Mindful Making... no superwash wool

Superwash wool yarn... not so super... :( 

In our home and every day life we've been doing what we can to reduce environmental impact and reduce the use of plastic as much as possible too. Reduce, reuse, re-purpose, and when necessary/able to refuse--this is our model. Organic, Fair Trade, local, handcrafted, less packaging... all these tags, and more, are ones we look for and try so support. 

Quite a while ago I began to examine my creative life along with my everyday life in terms of where it fit on an eco-conscious scale. And I found myself greatly wanting of a better education in terms of what my creative supplies contained, were made of, where they came from, packaging, etc. 

Last year I made the decision to stop painting, and to especially stop painting with acrylic paints, as acrylic paints and acrylic mediums are made of polymers. And polymers are--PLASTIC!  :( 

Happy with my choice to focus primarily on fiber related hand crafts in future, I've been turning my attention to sourcing fabric and yarn that is as ethically produced as possible. Here in Norway there are many wool producers creating beautiful wool yarn.

Something that was a bit of a shock to me though, was learning about the process by which superwash wool is made. Wool is a sensitive fiber. Unless washed and handled carefully, it can felt and shrink. The process of superwash makes it possible for an item made from superwash wool to be washed in a standard washing machine on a cool, wool wash setting... which makes it ideal for clothing, accessories, baby clothing and toys and all sorts made of wool. 

But the superwash process is highly toxic, involving chemicals. Wool is chlorinated. A hypochlorite is used, which is very similar to household bleach. The amount of gases emitted during the chlorination process is formidable--really toxic fumes. After the chlorination, the wool is then washed and rinsed and chlorine is neutralized. A synthetic resin/polymer, a bit like glue, is then applied to the wool fiber. This resin is, really, a form of plastic. PLASTIC! Yes, the wool is heavily, chemically treated, and then covered in plastic. :(  

What is interesting about superwash wool though, is, that, in spite of it's heavy, chemical processing, the yarn is surprisingly soft, takes dyes very well, and has a fine luster. A bit like chemically treated hair! Superwash merino wool is especially lovely to knit or crochet with. But... that loveliness comes with an eco darkside. 

In my own stash I have very little superwash wool, and I'm glad of that. A few odd skeins left in the stash that I will use up. But I'm not buying much superwash wool these days. Reading all yarn labels very carefully before purchasing or ordering. This reading of labels and checking into a yarn producer's ways of working also extends to looking into how fabric producers create their fabrics. Sometimes it's not always easy to find out everything. But more and more companies are offering chemical and plastic-less products and sharing their product information online. And if not all questions are answered, an email sometimes generates a response with more information. I like when that happens! 

If you would like to read more about fiber-conscious matters, I can highly recommend these articles: Fiber-conscious: Superwash wool, When is Wool Yarn Not 100% Wool, Let's Talk About Superwash... and if you simply google superwash wool process you will discovers LOTS of article links.  Anyway, some things to think about...

A few Mindful Making questions to consider when purchasing or ordering creative supplies--

* What is it made of?
* Where does it come from?
* Where and how is it processed?
* Can components be traced to original sources?
* Does the product packaging, or website, offer any relevant eco information?
* What, if any, chemicals are involved in producing this item?
* What plastics might be lurking in this item?
* Is the packaging single-use plastic, or other kind of single-use waste?
* Is there anything about this item, or the packaging, that I can reuse or re-purpose?
* If ordering online, is it possible to request no plastic packaging?


  1. isn't it amazing how altered everything is? I had never thought about acrylic paint.
    I used to paint and acrylic was my favorite over oil. you might enjoy water colors.
    it will be interesting to see how even THOSE are made now!
    as they say about other important things... once you know you can't UNknow!
    I have to be very careful in wearing wool. as long as it doesn't touch my skin I can sometimes tolerate it. like a scarf over a heavy coat. I never buy it to wear.
    my mother once bought me a little Pendleton jacket when I was in the fourth grade.
    it was so pretty! but by the time I got home it had rubbed my neck raw and blood had come to the surface underneath and I itched all over! so... I've pretty much steered clear of it since. I love the colors of the yarn in the picture.
    what a difference we could make if all of us became more mindful of our choices!

    1. Hi, Tammy! Great to see you're visit here, my friend! It's crazy, isn't? Most things probably aren't at all what we think they are, are made of, etc. I do play with watercolors paints still, and will keep those for the time being. As far as I've been able to research, watercolor paints don't have quite as bad an eco-print as acrylics, thankfully. But these days, I'm just not painting as much, so less goes down the drain. :( Goodness, that was a sad experience with the lovely wool coat when you were a child! Some folks don't tolerate wool very well, or animal fibers, generally. That's where synthetic come in rather handy. Though synthetics fibers, we now know, created micro-plastic when washed. So what is safe to use, and eco-friendly, etc?! Cotton can be good... but even organically grown cotton takes a toll on the environment. After food, clothing and the clothing industry is the biggest pollutant world wide. Happy thoughts for today, huh?! LOL... ;) ((HUGS))

  2. Wow, this was so interesting. I have never even thought about asking questions like these. I will copy them and try to be more aware of it all. I did like that you can get some things without plastic packaging. I hate the way things are packaged today. For one thing they are very hard to get into.
    Thanks for all you are doing in creating an eco friendly world in your own life and then spreading the ways to do it.
    You are awesome! Sending lots of love and hugs your way~

    1. Thank you for your very kind comment, LeAnn! And I know the packaging maybe you're talking about--that very stiff plastic packaging that you need scissors to open and get into. That plastic is so hard! Not sure why so much needs to be in so much plastic packaging, and especially that hard stuff, which can't be recycled in most places. :/

  3. I love to knit with superwash yarn, especially socks, but I am quite dismayed about the eco darkside, as you call it. Darn!

    1. Superwash yarn--especially superwash merino wool--is lovely yarn to knit with, no doubt about it. The harsh chemical processes make me think twice about it, though... :/

  4. I found this very interesting Tracy! I had no idea. I will be definitely checking the yarn I buy in the future! I am trying my hardest to do my part in lessing the damage on our environment in every way that I can. I think our Governments have woken up, and hopefully more change will come. Better late than never! Like LeAnn, I hate HARD plastic packaging. It is so difficult to get into, and I am not sure it really cuts down on theft anyways! Love and hugs. xoxo

    1. I think we all do our bit, Marie, and it is soooo good that we do. :) It is also VERY good that governments are trying to do more. Some of the biggest problem though is companies... if companies would change their eco-habits and how they offer their products (less packaging, no plastic, etc.), then collectively on the individual level, company level and on up through to government we could really clean things up! :)

  5. I didn't know this! I just got a gift of a "we are knitters" kit from a friend and it's 100% Peruvian wool, chunky, pretty sure it's not superwash. I assumed when I bought superwash that the yarn had simply been washed and preshrunk. As for acrylics, oil paints or watercolors may be for you?


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