In 2016 I went vegan and zero waste. That meant no animal products and no trash. However, I was still using wool and acrylic to make scarves. Wool and plastic. It didn't feel right, so I decided to look for a better solution. Here's what I learned:
Most commercially available yarns (the kind you buy at Michaels or Jo Ann) are 80-100% acrylic. It's a cheap and versatile synthetic fiber. To be called an "acrylic fiber" the yarn must be at least 85% acylonitrile, which is a compound used to make plastic.
Acrylic yarns, like plastic and other oil-derived products, are non-renewable, non-sustainable materials. Every piece of plastic ever created still exists somewhere on the planet today - a scary thought considering that acrylic fibers release nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles in every wash. Those tiny synthetic particles end up in the ocean where they're never leaving, poisoning the fish and polluting our waters. These microfibers could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans. For that reason, I opt only to use natural fibers in the materials that I use.
Wool is a cruel industry. No, you don't need to kill the sheep to shear it, but commercially sold wool comes from factory farms where sheep are kept in miserable conditions and frequently beaten and abused during the shearing process. Additionally, sheep are prone to "flystrike" - drawn to moist and warm places, flies lay eggs in the sheep's skin. Since commercially farmed sheep are bred to produce large amounts of wool, they are especially prone to flystrike so, to avoid this, a painful procedure called "mulesing" takes place. That's when large chunks of the sheep's flesh are removed to create a scarred skin that won't attract the flies. This is typically done without any pain killers or treatment. After being used for their wool, sheep are usually sent to slaughter for their meat. Even small, family-run farms that raise their sheep humanely raise their animals for fiber and meat. After much searching, I found a few that are purely fiber farms... but they usually sell unspun fibers, or raw fleece. Most spinning artists (people who make fleece become yarn using a spinning wheel - so cool) buy fibers from a variety of farms, so it's hard to trace back exactly where your wool came from.
It looked like wool was out of the picture, and that's when I learned about...
Alpacas are part of the camel family and originally come from Peru. They've been domesticated for thousands of years and their high-quality fibers were once reserved for Incan royalty. It's not vegan, of course, since it's an animal fiber. However, I source my fiber from two small family-run farms (one in the US and the other in Canada) where the alpacas have names, distinct personalities, and are loved and deeply cared for. The shearing process is gentle, and the animals live long, happy lives on the property. The yarn I use is not dyed, meaning there are no chemical additives. Instead, the color you get is the natural fur of the alpaca, making it a chemical-free, all natural fiber that was carefully crocheted to form a high quality winter staple that you can wear for years.
Some advantages of alpaca, compared to wool:
- Hypoallergenic: wool is coated in lanolin, an oil that causes people to have allergic reactions - it feels itchy. Alpaca fiber is free of lanolin, so it always feels good on your skin
- Softer than cashmere
- Eco-friendly, renewable fiber that is not dyed and unprocessed
- Alpaca is a hollow fiber making it warmer, lighter, and stronger than wool
- Naturally water resistant - perfect for snowy weather
- Naturally resistant to pilling, stains, wrinkles or static