Knitting Patterns by Lyndell

Halter Neck Dress for Neo Blythes - here
Design your own Dress for Neo Blythes - here
Gum-Nut Hat for Neo Blythes - here

Who? What? eh?

This is the blog of a constant crafter - a 'showcase' for some of the things I make, some hints for crafting & recylcing - lots of photos and some words. I hope it will inspire.
Please Note: all photos are Copyright.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Environmental Footprint of Various Fibres used in Clothing - Part 5 M, N & O

Part 5 - M, N & O of this alphabetical list. An attempt at a cradle-to-grave, un-biased evaluation of most of the fibres used in our clothing and crafting.  
Firstly to repeat a couple of important things (for more, see parts 1 & 2)
1.  When it comes to clothing - it isn't easy being green ...
2.  A great deal of the environmental impact of our clothing lies with the end user - that's you & me.  The person who buys, wears, washes, irons (?) mends, re-purposes, and ultimately decides when and how that garment is disposed of
3.  Listing is alphabetical and it'll go over several posts 
4.  I will update it as I discover more information - I'm Australian so the info is sometimes Ozzie-centric
5.  I knit a lot (so I'll look at fibres often made into yarns but perhaps not so often found in commercial clothing)
6.  I've tried to cover all aspects 'from cradle to grave'.  
 --- --- --- ---

Mercerised Cotton - Cotton treated by dipping into a strong alkaline (usually caustic soda) to give the thread a lustrous appearance, improved dye absorption, greater strength and a smoother, softer feel when handled.  Sometimes the thread is also singed to remove stray fibres.

From an environmental point of view, improved dye absorption is a good thing as it means less (usually chemical) dyestuff to produce the colour but where does the alkaline go and if the thread is also singed - this is done by passing it over a flame ... so that means fossil fuel consumption etc

Microfiber / Microfibre - synthetic fiber finer than one denier ... extremely fine, really extremely fine.  Microfibre is very fine polyester, polyamide (this means nylon) or a mix of man-made synthetic fibres.  As a non-scientist / non-industrial-chemist I think of synthetic fibres as basically being plastics made from petrochemicals. 

I'll go into greater depth when I get to those man-made fibres - but I think most of us familiar with the environmental problems of polyester & nylon.  Fabrics that don't really biodegrade but do shed tiny particles of plastic when washed - micro-plastics which are now causing great environmental concern  and plastic fibres are the most common form of micro-plastic pollution.  

From the Global to the Personal - Microfibre sounds far more sophisticated than Polyester but when very fine threads of some-form-of-plastic are woven snugly together to made a fabric, that resulting fabric lacks breathability to an even greater degree than the older styles of Polyester fabric.  It isn't very pleasant to wear and can result in your becoming less than pleasant to be around.

The synthetic fabrics don't 'breathe' and they don't biodegrade but they do burn ... and melt into sticky very hot goo ... well it is melted plastic ... not nice if you happen to be wearing it !  

Minki - I'm including this because I'm seeing a lot of products labelled 'Minki' - so what is it?  

Mink - not minki
In a word - 100% Polyester.  Made into a thick 'fleece' fabric or low-pile faux fur.  It has nothing to do with minks or their fur.    

It is often made into blankets - - -  

Rant Alert - I've tried to maintain a distance and not assert too many opinions in this series of Blog Posts - BUT - polyester blankets ? 

Minki blankets are often sold as suitable for children !!

Polyester doesn't 'breathe' and it is a fire-hazard.  In the unfortunate event of a fire, polyester burns fiercely (like the petroleum product it is) and then goes to a black, sticky and Very Hot goo which sticks to things and emits heat (just imagine what that does on skin).
OK - Rant Over. 

Modacrylic - a form of acrylic.  Modacrylic is flame-retardant but it is prone to pilling so needs careful laundering.  It is used for protective clothing, fake fur fabrics, soft toys and wigs.

Modal - when it is not a misspelling of 'model' this is yet another type of Rayon.  Rayon will be addressed in full when I get to the letter R but Rayon is reconstituted cellulose - basically it starts as plants which are turned into a cellulose soup - and then chemically hardened and extruded into fibres.    In the case of Modal the plant material should come from plantation beech trees.

The European Beech 

Modal was developed by an Austrian company called Lenzing - Lenzing Modal is made from sustainably managed beech tree plantations in Europe and their process was developed to minimise environmental impacts by recovering and reusing the chemicals used in the process.  

However, not all garments labelled 'Modal' are made of this more environmentally friendly fibre.  Some manufacturers have been accused of forest destruction in Indonesia and garments labelled 'Modal' and manufactured (sewn) in China are often made with Indonesian Modal.    

So - the advice is to take care when choosing things labelled Modal and preference garments manufactured in Europe over those made in Asia.

