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Synthetic Fibres: Are They Worth It?

By April 19, 2016Blog

The very first time I went on a mission to buy yarn, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was working on building a successful career in the healthcare field, and I simply wanted to make something for my daughter for Christmas. My assistant crocheted, so I figured I could get her to help me. Little did I know crocheting would change my life.

I headed to my local Walmart, picked out some purple yarn and a set of hooks, and came home, proud of my initiative to actually make something. Well, we all know it became an obsession after that. I bought more and more colours, and learned about different sizes and styles of yarn…and then I met a girl who wouldn’t be bothered with acrylic yarn. She laughed and called herself a yarn snob, saying she felt that she put enough work into her handmade items that she wanted to them to last, and synthetic fibres just didn’t stand the test of wear and wash over time.

She got me thinking, and a few months later, I found myself at the church charity sale buying ugly wool yarn, just simply because I wanted to see if she was right. Turns out, she was. Wool, when well-prepared and well-constructed into a finished product, doesn’t pill or lose lustre like synthetic fibres do. In some cases, it gets softer and more comfortable with repeated wear and good, gentle care. For those reasons alone, I thought it would be worthwhile to build a business whose identifying characteristic was natural fibres.

But then I read some things that really got my heart beating, and made me look at those cute little trendy baby blankets and accessories in a whole new light. It turns out, synthetic fibres have a major impact on the environment–every time you wash them! For instance, in an article on sciencenews.org, scientific research has found that our marine environments are being impacted. Here’s an excerpt from their article:

Every time a garment made from polyester or other synthetic fabric goes through the wash, it sheds tiny plastic fibers. Thousands of them. It turns out that these fibers end up fouling coastal environments throughout the globe, a global research team finds.”

Since most synthetic yarn available to crafters is made of acrylic, I want to focus on acrylic for now. Acrylic yarn is made mainly of a chemical called polycrylonitrile, or polyacrylonitrile. Check out the MSDS for this chemical. Now, when it has been spun into a fibre, and it’s not in a liquid state, the processes described in the MSDS are slowed, and you certainly won’t die of cyanide poisoning the first–or even the 10th–time you cozy up with your acrylic couch throw, or you wrap your toddler up in their adorable handmade mermaid tail or animal-shaped beanie. But cyanide builds in the system over time, and is carcinogenic. And again, every time you wash that item, small fibres are being released which look like food to microorganisms in our waterways. Cyanide for dinner is never a good idea. Our wetland and marine creatures have enough strikes against them: I’d rather not have my fashion choices be one of them.

Acrylic being a plastic, it is esentially indestructible. Burning it results in hard plastic beads, and a “burned plastic” smell. On a side note, having acrylic baby accessories in the event of a fire will result in baby being exposed to these fumes, and potentially having the acrylic melt to their clothing or skin. Wool, on the other hand, will smoulder without igniting, buying time for baby to be removed from danger. Obviously, Canadian children’s pajama manufacturers are required to treat their fabrics with fire retardant, but handmade acrylic blankets or accessories are not required to meet the same standards.

Maybe I sound alarmist or “crunchy.” I’m naturally a pragmatist, and like to examine issues from all sides before I make a decision–and even then, I give grace to people who don’t agree, because I’ve seen their side of the equation. But in this case, I feel strongly enough about leaving the world a better place for my girls that I have to speak up. I have to let my choices as a craftsman be my protest.

I’ve heard it said that, if North Americans simply gave up ice cream, the amount of food resources saved could feed the entire starving population of our planet. Small decisions, added up over a large population, can effect drastic change. So, my hope is that you’ll make even one decision to buy natural over synthetic. One accessory, one sweater, one pair of slippers. It may not seem like a lot, but as each of us shifts our weight just a tiny bit on the grand scale of environmental impact, we will find ourselves nearing the tipping point, where change for the better will become the norm.

Let’s make it happen.


Author ilex

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