The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 29, 2008

Plastic-free Knitting

Knitting is a nice, eco-friendly hobby, right? Well, maybe. But it depends on the tools we choose and the materials we use. (Hey, that rhymes.) For a long time, I’ve been opting for natural fibers over acrylic and other synthetic yarns. But it wasn’t until I decided to knit a hat for one of my co-workers this past December that I really examined the contents of my knitting needle roll and realized just how much plastic I had thoughtlessly purchased while building my stash. And I’m not just talking about the needles themselves, although quite a few of them are made of plastic. Even the wooden needles are sold in plastic packaging.

I created this hat using wooden circular needles, which of course have a plastic cord that connects them. (Have you guessed I’m just looking for an excuse to show off the felted hat I made? Check it out before and after felting.)

Fortunately, I already had the circular needles in my stash and didn’t need to buy new ones. Otherwise, I would have knitted this hat with double-pointed needles. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but then I’m not enamored with circular needles, either. Blogger Siel from Green L.A. Girl reminded me that I could knit plastic-free using double points when she posted about the knitted kangaroo her sister is making. Click here and prepare to be amazed and impressed.

Okay, but what about the plastic packaging? This weekend, I visited one of my favorite yarn shops, Article Pract on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland, to buy yarn for my newest project and to do research on plastic-free tools. I was dismayed to find that nearly every brand of needles and hooks came in little plastic cases. All, that is, except for two brands: Lantern Moon and Brittany Needles & Crochet Hooks.

Lantern Moon’s beautiful wooden needles are made in Vietnam. Most of the packaging is plain brown cardboard. A few packs of needles do come in cardboard boxes with a plastic window, but most that I found at Article Pract are plastic-free. According to the company’s web site, “Lantern Moon supports socially and globally conscious living.”

The site goes on to say:

We work directly with our producers to provide income, education and self-reliance to Vietnamese women and their families.

In 2004, we established an educational trust fund to benefit the children of these families. The natural materials that inspire our designs are combined with traditional handcrafting skills that have passed down from generation to generation. Our knitting needles are crafted in a family owned and managed business that provides training and opportunities.

On the other hand, Brittany Needles & Crochet Hooks are made in the United States. Their packaging is also plastic-free. And according to their site, “All wood used by Brittany comes from strictly regulated forests or small woodland owners in the United States ensuring proper environmental logging practices and selective cutting for maximum reforestation.”

These were the only two plastic-free brands that I found at that particular store. Do you know of others? I’ll admit that at this moment, I’m using a pair of acrylic needles that I already had. I tried bamboo once, and one of the needles cracked. Maybe I got too carried away. But in the future, when I need a needle size that I don’t already own, I’ll probably choose one of these brands.

So, you wanna know what I’m making? Several pairs of shaker knit slippers to keep by the front door for guests. We have a no shoe policy in our home, hoping to keep our carpet from wearing out, and I’ve always felt guilty about asking guests to remove their shoes and freeze their toes while I’m wearing my slippers. I chose Lorna’s Laces 100% Superwash Wool (01/16/2010: Pls see note below!) so that the slippers can be washed between wearings without shrinking into felted elf slippers, like my co-worker’s hat (which I think is kind of too small for her head because I forgot to check it while it was felting in the washer.)

01/16/2010: It turns out that there are two methods of creating superwash wool:  soaking it in acid to remove the “scales” or coating it with a polymer (read “plastic.”)  I have sent a message to Lorna’s Laces to find out which method they use, what kind of acid or what kind of polymer.  I’ll update this post again when I find out.  Thanks to FPF reader Rebeca for sharing this info with me.

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6 years ago

Beth, I am curious if Lorna’s Laces ever got back to you. Any more info on SuperWash wool?

9 years ago

I googled “plastic free knitting” and what did I find? Beth Terry already thought of what’s on my mind!
So, as a novice knitter, to make a blanket, do I buy circular needles, or learn to crochet?

13 years ago

I was trying to find a plastic-free knitting group on Ravelry and then, since I subscribe to your blog, I thought I would check out what you might have to say on the subject. I do love knitting on circulars, but those nylon cables (and platic packaging) are a sticking point in my ongoing consideration of purchasing an interchangeable set.