Mohair -  Mohair comes from Angora Goats but Angora comes from Angora Rabbits - it would be less confusing if we renamed the goats but both animals are named for Ankara in Turkey.  Some people think of mohair as scratchy and in the past it often was; but when mohair has come from well-fed young animals - then it should be soft, with a lovely 'halo' of fluffiness and slightly sheeny.
Mohair on the hoof

Mohair is a long fibre, lustrous and almost without scales (the microscopic barbs that can make wool feel scratchy) - the lack of scales also makes mohair difficult to felt / full / shrink (all 3 being basically the same process).  Mohair is regarded as a luxury fibre and is used for knitting yarns, it is woven into top-end suit and coat fabrics (often blended with wool) and is made into fur fabrics for the more expensive soft toys - in the past it was used for dolls' hair and still is for OOAK and customised dolls.

Growing it - Angoras are smaller than standard goats and they are not as tough; good feed is needed especially if you want nice fleece from them.  In Australia the feed and water requirements are about the same as for sheep - with the same considerations about hard hooves doing soil damage.  Goats will also devour leaves and bark from trees and have a higher reach than sheep.

Angora goats are usually shorn twice a year and can produce 5 to 8 kg of fleece per annum.  Today, South Africa is the world's largest producer of mohair.

Processing it - Mohair grows in uniform locks and it is a single-coat - so there are no long, coarse guard hairs which have to be separated from the desirable fibre.  The fleece does need cleaning (scouring - with water and strong detergents) but this is easier than with sheep's wool as there is much less lanolin.  Mohair takes dye very well - so it requires less dyestuff than some other fibres.  

Spinning & weaving mohair is done very similarly to other natural animal fibres.

Caring for it - This is also similar to other animal fibres such as wool or alpaca.  Mohair should be washed with care and as few chemicals as you can manage; keep in mind that mohair is often blended with wool which can shrink.  Store safe from insect pests by using a scent disruptor (I've found that ground white pepper is very effective, also it is cheap & long lasting). 

Burning and Biodegrading - Like wool, mohair is flame resistant and, being natural, it will biodegrade in landfill.

Nylon - A synthetic polymer - a smooth thermoplastic that can be melt-processed into fibres, films and shapes.   Wallace Carothers working for the Du Pont company developed nylon during the 1930s - the first commercial use being for toothbrush bristles in 1938, closely followed by women's stockings ... then during World War II most nylon production went to make parachutes - for the canopy and the cords.

Rationing helped to make nylon stockings immensely popular but after the war nylon Du Pont cleverly marketed Nylon for other uses including nylon fabrics for lingerie and fashionable clothes.  All those filmy 50s frocks (nylon) with big bouffant skirts - held out by tulle petticoats (nylon).

The Name - Unfortunately the story that 'Nylon' stands for New York & London is an urban myth.  This is what Wikipedia says 

Processing it  - Nylons (there are many forms) are plastics made from petrochemicals (from coal or petrol)  though it is possible to make a type of nylon from castor oil (that's from a plant) ... Du Pont hold that patent too and they call it Zytel.  

Nylon is very useful  - it is strong, durable, resistant to insects and molds / fungi (because it is synthetic) and it is fast drying (because it is non-absorbent).  Nylon is used for umbrellas, raincoats, flags, strings for musical instruments, fishing lines, machine gears, broom bristles, sausage skins ... all sorts of things - even Kevlar is a variety of Nylon.  However, for clothing Nylon is no-longer so popular as we have problems with that non-absorbency.

These days we aren't likely to find a garment tag that says 'Nylon' (except on something vintage)  but you might find Polyamid or Polyamide ... this is a renaming of nylon.  Also, nowadays nylon (sorry, polyamide) is usually blended with other fibres to make it less 'sweaty'.

Caring for it - Although nylon is a fairly tough plastic - it can be melted (so don't iron it or tumble dry it)  and it can be damaged by some chemicals.  If you do own vintage Nylon - especially if it is white - avoid drying it in direct sunlight and do not use chlorine or chloride bleach on it as these things will cause a white nylon to yellow.

Burning and Biodegrading - As for all the other synthetic fibres that are based on petrochemicals, nylon will melt, it'll burn and go to sticky goo that might stick to skin.  As for the other 'plastic' fibres, nylon doesn't biodegrade readily - though there is a bacteria that eats it - more Wikipedia here.  

Orlon - see Acrylic - Orlon was an early trademark name for acrylic.  Orlon was also used for knitting yarn and like most acrylic yarns it pilled badly.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Environmental Footprint of Various Fibres used in Clothing - Part 4 the Ls

Part 4 - I to L of this alphabetical list but I can't think of any commonly used fibres that start with either I or J (if you can, please let me know and I'll add them to the list) & of K I can only think of Kevlar - again not commonly used.  
An attempt at a cradle-to-grave, un-biased evaluation of most of the fibres used in our clothing & crafting.  
Firstly to repeat a couple of important things (for more, see parts 1 & 2)
1.  When it comes to clothing - it isn't easy being green ...
2.  A great deal of the environmental impact of our clothing lies with the end user - that's you & me.  The person who buys, wears, washes, irons (?) mends, re-purposes, and ultimately decides when and how that garment is disposed of.  
Listing is alphabetical and it'll go over several posts 
4.  I will update it as I discover more informationI'm Australian so the info is sometimes Ozzie-centric
5.  I knit a lot (so I'll look at fibres often made into yarns but perhaps not so often found in commercial clothing)
6.  I've tried to cover all aspects 'from cradle to grave'.  

