Organic has become a marketing buzzword that leaves many people wondering if they are getting a product that offers any substantial benefit for the extra cost. Organic yarns offer substantial environmental benefits and any knitter will appreciate their luxuriousness and quality. A quick look at the environmental advantages organic yarns offer over traditional cotton yarns will easily justify any pricing differences. Mostly available in earthy colors the commercially available organic yarns offer knitters a new experience and way to bring depth to their work that can only improve with time.
Most people remain oblivious of the environmental impact related to cotton production. Approximately, 25% of all pesticides used world-wide are applied to cotton crops. The most acutely toxic pesticide registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aldicarb, is frequently applied to cotton crops. In fact the EPA classifies the top nine pesticides used on cotton crops as Category I or II chemicals, which ranks them among the most dangerous chemicals registered. California prohibits feeding the leaves, stems, and short fibers of cotton, known as ‘gin trash’, to livestock, because of the concentrated levels of pesticide residue (instead gin trash is used to make furniture, mattresses, tampons, swabs, and cotton balls). The problems with cotton production does not stop in the field. During the processing of conventional cotton into yarn, numerous toxic chemicals are used, including silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde. Many people appreciate the alternative offered by organic yarns to the high toxic process that produces conventional yarns.
The organic certification process for cotton and wool varies greatly from the certification offered by the US Department of Agriculture for food products. Independent organization provide the certification standards for cotton crops, so every supplier may have a different certificate vouching for their organic standards. However, most certifying groups use certification standards that are substantially similar and all prohibit the use of chemical pesticides and fungicides on the crops, so all certifications ensure that the main benefit of avoiding pesticides is achieved. And organic yarn producers provide information on the processing and any dyeing procedures, so you can avoid products exposed to toxic chemicals during that stage.
The biggest challenges of working with organic yarns remain availability and color selection. Most craft stores do not carry organic yarns, so I order mine from Internet sites. The greatest problem with this process is not being able to see and feel the yarns prior to ordering. Recommendations and reviews from other knitters help to alleviate my concerns the first few times and I have found several brands I feel quite comfortable ordering new items from unseen. Pakucho cotton yarn from Peru has proven very versatile and consistently provides a quality product (Pakucho, a trademarked name of Peru Naturtex Partners, is the ancient Incan term for “brown cotton”). I find Pakucho very reasonably priced on Elann.com. I also appreciate the variety and luxuriousness of Blue Sky organic yarns. Tierra Wools produces my favorite organic wool yarn; unfortunately, this wool can get pricey unless bought in bulk. For those of you who like silk yarns, Tussah organic silk can be find at www.aurorasilk.com.
As mentioned above, organic yarns often come in limited colors. Because this product caters to a specific niche market currently, most remain available in grown colors, meaning that different varietals of cotton and sheep provide natural earthy colors ranging from brown to various greens. However, referring to this choices as limited to natural earthy colors seems to detract from the exquisite shades offered, many of the options of color in organic yarns yield breath-taking creations. Some brands do provide a wider variety of colors obtain usually from natural dyes. While the initial palette may be limited, one of the best features of organic yarns is how they improve with age. Most grown and dyed colors will deepen as the item is worn and laundered, resulting in a treasured heirloom instead of a tired looking rag.
I hope that as the market grows for organic yarns the variety of colors and styles of yarn will continue to increase too. The recent explosion of varieties of synthetic and traditional cotton yarns developed only in response to market demand, so too will the demand for organic yarns. In the meantime, I encourage everyone who loves to knit to give organic yarns a try, both for their natural beauty and quality, as well as their benefit to the environment.