Hello, I’m Jan, an eco-friendly Scottish Crochet Designer and I design all kinds of crochet patterns from cosy to practical. I love bright colours and projects that are fun to make. I’ve been crocheting avidly since 2010, when the bereavement from the loss of our baby, rekindled the love for the craft I learned from my Mum as a child. I started designing in 2016 but since learning about plastic pollution in 2018; I have focussed more on designs using recycled and sustainable yarns.
I am also a Complementary Therapist (although not currently practising because of Covid restrictions) and live in the beautiful Scottish Highlands with my husband, 3 young sons and our gorgeous fluffy black cat.
I’ve been working with many recycled yarns for over 3 years and have found there is a lot of interest in items made from them. It’s encouraging to see this interest rising considerably during this time. More people are now aware of environmental problems and are looking for eco-friendly alternatives. Whenever I mention recycled yarns on my Facebook Page and blog, the positive responses confirm this growing awareness, but also that few people have heard of and use recycled yarns. This is the reason I wanted to talk about them with you today.
Let’s start with the basics…
What is recycled yarn?
What first comes to mind when you see the word ‘recycled’? Unravelling thrift store sweaters to reuse the yarn? Raiding your ‘never going to finish’ project stash. We’ve ALL got those haven’t we? I have so many I don’t even know where they all are!
Cutting up an old pair of jeans to make denim yarn? Or Old t-shirts into t-shirt yarn. We can even turn worn out sheets and pillowcases into yarn.
You may have heard of ‘Plarn’ (plastic yarn), it’s made from plastic bags. For a tutorial see How to Make Plarn from Bread Bags if you would like to learn how to do it.
These are all one type of recycled yarn: a yarn made from something used. In reusing the material from these, no longer useful, items, we can create something new to last many years. In doing so, we prevent these items from going to landfill.
Reusing yarn presents endless possibilities, the only limitation is the type of yarn itself. This is a superb choice if you have lots of yarn you can reuse, a great local charity shop to supply you with good quality sweaters to unravel, or a plentiful supply of plastic bags.
The biggest drawback is time. They are labour intensive. Although I quite enjoy unravelling projects that haven’t worked out, when time is short, it’s not an option.
There are other types of recycled yarns too. You may or may not be aware there is a growing market in commercially made yarns. There are two main types:
Artisan Hand-spun yarns
Made using materials such as recycled sari silks, sari chiffons and banana fibres (from the bark of banana trees). They are spun using traditional techniques with drop spindles by women living in rural communities, mainly in India and Nepal. They sell them to the World through Women’s Co-operatives who ensure a fair price. This is a very ethical way to venture into recycled yarns, and I have to confess it is my favourite. These yarns are incredibly beautiful, with texture like no other. They will challenge your crochet or knitting skills and your patience, but they are so worth it. The picture below shows the beautiful texture of banana yarn.
Factory Made yarns
Just like the yarn you already know and love, factory made recycled yarns are spun the same way, in the same factories, by yarn companies. The only difference is the material. Instead, they make them from recycled fibres. But unlike the yarn from an old sweater, these fibres are new and unworn.
They are waste fibres from the fashion industry. The scrap materials from the production of the vast amount of clothing made in factories all over the world.
Several yarn companies have embraced this waste fibre and made a very eco-responsible decision to produce a recycled yarn line, or, sometimes, their entire range of yarns.
It might surprise you to hear that some very well-known brands now offer recycled ranges. Paintbox, King Cole, Cascade and Rowan are just a few who have brought recycled ranges into the mainstream yarn world giving us more choice and real alternatives for everyday makes.
If you’d like to read about more brands and recycled yarns, check out the extensive list The Definitive (ish) of Recycled Yarns.
What to make with Recycled Yarns
For those well-known brands, it’s often a straight swap. Just consider the desired drape of the finished item, ensure you have the same yarn weight and remember to swatch, always swatch to check your gauge.
I know you might think, what’s the catch? It can’t be the same as my favourite yarn, right?
Right. It’s not. There are often subtle differences and a slightly different fibre composition ratio. Recycled cotton isn’t comparable to mercerised cotton. But it is an alternative to non-mercerised cotton and will work well for most patterns that call for cotton yarns. Note that recycled cotton yarn often has a small percentage of ‘other’ mixed fibres, usually polyester. I used Paintbox Recycled Cotton Worsted in my Sleepy Mandala pattern, it’s slightly rustic look works well with home decor don’t you think?
[Insert Pic 3 – Sleepy Mandala]
What’s wrong with just using cotton, you might ask? Cotton is a seriously thirsty, heavy pesticide dependent crop! It’s one of the most polluting crops we grow and so isn’t eco-friendly at all. I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to hear this but choosing organic or recycled cotton or even an alternative plant based yarn like linen, bamboo or tencel are all better for the planet than cotton.
With many recycled yarns you can largely make the same things you would make with any yarns.
Scarves and simple shawls: are easy to make with recycled yarns of most kinds, patterns are usually easy to adapt to suit them.
Home decor: It’s usually easy to make most home decor items eco-friendly by using recycled yarns.
Bags: I honestly can’t think of a reason why you would need to buy a standard yarn for these when you can use recycled so easily instead. Recycled ribbon and T-shirt yarn both make super quick bags. Ribbon yarn doesn’t work well for baskets though, it’s too soft.
Baskets: T-shirt yarn is great for smaller baskets and for the sturdiest baskets you can imagine, with the most beautiful stitch definition, try Bobbiny Rope. The picture below shows it beautifully. It’s tough on the hands though, so pace yourself.
Hats, gloves, clothing: Actually pretty much anything made in acrylic. While there isn’t a recycled 100% acrylic yet, there are blends that can work very well instead. King Cole Forest is a blend of recycled polyester and wool and there are several polyester/cotton blends worth trying such as Cascade Rebound, Wool and the Gang New Wave.
This is a category of yarn that desperately needs more options and in a variety of yarn weights too. Acrylic is THE staple in many a yarn stash. Not everyone can or wants to use wool so, although terrible for our planet, acrylic isn’t something we can do without.
The price is a consideration. Recycled yarns are often more expensive than non eco counterparts, but not always. Both Hoooked Soft Cotton and Paintbox Recycled ranges offer very good value.
Recycled banana and silk yarns are more expensive and can vary in price depending on the supplier. As they are ethical and fairly traded you know that buying this yarn makes a positive difference. They can be both exhilarating and frustrating to work with because of their slubby texture and spin inconsistencies. It is difficult to adapt patterns for this yarn and they don’t ‘frog’ well, but don’t let that put you off, simple stitches with no shaping work best. Check out the Easy Eco Cowl, it’s free and designed for banana yarn.
T-shirt, denim, macrame rope and plarn can all be tough to work with. Take your time and take regular breaks or you may get sore hands, wrists, neck and shoulders.
A great alternative to t-shirt yarn is Ribbon yarn. You’ll find Paintbox Recycled Ribbon or Hoooked Ribbon XL much easier to work with. You will need to adjust patterns written for t-shirt yarn as ribbon is lighter weight, even though classed as the same weight category.
An abundance of Recycled yarns are readily available and we can use them for most of our makes. Recycled yarn is a young but growing market that we can help grow bigger by supporting. Our planet needs us to take action. Every little step goes a long way, in choosing recycled when we can and using natural and organic materials, we can lessen the impact on our planet.
Next time you buy yarn, will you consider a recycled alternative instead?
I hope you enjoyed reading all about recycled yarn. For more eco related yarn articles including helpful yarn reviews and crochet patterns from Jan, check out The Crafty Therapist.
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