 --- --- --- ---

Iconic - his gloves are probably leather too

Leather - Strong, flexible and long lasting - leather has many uses.  

Growing it - Most leather is from cattle and there are environmental concerns about raising cattle.  It is an animal product and some people avoid all such - but if you are an eater of meat then leather is a by-product of your food.  Although most leather is from cattle, you can also find sheep leather (it is soft and slightly more fragile than cow) and pig leather, called pig skin (it has an interesting dimpled texture).  Other speciality leathers you might find include Deer Skin, Ostrich & Emu (fabulous dimpled textures on those), Barramundi fish leather (almost looks like the scales are still there).  

Processing it - Most of the environmental concerns with leather are from the pre-tanning and tanning processes.  Tanning permanently alters the protein structure of the skin and is necessary to make the leather durable and prevent decomposition ... it'll probably also change the colour.  Here is a bit of etymology for you - because it is from the tanning of leather that we get all those other uses of the word 'tan' - tan brown, tanning ourselves in the sun ...  and 'tan' comes from 'tannin' which in turn comes from an old German word for oak or fir trees, early sources of tannin.  Then there is the tannin in our cup of tea - and that is what will stain the crockery and makes tea a very useful dye.  But I digress ...

Before the skin is tanned it has to be prepared and this all gets rather nasty if you think about it!  First it is kept from 'going off' by being cured in salt or by freezing - then there are the 'Beamhouse Operations' to remove everything except the actual skin.  These processes are noxious and smelly - usually done on the outskirts of a town, traditionally near a river - but waste-products can get into the water supply ... 
I will run through some of the steps and try not to get too 'icky'!  
Soaking - to remove the salt and increase moisture.  To prevent bacteria etc, biocides and fungicides might be used.  Until 1980 in the US they could use mercury-based biocides - let us hope these are not used anywhere nowadays.
Liming & various processes to change the pH and remove hair and other unwanted stuff.  Various chemicals are used including sulfides and ammonia - in the past one of the processes involved animal dung !!!  
Finally the skin is Pickled with common salt and then sulphuric acid ... to produce more changes to the pH - then it can be tanned ...

Tanning - Most modern tanning is done with Chromium (III) sulphate which sounds scary, chromium is a heavy metal in the non rock-music sense.   Wikipedia assures me that "Chromium (III) compounds ... are less toxic than hexavalent chromium" but I'm not a chemist and anything Chromium sounds scary to me.
There is also Vegetable Tanning which uses the bark from trees as the source of tannin - those trees include chestnut, oak, tanoak (how did that tree get its name?) mangrove and wattle.  

Coat of Arms
Yes my fellow Australians ... the Golden Wattle - our National Flower is a wonderful source of tannin (as are other wattle trees but the Golden is the best).  In the early 1980s I lived near a tannery that used wattle bark and I can truthfully say that it didn't smell - though perhaps that was because all the really noxious pre-processing was done elsewhere. 

Unfortunately, vegetable tanned leather is not as flexible as that tanned with Chromium.

How should we look after it - and some of this depends on how the leather has been used.  Leather can get stiff and it can get mildew or mould - so keep in a dry environment and use a good leather conditioning oil or 'wax' - keep your leather shoes & boots nicely polished.  Think of polishing shoes not as a chore but as a lovely form of meditation.

What happens when it does go into land-fill? -  not a nice thought for that expensive leather sofa but leather will biodegrade; it takes a while but it will happen.

Leather from Fungus or Slime Mould or Pineapple Leaves (Pinatex) -  Lots of very clever people are working to create products that look and behave like leather - sometimes this is called 'victimless leather'.  Early stages, but how wonderful if something as useful and adaptable as leather from a cow could be made (without massive environmental impact) from something as easy to grow as a slime mould.  Looking forward to seeing progress and more information about this. 

I do hope we can produce a good alternative leather but it needs to be environmentally friendly in every step of the process.

Leatherette  - another name for PVC.  This and other faux man-made leathers will be listed separately.

Linen - This fibre is less used now than in the past - cotton has taken the place of linen for many garments and for things such as sheets, tea towels, tablecloths ... all those things we refer to sometimes as 'household linen'.

