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?