or wooden shaft when working with these yarns. Shiny metallic hooks tend to slip around too much, and plastic or acrylic hooks can make it near to impossible to work with the yarn.
I prefer to use a slightly smaller hook when working with inelastic yarns. A hook with a thinner / tapered shaft makes it easier to wiggle into the stitches. I will also usually pull up the stitches a little bit taller so its a bit looser and easier to work with on the next row.
Some plant-based yarn (e.g. jute) can be painful to work with due to the short fibers. Consciously relax your tension when holding the yarn, and take frequent breaks to protect your wrists. Alternatively you could try a bandage or piece of cloth around the finger that is feeding the yarn so as to protect them from scratches; or dust some baby powder on your hands so that the yarn glides easier.
You may choose to block your work for a more polished appearance. Natural yarns such as cotton & linen take to blocking very well - they do not bounce back to shape after the work is dry. For this reason, acrylic yarns cannot be blocked.
Hang in there! Working with plant-based yarn may seem tough at first but with practice, you will soon understand how to work with it, and your stitches will become more regular. In return you will be rewarded with amazing stitch definition & natural texture.
If you are also a fan of plant-based yarn, leave a comment below & tell me what is your favourite!