A flax crop in flower - in Belgium
What is it?  Linen is a plant fibre and the plant is called flax which is confusing!  The cultivated flax plant (Linum usitatissimum yes, that means 'most useful') no longer exists in a wild form.   It is a very useful plant; not only do we get fibre from the stems but the seeds are crushed to make Linseed Oil and are edible, turning up in seeded bread and health foods - it is also quite pretty with dainty little blue flowers.

Humans have used flax fibre for at least 30,000 years.  The Egyptian mummies were wrapped in very fine linen, the Romans used it for their sails & flax fibre can be used to make paper.  Flax fibre is 2 to 3 times stronger than cotton fibre, it is also naturally smooth and straight, however, linen fabric is stiffer to handle and more easily wrinkled - linen garments need a lot of ironing though the 'naturally crumpled' look has a certain charm.

Producing / Growing it - Flax likes good soil, there aren't many pests that eat it but flax doesn't compete with weeds well.  The crop is harvested after 80 to 100 days - after flowering but before the seeds have set for the best quality fibre, but the seeds are valuable too.

Processing it  - There are a lot of similarities in the processing of hemp fibre and flax - both are retted & scutched to remove the unwanted harder and sticky parts of the stem.  The exact processes vary from country to country and depending on the intensity of cropping.  A lot of high quality flax / linen comes from northern France and Belgium where the process is quite mechanised but you can also find a lot of interesting clips on YouTube from re-enactors & historical places in Ireland and the US etc.
Harvesting flax in Belgium
The plants are usually pulled up roots and all for maximum length of fibre and then they are left in bundles in the field to ret naturally in the sun, dew and rain.  Retting is really a controlled rotting (those words are similar!).

Retting can also be done in water - but it will pollute that water and it smells.

When dry again, the retted stalks (sometimes called straw) undergoes breaking and scutching (similar processes) to remove the woody unwanted parts of the stem from the lovely flaxen fibre inside ...  and yes, it does look like blonde 'flaxen' hair.  In the US the terminology seems a little different e.g. they use a 'brake' to break up the hard part of the stem.  All this can be done mechanically of course and I've found this wonderful YouTube of a old Scutch Mill in Ulster - fabulous Irish accent too.

Aren't the names of these processes rather wonderful?   In the process of turning flax into linen we've retting, breaking, scutching and then heckling or hackling.  Yes, 'heckling' as in - teasing and interrupting a speaker ... does originate with the heckling and teasing of fibre.  Also, scutching and heckling are unpleasant hot & dusty jobs ... hecklers had "a reputation as the most radical and belligerent element in the workforce.  In the heckling factory, one heckler would read out the day's news while the others worked, to the accompaniment of interruptions and furious debate."  (Wikipedia here)

an early American Hackle 
But back to the flax - and this heckling / hackling is to pull the fibres through a metal comb (and now we know the derivation of the old saying "to get your hackles up").  Again, this process has been mechanised which isn't so picturesque but finally there should be lovely long, silky, white to yellow, flax fibres and the short courser fibres left behind which are called Tow.  Tow can be used to make twine, fishing nets, ropes, and in paper, building products or for fuel.

And now the Flax can be spun and woven into a linen fabric.
Postcard from very early 1900s -
the lady on the left is knitting a sock, the lady in the middle is spinning flax

As can be seen from this French postcard - spinning flax has always been a bit different to spinning wool.  The fibre is held on a distaff and often the wheel is turned with the hand ... rather than by foot pedals. Not apparent here but usually the fibre is kept slightly wet while it is spun - to keep it smooth and for strength (flax / linen is much stronger when wet than when dry) so the spinning wheels often had little wooden cups or at least a cup holder.  Of course, modern flax / linen fabric is spun and woven by large machines and in the spinning mills the fibre is wet so those factories are quite humid.

Caring for Linen Clothing - Linen is strong and durable, very absorbent and stronger when wet than dry/  Linen makes great clothes for hot, humid weather partly because it doesn't cling to you as much as cotton does.  Go with the naturally crumpled look rather than using lots of electricity (and your sanity) ironing it all the time.

Other Thoughts - This is more about the ethics of our clothing than the environmental impact but processing flax into linen is still very labour intensive - that lovely flaxen fibre is quite fragile.  If you can, check that the linen is manufactured in a country where workers get a living wage and there are good industrial practices to protect the workers' health etc.

Another thought - because I'm trying to learn how to made lace by hand (bobbin lace). The regions where lace was made were often the same regions that made linen (and some still do) because the lace was made from very fine linen thread - often much finer than we can find nowadays (and we usually use cotton thread now).

Burning and Biodegrading - Linen / flax burns and biodegrades just like all the other plant based fibres.

Lycra - see Elastane in part 3.

Lyocell - see Rayon when I get to the Rs in this list.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Environmental Footprint of Various Fibres used in Clothing - Part 3

Part 3 -  D to H of this alphabetical list;  An attempt at a cradle-to-grave, un-biased evaluation of most of the fibres used in our clothing & crafting.  

