Thursday, November 11, 2010

Organic Cotton Yarn

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Brenda for today's guest post. You can read more of her thoughts on homemade living over at Sense of Home.

With autumn upon us and a crisp, cool feel to the air, the garden has been put to rest, canning done, and my thoughts turn to the winter ahead with its long dark evenings and time to knit or crochet. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert at knitting or crocheting, but I enjoy both and I very slowly pick away at the projects I have going. Currently I am knitting a hat and crocheting socks and an afghan. When I began the afghan last winter (yes, I am just that slow, plus it was put aside for the busy gardening season) I wanted it to be made out of 100% organic cotton.

But why should I care about organic cotton? It is more expensive. Well according to the Organic Trade Association cotton uses more insecticides than any other major crop. Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land and yet uses 16% of the world's insecticides. Aldicarb, an insecticide used on cotton, is acutely poisonous to humans. It can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin, yet it is still used and has been found in groundwater in 16 states, according to OTA. Cotton production also ends up in our food chain, whether directly through food oil or indirectly through the milk and meat of animals that have consumed cottonseed hull that is sold as feed. It can take 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one pound of raw cotton and it take just under a pound of raw cotton to make one t-shirt.

Cotton can be naturally grown in a variety of shades including cream, beige, brown, rust, chocolate, mauve, and green. Naturally colored cotton recently has been gaining popularity, but its history dates back centuries. Peru has a long history of growing naturally colored cotton; they also have the oldest recorded tradition of spinning and weaving. Cotton consumes a significant amount of chemicals both in growing and processing. Naturally colored cotton is easier to grow organically, plus it does not require any bleach or dyes in processing.

Recently at two different yarn stores when I asked for organic cotton yarn dyed with organic dye I got the same response, "We had problems with the yarn colored with organic dye so we no longer carry it". They both had organic cotton yarn and some natural color organic cotton yarn, but neither carried a variety of colored yarns dyed with organic dye.

After doing some more research I found a website that said "Our organically grown naturally dyed yarn is colored with plant dyes and due to their organic nature some shade variation will simply add to the yarn's unique inherent beauty". They also said to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and follow the recommended wash care instructions. I can understand and accept that. However, this was the problem the yarn stores I visited were having and they got enough complaints to discontinue the product.

Blue Sky Alpacas has beautiful organic yarn. That is the brand of the tan yarn above that I found in a local yarn store. Ecobutterfly Organics also carries organic cotton yarn and it is Fair Trade as well, plus when shipping they say that they reuse packaging, use the highest % post consumer recycled (PCW), sustainable & biodegradable packaging materials available.

On a cold winters evening I love to sit down with a cup of tea, some soft yarn on my lap, my cat by my side, and still feel productive as I work away on my afghan. Knowing the cotton grown to produce this yarn did not spew chemicals into the air or groundwater, all the better.


Green Bean said...

Thank you for all the info on organic cotton. Honestly, I did not know how bad all the pesticides were.

As far as knitting goes, I'm more of a wool girl myself. My favorite skein came from locally raised sheep that follows organic practices. The skein even had a photo of the sheep from whom the yarn came on it - Pansy. Loved that.

Francesca said...

A little color variation seems totally acceptable when compared to the harmful chemicals used in the production of non organic cotton. Interesting post, I wasn't aware that some of the problems that organic cotton yarn faces with regards to sales are related to the nature of organic dyes.

Sense of Home said...

Green Bean,
I love the idea of having a photo of the sheep it came from on the skein!

I think color variation adds character.


Mr. H. said...

I knew that they used insecticides and other chemicals on cotton but had no idea that it was this bad...really makes one think.

Ecobutterfly said...

Thank you for the article. I just came across it being that I love eco websites. I am ecobutterfly and I was concerned about the vagueness of the 2 knit shops you mentioned when it comes to plant dyed organic cotton. A lot of shops won't carry it because they do not understand it and they will use any excuse not to. I have heard about overly saturated plant dyes bleeding out because the dyer wanted bright colors. The yarn needs to be in shades that are colorfast and softer in hue. As for avoiding prolonged sun exposure, that goes for organic dyes and conventional dyes alike. How many times have you seen an unlined curtain panel fade on the back when covering a window? And I promise you that is a conventional dye. Keeping colors out of the sun for long periods of time is just common sense. I have found that many knit shops just do not find a plant dyed palette done right exciting enough quite frankly. but the knit shops that understand it thrive on this type of yarn. A good analogy is should I take a tylenol for a migraine or should I eat a handful of dried tart cherries? Both accomplish the same thing but the tylenol is just easier. Pop a pill and you are good. Isn't it time to move more towards nature and our health in general? I think so. Thank you for listening.

Sense of Home said...


Thanks for your comment, I appreciate the added information you bring to the topic. Perhaps as more of us continue to ask for organic, natural dyed yarn the shop owners will come to learn more about it and carry the yarn we are seeking.

I am glad to have your fine shop as a source for products I am seeking.


Rjkimpex said...

Organic cotton yarn is 100% natural cotton. Check


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