You mentioned you were using a superwash wool yarn. My understanding is that superwash yarn is treated to gain that quality. From The Yarn Tree:

What is Superwash?
Superwash is the process of making wool fibers shrink resistant. The surface of the fiber has projecting edges or scales. Synthetic polymers are used to fill in the cavities of the fiber’s rough jagged surface. This means that your yarn can be safely machine washed. Superwash fiber takes dye beautifully!

“Synthetic polymers” sounds like it might be plastic…. Do you know?

14 years ago

another great place to find needles, hooks and yarn is at estate sale

14 years ago

I actually just bought some plastic free knitting needles the other day. As I’m on a college budget, I was more concerned with the price than with the plastic content or total sustainability (I know, shame shame) however, it turns out not so bad. I bought two sizes of Wrights Boye double pointed metal needles (I’m not sure if they are aluminum or stainless steel) that came in just a bit of thin cardboard as packageing. Of course, metal needles are slippery and can be harder to use, but at 1/3 the price of the plastic packaged bamboo needles, and plastic free to boot, it was perfect for me.

15 years ago

For once I had perfect timing. I came across your blog two days ago, and yesterday was the first night of my beginning crochet class. Happily my local yarn shop carries the wooden crochet hooks with the minimal paper packaging (which I knew to look for because of reading your post). I made sure I told the instructor why I chose that crochet hook… I figure if people know why I’m buying a product that might impact the types of product they stock in the future.

15 years ago

Easiest way to green your needle collection: Get ’em used. eBay and sometimes Craigslist will often have huge stashes of knitting needles for sale — at a cut rate. I’m guessing they’re sold by people who went into knitting with a frenzy, bought up a whole buncha needles, then decided it wasn’t for them. Anyway, eBay is how I got pretty much all my needles, cheap —

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
15 years ago

Freecycle is also another great source of knitting needles I find…

Emily the Great and Terrible
15 years ago

Wooden and bamboo needles are actually easier to use than plastic–less slippery.

15 years ago

Since you asked for comments – I can only say it’s a great site with a lot of useful information. More shopping resources might be helpful.


Piedmont, CA

15 years ago

Beth, how exciting that you’re a knitter! Activist knitters of the world, unite!

Needle-wise, there are several options. I’ve been dying to try the wooden dowel method that holly described, but not brave enough so far. Remember that knitters are crafty people and that etsy is a great source for homeade knitting supplies. Trading with fellow knitters is always a great option. I’m interested in the interchangeable needle trend–love the idea that I would never need to buy another pair–and I believe that one of them (Denise or Knitpicks) comes with metal cables to make circs, rather than plastic. Packaging I think is the big issue there, as it is with the gorgeous addi circs that can be wood or metal with metal cables.

My favorite tip? Thrift stores. They very often have a big bucket in a corner full of knitting needles and other supplies–with or without original packaging–and at rock bottom prices, of course! Recycling wins again!
Cheers, Rosie

Juli in NYC
15 years ago

Another knitter here. Thanks for the tips on plastic-free needles. I don’t need any now, but it’s good to have this post for future reference!

The other ‘plastic free’ option is to buy used, and request no plastic packaging from the seller. Since I’m still doing ‘The Compact’ (not buying anything new), that is my method of choice. For my crafting, I am applying The Compact as follows: projects must use materials already on hand. If more materials are required to complete a project, look for it used first before buying something new.

…and after a whole year, somehow my yarn stash has not diminished. Not even dented. Those partial balls are mating under the bed, I’m telling you.

15 years ago

I had to be seriously talked into trying wooden needles but now I love my Brittany needles… and they’re guaranteed not to break. If they break (within 5 years of normal use) Brittany will replace them for free. See the “Our Guarantee” link on their website. :)

15 years ago

Oh No now knitting needles are bad too?? I was making a sweater a few weeks ago and needed three sets of size 11 needles. Being a cheap person and avid reader of the internet I found a website that showed have to make needles.
I used the idea and went to the hardware store with my needle sizer, found a wooden dole the right size and my husband made me a set of size 11 double pointed needles for under three dollars. The hardware guy was not so surprised when he found out why I needed the dole and was trying to give me advice (he learned knitting from his grandmother).

15 years ago

Thanks for the info Beth! I’ve been thinking about taking up knitting and now I’ll know what to look for.

Also? That hat? Looks like a fabulously eco-friendly way to cover up grey! :-)

15 years ago

There’s an Australian manufacturer of needles that are from casein – a milk protein. They are described as casein formaldehyde plastics, a biopolymer rather than a petrochemical plastic. It’s described here .