Firstly to repeat a couple of important things (for more, see parts 1 & 2)
1.  When it comes to clothing - it isn't easy being green ...
2.  A great deal of the environmental impact of our clothing lies with the end user - that's you & me.  The person who buys, wears, washes, irons (?) mends, re-purposes, and ultimately decides when and how that garment is disposed of.  

Listing is alphabetical and it'll go over several posts
I will update it as I discover more information
I'm Australian so the info is sometimes Ozzie-centric
I knit a lot (so I'll look at fibres often made into yarns but perhaps not so often found in commercial clothing)
I've tried to cover all aspects 'from cradle to grave'.  

 --- --- --- ---

Dacron - see Nylon later in this on-going list, when I get to the letter N

Elastane / Spandex / Lycra - this is the stuff that makes stretch fabrics stretchy and about 80% of new clothing contains elastane threads - it is in:

Just love the "ActiveWear" parody - YouTube
Hosiery - socks, stockings, tights
Leggins & Jeggins
Orthopaedic braces
Skinny jeans
Sports clothes
Surgical stockings
Underwear ... ... ...

Without elastic and elastic threads we would have underwear that buttoned on or laced up - I don't think we want to return to that but let's look at what all this stretchy stuff is.

What is it? -  Good ole' Wikipedia tells us that it is a "polyester-polyurethane copolymer ... invented in 1958 by ... Joseph Shivers at DuPont "  so obviously man-made and basically a plastic.  The word 'plastic' is a great catch-all for non-chemists like myself but most plastics are derived from petrochemicals and most don't biodegrade or they do so very slowly or they break down into tiny - micro - bits of plastic.  Unfortunately, most commonly used plastics are also unstable ... so although they sit about for ages in land-fill and our oceans they often don't last very well fulfilling the original purpose for which they were made.  I'm thinking here of those early Barbie dolls that go all sticky and disintegrate, all the plastic kitchen bowls that have cracked with use ... and of course, all those bits of elastic in clothing that stopped being elastic.

How should we look after it? - The elastane threads are usually woven or knitted with other fibres but it is often the elastane that 'goes' first and our stretch-wear stops 'returning' after being stretched.  To keep elastane and elastics being elastic:

  • avoid chemicals - deodorants aren't good but if you are being active in your active wear ...  ...   laundry powders and fabric conditioners are the other common sources of chemical overload.  
  • avoid heat - I doubt you iron your swimsuit or that superman costume  but don't tumble dry anything with elastic thread.  Line drying is always best for our clothes but that said - UV is bad for plastic
  • avoid UV - so try to dry in the shade.

What happens when it does go into land-fill? - I suspect that as with a lot of plastics, those elastic threads break into tiny little bits, still there but hard to see.

A bit of Trivia - the name 'Spandex' is an anagram of 'Expands'   :-)

Flax - see Linen later on in this alphabetical list

Hemp - Yes, we are talking about cannabis but the plants used for their fibre have been bred to be low in THC ... so smoking a hemp T-shirt is quite pointless !!

Hemp stem showing the bast fibres and core 

What is it?  Hemp fibre has been used to make fabric and paper for thousands of years.  It is easy and very fast to grow, the fibres are long and thus very strong, hemp fibres don't stretch readily so hemp fabric holds its shape and hemp is naturally mold & rot resistant.

Hemp fabric was traditionally used when strength & durability were required - sails were made of it and the word 'canvas' comes from 'cannabis'.  During the Californian gold-rush, the miners needed trousers that were tough - the story goes that Levi Strauss started providing them with trousers made from light weight canvas ... made of hemp fibre ... the first 'jeans'.

Producing / Growing it - Industrial hemp grows easily to a height of 4m, it likes warmth and good soil (but needs less fertiliser than corn) hemp doesn't need pesticides or herbicides (hemp is planted quite densely so it'll out-compete any weeds).  A hemp crop requires about 14 times less water than cotton.  Industrial hemp captures large quantities of carbon and the plants mature in 3 to 4 months.  "Hemp benefits crops grown after it ... high weed suppression, soil loosening by the large hemp root system and the positive effect on soil ... it can also be grown several years in a row in the same fields"    (all this info from Wikipedia)

France produces more that 70% of the world's hemp fibre.

Fileuses de Chanvre - spinners of hemp - from the early 1900s
and note the foot warmer under those sabots
Processing it - There are some lovely words in the processing of hemp and other plant fibres ... after harvesting the hemp is retted then there is scrutching and something called a decorticator.  
Retting uses water to dissolve or rot away cells and pectins surrounding the bast fibres ... hemp can be 'dew retted' by simply leaving it to lie in the field for a few weeks, or it can be 'tank retted' in concrete vats, this takes 4 to 6 days and the waste water can be used as liquid fertiliser.
Scrutching is breaking of the retted 'straw' (the stems) to further separate those desirable bast fibres from the woody core ...  
I took these photos in the Museum of Popular Tradition in Offida, Italy - please excuse the quality, this was a small crowded room and this Gramola was long, being made from the trunk of a tree ... 

