Sustainable yarns v vegan alternatives

Through my research into sustainable designers and artists I realised I was hitting a quandary with regards to sustainable yarns and fabrics which started with the love of the ethos and philosophy of Maria Sigma’s work as well as her use of undyed woollen yarns.

The problem arises because I have followed a vegan diet since February this year and where possible am transitioning to a vegan lifestyle and ultimately wool is not considered a part of that due to many of the abhorrent shearing and animal welfare practices which sadly do go on.

I decided to do some relatively brief research into my quandary which was immediately further exacerbated when I consider the issue of ethical wool i.e. wool that meets high standards of animal welfare and environmental care and obviously there is the possibility of upcycling woolen jumpers etc which is a definitive use of upcycling and recycling and something to consider when passing charity shops!

A further aspect for me to consider is the acrylic yarns that use polyester or nylon (ultimately plastic yarns) and I have been guilty of buying these cheap yarns due to cost factors which brings me to the other factor – financial considerations:  vegan alternatives such as hemp, banana, or cotton yarns are expensive (some 50 g balls I have seen priced between £4 and £8) with acrylic yarns also being considered vegan but acrylic is incredibly bad for the environment apparently (and cotton has received very bad press due to its high water usage and high use of pesticides, fertilisers etc) ….. organic cotton yarn is clearly the way forward on this point particularly with companies whereby the provenance is considered an important aspect.  Bamboo yarn is also one of these ethical and sustainable yarns as it can be grown in very small areas and is apparently beneficial due to its oxygen production and absorption of CO2 but apparently the common use of manufacturing and turning the plant into fibers is by using chemical processing as opposed to the more environmentally friendly mechanical.   As I go forward in both my studies and working practice I will need to consider each of the yarns I use and do further research particularly if I do continue to transition to a fully vegan lifestyle as financial and practical considerations allow.

The more I read into acrylic yarns though the more I realise the harm to the environment and am now kicking myself as my current non OCA project has a 75% acrylic content – these will undoubtedly be the last skeins purchased and I will also be aiming for zero waste with these as I look to  incorporate every single scrap!  The chemical production of these yarns is obviously environmentally harmful, but there is also considerable use of fossil fuels during the process, the yarns further take decades to break down and every time they are washed they release the dreaded microplastics into the water system but for me personally the most frightening issue according to one article is the fact that the main component in the yarns acrylonitrile has cancerous properties – bearing in mind I have a considerable history of a rare cancer including a reoccurrence in 2018.

It seems for each yarn there are pros and cons as can be expected but ultimately the plant or animal based yarns are biodegradable are the obvious option in terms of sustainability and harm to the environment.  My current personal feelings are is that  as I go forward in both my studies and working practice I will need to consider each of the yarns I use and do further research particularly if I do continue to transition to a fully vegan lifestyle as financial and practical considerations allow – this will also apply to the fabrics I use (vegan alternatives include linen, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp amongst others).

This question of sustainability and an ethical ethos is also clearly one fashion and interior designers are also addressing – research point 4.1 addresses this issue.


A List of Vegan Yarns for Knitting and Crochet (2017) At: (Accessed 24/10/2019).
Environmental Impacts of Different Fiber Types (s.d.) At: (Accessed 24/10/2019).
Material Guide: How Ethical Is Wool? (2018) At: (Accessed 24/10/2019).
Modine, S. (2018) Vegan Yarn – exploration of eco-friendly, vegan yarn available for vegan knitters, crocheters and weavers. At: (Accessed 24/10/2019).
Vegan knitting | The Yarn Loop (s.d.) At: (Accessed 24/10/2019).
Yarn reviews: sparkly yarns | The Yarn Loop (s.d.) At: (Accessed 24/10/2019).

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