A recent conversation talking about the similarities between the organic food movement and the Fibershed (localized clothing/yarn/fiber) movement got me to thinking that the superwash yarn in America-you know the buzzword names that everyone is so hot over that are ALL about the color-is a lot like candy. Yarn candy. The craze for this yarn is based on emotion-on popularity, on impetuous choices and very much centered in making one’s self feel happy. After all color does that.
But buying and using superwash yarn we know is problematic (see previous posts with links to great articles at Woolful) with the chemistry that goes into the process. And then these yarns have also gone around the world-come from cheap markets in all parts of the world, gone to China to be processed and then come back to the little (or not so little) indie dyer in middle America to be hand-painted. That’s a lot of miles for a skein of yarn.
Yes, the people painting these yarns are, in a way, creating art. The yarns truly are beautiful. And I will admit to buying an awful lot of it before I understood what was involved in the superwash process and how toxic dyes are, not to mention how much water is used in the dyeing process-roughly 17 gallons per pound of yarn by one estimate. That’s about 38 gallons per sweater, JUST TO DYE IT!
What I realized is that using this type of yarn is very similar to eating nothing but brightly colored candy. Food coloring and lots of sugar is not a good diet. Not a good idea for your health, just as yarn with multiple layers of toxic chemical processes is not good for the health of the planet.
People need to realize that just like choosing a healthy diet with local organic foods that are minimally processed, choosing yarns that are grown/processed/spun and dyed (if at all) closer to home and with the fewest processes possible, is a good thing, and ultimately a much healthier choice.
And remember, it may not be your health that that brightly colored yarn destroys. Cancer rates are soaring in China due to the gross pollution of their water and air by textile and other companies that outsourced to China because it’s cheap. And it’s cheap because they don’t have environmental laws to protect their citizens.
Do you really want to be a part of that? It’s called an “externalized cost” and if you don’t understand that concept, check out “The Story of Stuff” a short film by Annie Leonard.
And the same group has a new short film out called “The Story of Microfibers“. (Very appropriate timing!)
And check out the trailer for RiverBlue, a film about the impact of the fashion industry on our water supplies and rivers.
Lastly, no, we will probably never get rid of the superwash process. Twenty percent of American wool goes (by government law) to make uniforms for the US military, and as some have pointed out, those folks don’t have time to hand-launder their wool uniforms. I’m just glad that US law mandates we buy that wool from within the US.
But when it comes to choosing a yarn for a completely pleasurable hobby, I urge folks to remember when they pick up that brightly colored superwash merino that doesn’t mention where it’s raised or processed to remember that without a transparent trail (and the companies that are transparent WILL tell you) you must assume that there is an awful lot of chemistry and externalized cost to the planet in that sweater. Choosing to support local ranchers and embrace the palette of natural fiber colors and even specific breeds is an art all it’s own, and ultimately far more sustainable for the planet.