But you can see rather clearly how it worked ... personally, I'd not want to get my arm in there!  Not sure if that fibre draped over it is hemp or a raffia - it was a bit long to be flax but the spinning wheel is the sort used for spinning flax.

The Retting and Scrutching processes are basically the same for Hemp fibre and Flax.

A decorticator is a mechanical scrutcher - that breaks the stem and does the separation as well.  There are different types of decorticators for other fibres and for different grains, nuts and wood - but it seems that the first decorticator was made for hemp - in 1861 by a farmer from Bologna -  only he called it a "scavezzatrice".

From there the hemp fibre can be spun much the same as flax / linen ... indeed all the non-industrial photographic references I can find (such as that postcard from 'picturesque Auvergne') show the same arrangements for distaff, drop spindle or spinning wheel for flax and for hemp.

Other Thoughts - All parts of the industrial hemp plant is useful - the fibre makes great rope and paper, the inner core can be used to strengthen building materials and plastic car panels, it can be used as insulation, animal bedding and as a biofuel, the oily seeds can be used medicinally, as animal and bird feed, in cosmetics and paints.   75 to 90% of all paper was made with hemp fiber until 1883 and it is ideal for paper-making; it grows much faster than trees, the fiber is longer & stronger, it is naturally cream coloured and low in lignin - so requires far fewer nasty chemicals to process and the resulting paper doesn't yellow and is much stronger than paper made from trees.

Caring for Hemp clothing - Hemp fabric is strong and durable, it is absorbent and is actually stronger wet than dry.  It handles extreme washing temperatures and hot ironing, but bleaching can damage hemp.  It is naturally mothproof.  On a personal note - my hubby darling's hemp T-shirts last a great deal longer than the cotton ones.

Burning and Biodegrading - Hemp fibre burns and biodegrades just like all the other plant based fibres.

The painted ceiling of an arcade / portico in Bologna showing hemp leaves,
spinning equipment and a lady weaving

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Environmental Footprint of Various Fibres used in Clothing - Part 2

Part 2 -  B & C of this alphabetical list;  An attempt at a cradle-to-grave, un-biased evaluation of most of the fibres used in our clothing & crafting.  

Firstly to repeat a couple of important things (for more, please see my previous post):
1.  When it comes to clothing - it isn't easy being green ...
2.  A great deal of the environmental impact of our clothing lies with the end user - that's you & me.  The person who buys, wears, washes, irons (?) mends, re-purposes, and ultimately decides when and how that garment is disposed of.  

Listing is alphabetical and it'll go over several posts
I will update it as I discover more information
I'm Australian
I knit a lot (so I'll look at fibres often made into yarns but perhaps not so often found in commercial clothing)
I've tried to cover all aspects 'from cradle to grave'.  

And a little side thought here because some of the fibres in this part of the alphabet are expensive / aspirational and this started me thinking along these lines...
From an Environmental point of view the purchase of one lovely garment, made from a gorgeous fibre, that makes us feel good and that stays in the wardrobe and is worn for decades - that purchase is definitely better for the environment (and ultimately better for our bank balance) than the constant purchasing of cheap garments from fibre that doesn't last, looks awful in a short period of time and goes into land-fill very quickly.

Bamboo - a type of Rayon using bamboo as the source of the cellulose ... please see Rayon when I get there in this alphabetical list.

Bemsilk - An Acetate - the most commonly used fabric for lining garments ... See Acetate in Part 1

Bemberg - a Cuprammonium Rayon ... please see below.

Banana, Banana Silk  - you'll only get dietary fibre from the fruit - this comes from the stalks.  Bananas are not trees, what looks like a trunk is really the tightly packed sheaths (bottom part) of the leaves.
After the bananas are harvested the plant normally dies so using the stalks to make fibre is a bonus.
The stalks are stripped and then boiled in an alkaline to soften and seperate the fibres.  The very coarse fibres can be used for baskets, floor mats etc - less coarse for soft furnishings - the finest is spun for yarn and clothing and it has a natural sheen.
Banana fibre is not often found in our clothing shops but about a decade ago there was a fad for unusual fibres in knitting yarns and I have knitted with a 'banana silk' yarn - it was very shiny and felt nice.  I'm not sure how well it stood up to washing and wearing as the garment was gifted.

Camel Hair - we can dream!  This is expensive stuff.
Surely one of the world's oddest looking creatures!

From the Bactrian Camel (2 humps) and Wikipedia lists Australia as being a significant supplier - I'm guessing that would be from  feral camels.
Camels molt every spring, so hair can be collected by hand - there are coarse guard hairs and the highly desirable soft undercoat.
Has lovely natural colour so often used undyed but it takes dyestuff well.
Camel hair is very warm and it lasts well.   Often blended with sheep's wool and usually used for coats.

