Year of Natural Fibers

The United Nations General Assembly appointed 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres. They probably did this a while ago and I’ve just been living under a rock. I am totally in support of anything that emphasizes natural fibers. I mean, come on, which is cuter:



BUT HOW EXCITING. An entire year to dedicated to encouraging people to explore and embrace the wide and varied range of natural fibers. I’ve been thinking a lot about fibers lately, more specifically how they’re processed and how those processes might affect the environment (don’t roll your eyes, it’s practically impossible to not have environmentally-related thoughts at some point or another). This actually all started when Joe from South West Trading Company stopped by the LYS for a trunk show. SWTC is quite arguably a leader in alternative methods of creating yarn, from bamboo and corn to milk proteins and even jade (a whole new level to animal, vegetable, or mineral)! But what stuck in my mind, and unfortunately I never got the chance to ask Joe, was what sort of by-products are created when making yarn from these sources? What are the trade-offs in creating yarn from a sustainable product like bamboo (which many yarn manufacturers are using now, so I’m not just singling any one out) if it requires a lot of chemical treatment to make said fibers?

I have no answers to those questions, they’re merely queries that occasionally pop into my brain and I’ve decided to share them here with you, for better or for worse. But if anyone does know the answers to those questions, please feel free to share them, in layperson terms because if you start talking chemistry and whatnot, I will automatically tune you out. I don’t really do science, never have, never will.

Anyway, yes, an entire year devoted to natural fibers, such as ramie and abaca and coir. I had never heard of any of those! What else can we use to make fabric? I’ve got a spider plant in my backyard! It’s growing like gangbusters with all the rain we’ve had lately.

I decided to celebrate by buying The Knitter’s Book of Yarn the other day and I can’t wait to sit down and absorb all the information it contains. This knowledge will come in handy for the day that I just eschew the “normal” world and run off to New Zealand to become a sheep farmer.

It’ll happen. Just you wait.

And while I do appreciate and desire to learn more about the array of natural fibers that are available to us as people who wear clothes first and knitters second (at least, if you’re knitting in public, I hope that’s the order you use), I have to admit that I am first and foremost a wool lover. Yes, I still have a lot of synthetic yarn hanging around from my days as a “thrifty” beginning knitter, and it does serve its purpose, and I will not bash synthetic yarns, but nothing is quite as comforting as a nice wool yarn. Not terribly practical for someone living in Florida, but it’s comforting. If I was practical I would have no stash and what fun would that be?

There’s something about wool, even for this gal who can’t really wear it year round for fear of heat stroke, that is comforting. Maybe it’s because I know it comes from a cute, woolly sheep. Maybe the texture of a knitted wool garment reminds me of something wonderful from my childhood. I’ve always lived in Florida, so I’m not sure what that would be, but it is possible. Maybe it’s what it represents to me, this idea of needing to stay warm and cozy when the thermometer is dipping outside. Not really sure what that’s like, but I’ve heard stories! Maybe I’ve just been indoctrinated into the Elizabeth Zimmermann school of thought where Wool is King and that is that.

But there are so many other natural fibers out there that I do want to try. I’ve used kitchen cotton to make a dishrag, and wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t really understand all the fuss about cotton, but I did recently buy a lightweight knitted shirt that was made from cotton and I can see how it might have its merits. I have knit a scarf that had some alpaca fiber, and I’ve got some sock yarn that has alpaca fiber. I’m fairly certain that my stash contains some other fibers as well, but I’m not really sure what they might be right now. However, I think my next foray into my widening world of fiber will be with hemp!

Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy

One of my favorite online yarn stores, Sonny and Shear, is in the process of moving. Okay, since it’s an online store, the store itself isn’t moving, but the people who run the store out of their house are moving. I have this need to try to be as clear as possible, even though I’m sure most of you followed along with that first sentence.

Anyway, in what I can only assume is an attempt to lighten her inventory, Kris has been posting amazing sales every Monday until next Monday, June 1. No really, watch her blog on Monday and find out what’s on sale. Last Monday, Elsebeth Lavold’s Hempathy was on sale, and I grabbed the nearest knitting magazine (Interweave Knits Summer 2009) and discovered that one of my favorite patterns, the Elemental Boatneck, was actually made using Hempathy.

Swatch and Pattern photo

I got so excited I immediately ordered enough yarn for the project and started bouncing excitedly. It arrived at my house yesterday (one benefit to being in the same state as an online yarn store is super-speedy delivery!) and I immediately started swatching on the recommended 3.5mm needles, only to discover/remember that my tension is loose. Rarely do I knit anything on the recommended needles. I knew that. So I pull out the only 3.25mm needles I own, which happen to be DPNs, and started again.


My gauge on the 3.25mm needles is pretty much spot on right now, having finished the linen stitch portion and about to begin the lace pattern, so there’s really only one problem. I surely cannot knit a sweater on DPNs. So I have ordered new needles, along with some interchangeable needles and cables, and will eventually be able to knit this top using a new-to-me fiber.

Right after I finish my woolly February Lady Sweater, my woolly Monkey socks, and the woolly blanket for my mom. Okay, at least after the sweater. Maybe.

At least not until the needles arrive.


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