Yarn Types – Synthetic Yarns
In the first part of the eco-friendly yarn series, I discussed yarns and yarn types. Today’s blog post continues the eco-friendly yarn series where I’ll discuss synthetic yarns since most yarn used is synthetic based. As you may recall, yarns come from at least one of three sources:
- Synthetic – Man made fibers like acrylic, nylon, polyester, and rayon.
- Animal Source – Fiber from animals, including: Alpaca, Angora, Cashmere, Camel, Goat, Sheep, llama, Caterpillar, Rabbit, and silk.
- Plant Source – Plant based fibers normally composed of cellulose, including: bamboo, cotton, flax/linen, hemp, jute, & raffia. What are synthetic yarns?
How are Synthetic Yarns Made?
Synthetic yarns such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester are the most popular yarns most commonly recommended to beginning crocheters. These yarns are man made, they don’t come from an animal or plant source. While the specific petrochemical compound varies between yarn type (i.e., acrylic – acrylonitrile; nylon – adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine; rayon – cellulose (a natural source but chemically treated); polyester – dimethyl terephthalate and dihydric alcohol), the general process is that the petrochemical goes through a polymerization process to produce long, thin synthetic fibers. These poly fibers are then chemically treated again to harden and additional chemical treatments may occur depending on the end use. Additional chemical treatment may be applied to affect color, texture, sheen, stretch, etc. .
Types of Synthetic Yarn
Acrylic fibers can be twisted to various tightness, blended with natural fibers during spinning, brushed, etc to create a variety of yarn types. Cheap to produce, acrylic yarns are widely available and can be easily purchased at both general and craft stores as well as online for a budget friendly price. You can also find acrylic yarns in an extensive range of colors, textures, and weights. Best of all, they’re machine washable and dryable, acrylic yarns don’t shrink.
Nylon’s claim to fame is that it was the first man made fiber created in the late 1930’s. This type of yarn is noted for its strength, elasticity, vibrant colors, and lustre. It is often used to make socks as the elasticity helps keep the sock stay up on the leg. I recently discovered that one of the yarns that I have used for baby heirloom blankets because of its soft lustre is a nylon blend yarn. Nylon yarn is also often used to make novelty yarns as it can be produced to make unique shapes and is often used as a base for furry or uniquely textured fibers.
Rayon is unique in that its source material is actually natural based cellulose which is wood pulp.
The three most common forms of rayon are:
Derived from wood pulp, viscose rayon is soft like silk and cotton and known for being absorbent.
Derived from beech wood pulp, modal rayon is similar to mercerized cotton in that it is very soft, durable, and comes in bright, vibrant colors.
Derived from bamboo pulp, lyocell rayon is also very soft like mercerized cotton in that it is very soft and absorbs dye well so produces intense, vibrant colors.
Polyester is known to be durable but isn’t absorbent so isn’t a good choice for clothing as it will often end up sticky.
Synthetic Yarn Advantages & Disadvantages
Synthetic Yarn Advantages:
- Cheap to produce
- Widely available
- Durable, often machine washable
- Comes in a wide variety of colors, textures and weights
- Doesn’t rely on agriculture for their production
Synthetic Yarn Disadvantages:
- Not environmentally friendly in it’s production, maintenance, nor disposal:
- Synthetic yarns are made from petrochemicals which damage the environment
- Everytime the synthetic item is washed, microplastics are released into our water supply which are then consumed by fish and other sea life…and us…they play a role in the increased levels of toxicity in fish/sea food when consumed
- Since they’re not biodegradable, synthetic yarns can take 20-200 years to decompose
- Can emit toxins and be irritating to skin
- Some acrylic yarns have a tendency to pill
- Not flame retardant, although acrylic yarn is flame resistant meaning that it takes a lot to get it to ignite but it can still burn because it melts much more easily than it ignites
Even though the production of synthetic materials has a negative impact on the environment, there are drawbacks to natural materials as well. For example, it takes over 500 gallons of water to produce one pound of cotton and the pesticides in growing cotton also have a negative environmental footprint.
Are acrylic yarns safe for babies?
Despite the environmental impact, acrylic yarns are considered safe for babies and have been used for years for baby wear and accessories. To be certain that the yarns used for baby items are safe, particularly clothing and accessories that will touch their skin directly, consider using yarns that are OEKO-tex certified. An OEKO-tex certification indicates that the yarn has been tested for numerous substances and shown to be free of harmful chemicals.
Acrylic yarns are flame resistant but melt at high temperatures so may cause burns so keep this in mind when making items that the baby might sleep in or items that might be placed in the baby’s crib like blankets.
Synthetic Yarns Recommendations
My go to acrylic yarns include Caron Simply Soft and Paintbox Yarns. I love the wide variety of colors that both brands offer and they are both machine washable and machine dryable which is perfect for my crochet niche which includes babywear products.
For heirloom blankets, I love Cascade Cherub DK yarn which is made of nylon..It also comes in a wide variety of colors, and I love the soft pearl-like luster that the yarn has.
Spokane, WA based Paradise Fibers sells BioNylon, a biodegradable nylon yarn that is biodegradable in only 5 years. They offer a lot of other eco-friendly yarns, definitely check them out!
If you shop on Etsy, check out the Little Bird SOS store where you’ll find Handspun Recycled Nylon Yarn.
OEKO – tex Certified Yarns
The following brands/stores carry OEKO-tex certified yarns:
Next – Cotton Yarns
The next segment on eco-friendly yarns will focus specifically on cotton yarns. Upcoming segments will feature other plant based yarns, and then wool yarns in time for fall/winter/holiday crochet projects. Stay tuned!