Cashmere buck (male) with impressive horns

Cashmere - another luxury fibre - this one comes from the Cashmere goat & they originally came from Kashmir.  There are several cashmere farms in Australia and even our own breed.
Some sources of information say that only the neck hair is used and some breeds don't seem to have much 'body hair'  but other breeds (such as the Australian Cashmere) are furry allover - so I'm uncertain about this.
In some places the hair is combed out when the goats have their annual molt - in other places the goats are shorn ... again perhaps this depends on the breed.  Cashmere goats are small animals so yield is small and I guess that is why the fibre is expensive.
As with many animals, cashmeres have a double coat - the soft undercoat and the much courser guard hair - which has to be mechanically removed.  Then the soft undercoat can be dyed, spun and made into lovely things.
I have knitted with commercially spun cashmere yarn and I have hand-spun some cashmere too - it is so soft ... like spinning clouds.

Cotton - Humans have been wearing cotton for 1,000s of years and many of our modern clothes are made it - cotton accounts for about 30% of the world's textile market.
Back in the 1980s cotton got a lot of press saying that is Natural (and therefore Good) - nowadays we are more likely to hear all about the environmental impact of growing cotton ... an interesting example of how our perceptions of a product are altered.  Both things are true - and both focus on only one part of the story.
What is it?
Most commercially grown cotton is Gossypium hirsutum, first developed by the Mayan civilisation in Mexico.  Botanically it belongs to the family Malvaceae or Mallows and some of cotton's relatives are: okra, cacao (the plant we get chocolate from), hibiscus and hollyhocks.
Audrey, a Simply Chocolate Blythe,
wearing a cotton shirt and posing with a hollyhock flower 
The cotton boll (that's the bit we use) is a protective case that grows around the seeds - and that fibre is almost pure cellulose.  
Producing / Growing it
This info is mostly from Cotton Australia's web site - so it is Oz-centric.
In 2014 Australia produced 501,000 metric tonnes of cotton, most is grown in southern Queensland and in NSW, from the Qld border down the Darling in the West and the Murrumbidgee in the South.  Most processes for planting, harvesting etc are mechanised - but less so in some of the poorer countries where cotton is produced.
Now there are a lot of scary stats out there - 'to make enough cotton for 1 T-shirt takes 2,700 litres of water and 1.5kg of pesticide and fertiliser'   'for 1kg of cotton (enough for a T-shirt and a pair of jeans) it'll take more that 20,000 litres of water'  'cotton production ... accounts for 10 to 16% of the world's pesticides (incl. herbicides, insecticides & defoliants'  [the last quote from here]
All the numbers aside - it seems that cotton is thirsty, needs good soil or fertilisers and is prone to pests and diseases.
Processing it
The mechanically harvested cotton is pressed into huge blocks and taken to a cotton gin where the seeds and trash are separated out.  (We export the cottonseed to Asia & America for cattle feed.)  The fluffy lint gets pressed into bales, Australian bales are 227kg and the bale covers are made from cotton knit fabric to minimise contamination - the cotton gets a cotton T-shirt of its own ;-)   The cotton is classed and then almost all is sold to spinning mills overseas - mostly in Sth East Asia and China - China being our biggest customer.  In the mills the cotton is combed, carded and spun - it is then woven or knitted into fabric.  Cotton is often blended with other fibres.
Cotton is usually dyed at the yarn or fabric stage - cotton is a bit dye resistant and it takes a lot of dyestuff to make cotton a dark or strong colour.  Seems those cool black jeans and groovy black T-shirt are not very 'green' - cotton also fades rather quickly.
Modern dyes are a mix of many chemicals (even natural dyeing with leaves & things often requires a chemical mordant) and the run-off from dyeing textiles is an environmental concern.  There are many reports of rivers turning strange colours and all the fish dying.
naturally coloured cottons (undyed)
Interestingly, there are naturally coloured varieties of cotton - reds, yellow, browns, green ... perhaps we should use more of those!

