Saturday, December 29, 2012

Urban Yarn Harvesting to subvert Christmas present to Christmas past

On Christmas eve we got together in the field house to undermine the last 40 years of Christmas tradition.........

What if told you that you could change your knitting habits so that it could mean saving CO2 rather than increasing it and rather than contributing to global climate change, actually helped reduce it?

What if I told you that there's an infinite supply of very cheap cashmere, silk and merino yarns out there waiting to be mined? Got your interest?

With this in mind, Martin Borden went out hunting. He came back with a navy blue, thrift store, pure merino frame knitted sweater. I was able to confirm that this was the kind of sweater that you could easily unravel. Some sweaters are made garment shaped (like an hand knitter would knit them) and some are cut from a sheet of knitted fabric - this latter kind don't unravel except as short yarn lengths, as the edges have been cut. Not very useful.

Flushed with success, he went out for a Urban Yarn Harvest hunt at Value Village. His haul included several silk, cashmere, and cashmere and silk blend sweaters.

We spent Christmas Eve unpicking the seams and using my spinning wheel to unravel the yarn. The neck  alone of the merino sweater prouced 50g - worth more than the garment had cost!

Commerical yarn sweaters are made of very fine yarn, so plying the threads together gives you a handknitting weight. Currently Martin is working on plying a gold silk with the navy merino yarn to produce a tweed-like effect for knitting his next sweater. He has made himself a patented sweater unraveller from an old hand drill, and intends to ply on a drop spindle. He drops his spindle over the bannisters and down into his stair well for maximum efficiency. I hope he'll put some photos up on his blog to show you all this!

Don't forget that you can also unravel unnatural fibre yarns like acrylic and ply them onto wool  to make excellent sock yarn. Also, don't throw away all the short lengths that you can end up with when yarn breaks. Chop them into 3-5cm lengths and add them into your fleece as you spin. Makes great 'art yarn' and also is a way to introduce some silk (or cashmere, or merino) into what you're spinning.

If you don't spin (and don't forget you can learn how to do that at Urban Weaver) you can always compost your yarn ends or bury them under your beans for moisture retention (old English gardener's trick!).

So, with just a drop spindle, and a bit of luck in the UYH hunt, you can save wool, cashmere, silk, cotton and acrylic yarns from the landfill, or from being exported (at great CO2 cost) to poorer countries. In the countries where they are shipped, they rob the local weavers and spinners of a living and undermine the local cloth and weaving traditions that have been passed down for centuries. You can save the shipping of new fibre around the world several times in the quest to get it produced into yarn and then garments at as close to slave labour wages as possible. You can save the production of cotton and the environmental and water degradation that entails, the strangle-hold of Monsanto that has lead to so many Indian farmers killing themselves, and the forced labour of children in Uzbekistan*. With just a little effort you can subvert what has become the season norm, save greenhouse gases and have your gift giving not contribute to global climate change and human misery. Now wouldn't that be a merrier Christmas?

Plus, you could be giving your knitting and weaving friends balls of  unique, one of a kind Urban Yarn for Christmas next year, and you even have time to knit/weave something for them - how cool is that? And if you need to learn any of the techniques to achieve that, it's all free at the Urban Weaver on Monday nights - just ask and I'll set up a workshop.


*PS If you want to lean how to spin and knit cotton wool balls into a face cloth that can be washed for years, ask me how. No need to buy cotton wool balls, use them once and throw them away.......

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