Stitch 'n Bitch goes green

Photo: iStockphoto.com/Kateryna Govorushchenko

In our increasingly technology-dominated world, knitting has become the choice hobby among young professional women. And now those weekly gatherings, affectionately dubbed Stitch 'n Bitch, are going green.

During the ‘70s, knitting fell out of vogue after being condemned by feminists as boring and oppressive. But when Debbie Stoller rediscovered the craft, she quickly set about removing that stigma by founding the Stitch ‘n Bitch club and publishing books about knitting. Her latest, Stitch ‘n Bitch Nation, is a popular best-seller. "It's not an art form. It's a craft, it's very pleasurable, it's satisfying, and it's a great way to spend your time," says Stoller. "It's just a fun thing. Our grandmothers have always known this, and we're just learning it again."

Stitch 'n Bitch meetings now take place around the world and there are blogs, websites, books and magazines dedicated to knitting. Organizations like the Church of Craft are taking it a step further by seeking out eco-friendly organic yarns for their creations.

Toxic processes
Conventional yarns are often filled with chemicals, so much so that something once organic ends up not being green at all. Take wool, for instance. It starts its chemical life cycle while still on the sheep's back, when they are routinely doused with chemicals to control lice and fleas. At the mill, wool is then soaked in sulfuric acid, which is highly corrosive. Harsh scouring agents and bleaches are then used to whiten the wool, followed by other additives such as formaldehyde, polyester, foams, dioxins, conditioners, and mothproofing. Many people who thought they were allergic to wool are actually discovering they are allergic to the chemicals used in the processing.

Traditional cotton yarn isn't much better. Fifty percent of chemicals used in the agricultural sector are applied to cotton, which adds up to 35 different pesticides and herbicides. The most commonly used chemical is aldicarb, which is so deadly that a single drop absorbed through the skin can kill an adult. Dyes added to the cotton yarn simply add to the toxic mix.

Acrylic yarns are popular because of their affordability. But these petroleum-based products are usually made from vinyl acetate or methyl acrylate, both known carcinogens that can cause nausea, nose, throat, eye and skin irritation. The chemical process to create synthetic yarns also uses the solvent NN-dimethylformamide, a chemical linked to liver damage. More chemicals are used to wash, stretch, twist and dye the yarns.

Dangerous colours
We pay a price for those brightly coloured yarns, no matter what the material. Most commercial dyes are full of heavy metals like chrome, copper and zinc that can accumulate in the liver, bones, heart and brain. Other chemicals used in the dying process include dioxin and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens.

Organic choices
There's never been an easier time to knit one, purl two with a green yarn. One of the largest distributors of organic yarns is The Vermont Organic Fiber Company, which offers an extensive line of merino wool and cotton blends. Nova Scotia company Hand Maiden Fine Yarn, a division of Fleece Artist, sells Seacell, a cellulose-based fibre made out of kelp. Seattle-based Earth-Friendly Yarns has a line of vegan yarns made from corn, banana, bamboo and oybean (created from tofu byproducts). This company also sells recycled yarn made from fabrics.

You can expect the same colours as conventional yarns but there is the added bonus that most of these yarns are hand-dyed, creating some spectacular combinations. So enjoy your next Stitch ‘n Bitch knowing you're creating a green garment that hasn't contributed to pollution. Start casting on!