Only now can the cotton be made into clothing - the denim into jeans, the chambray into shirts, the interlock into T-shirts etc etc.   Most of the clothes in Australian shops are sewn in China, Sth East Asia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh ... places with cheap labour because sewing garments is labour intensive but it takes skill - most garments are sewn by women.  Some garment factories are quite exploitative - let's not forget the collapse of the Rana Plaza - over 1,100 people died, most were working in the 5 garment factories in the plaza complex and would've been earning about $1.25 a day.
And then the cotton does some more travelling to our shops and perhaps our wardrobes.
How should we look after it?
These days we've 'fast fashion' and cheap clothing - much of it made of cotton or cotton blends - so the question is almost 'why should we bother looking after it?'  But that cheapness doesn't reflect the environmental cost - doesn't honour the skilled labour of the (mostly) women who sewed the clothes and it probably won't last.  I hope eventually, to do a post (or 2) focusing on the care of clothing but a few quick words here.  Consider washing clothes less often - if it isn't smelly or visibly dirty, perhaps you could wear it again.  Use fewer chemicals in the washing machine ... do we really need fancy enzymes to clean our clothes?  Use less washing powder and don't use fabric softener (it damages fibre).  Don't tumble dry.  Mend and recycle.  
Other thoughts 
Cotton can absorb up to 27 times its own weight in water and the fibre is actually stronger when wet.  Cotton is a really useful fibre - perhaps that's why we've been using and wearing it for so long.  All parts of the cotton plant are used - the seeds are used to make oil or animal feed, the linters (waste parts of the boll) can be used to make other fabrics (see Acetate) or things like cotton balls, the plant itself is usually mulched. 
Cotton will burn like paper, blended cotton fabrics may behave differently.
What happens to it when it does go to land-fill? - the Grave
Cotton is natural and biodegrades well.

Organic Cotton
So - we can't imagine life without cotton but the environmental cost bothers us - is organic cotton the answer?
What does that 'organic' label mean?
It should mean that the cotton was grown from non-genetically modified plants, without the use of synthetic agro chemicals.  But then there is the processing and all those travel miles done by cotton grown here, processed and turned into garments somewhere in Asia (usually) and then shipped back to Australia.  It isn't easy being green!!!  However, products that use less of our planet's resources and properly regulated labelling (so that we can understand and trust it) ... that has to be a good thing.

Cuprammonium Rayon (also labeled Bemberg, Cupro, Cupra, Ammonia Silk )  - I'll look at Rayon more when I get to R in this alphabetical list but a quick look at this form of rayon because personally I find it rather alarming and try to avoid buying it.
So What is it?
Cuprammonium Rayon is made from cellulose (from plants like all the other rayons) dissolved in a solution of copper & ammonia, that solution gets mixed with caustic soda before being extruded into filaments - it is then hardened, most of the copper & the ammonia is removed and the caustic soda neutralised.  The main concern is if (when?) that copper ends up in the waste water system.
Cuprammonium rayon is no longer produced in the US due to the environmental effects - but other countries have less stringent regulations.
Where do we find it?
I'm not sure how precise garment labelling is but look out for the words listed above - fabric content labels are usually sewn into the left-hand side seam.  If you sew your own clothes, keep those names in mind is you plan to avoid Cuprammonium Rayon - about 10yrs ago I found Cupro on the label in the packaging of a new card of lace trim.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Environmental Footprint of Various Fibres used in Clothing - Part 1

I could be opening a can of worms with this post and setting the cat amongst the pigeons ... if you know something that I don't, or if I've left something out, please comment but - keep in mind that I do moderate the comments and if your comment is immoderate I'll simply delete it.

So why am I doing this?  because it is something I am passionate about and a subject that keeps coming up when I am teaching - I teach various crafts, 'make do & mend' and up-cycling classes.  And because it is so easy to get misled by all the mis-information, muddled information and advertising out there.  I am not being paid to do this.  My sources of income are rather various (such a modern woman am I! ) and in the interests of impartiality I should disclose that some of those classes I mentioned are for Morris & Sons who do have home-brand yarns ... but those yarns are of many different fibres processed in various countries.  I don't think I can be accused of bias towards any one particular fibre.  I do have personal opinions (don't we all? ) I'll try to make it clear when I'm airing a very personal viewpoint.

So what makes me think I know something about all this & have any right to do this?  Firstly, I've spent a great deal of time trying to find sensible, un-biased information about the fibres we wear.  It's not easy!  I use fibre a lot - I make a variety of mostly fibre & fabricy things and have done so for over 40 decades - and doesn't that make me feel old!  Perhaps I can put together a cradle-to-grave evaluation of most of the fibres used in our clothing and present something impartial, not too scientific and not too boring.

But before I start - 2 observations.

1.  When it comes to clothing - it isn't easy being green ...

2.  A great deal of the environmental impact of our clothing lies with the end user - that's you & me.  The person who buys, wears, washes, irons (?) mends, re-purposes, and ultimately decides when and how that garment is disposed of.  But all that belongs to another post ... perhaps I'll be brave enough to do that one too.

Listing is alphabetical and because it is going to be much longer than I initially hoped - it'll go over several posts
I will update it as I discover more information (this will be a learning curve for me)
I'm Australian
I knit a lot (so I'll look at fibres often made into yarns but perhaps not so often found in commercial clothing)
I've tried to cover all aspects 'from cradle to grave'.

Acetate (might be labeled Celanese, Avisco, Bemsilk) - Acetate / Cellulose Acetate used to be considered of form of Rayon but they are now listed separately.
What is it?
A semi-synthetic - it starts with plant material (usually wood pulp or cotton linters (waste from milling)) but is then processed with chemicals ...
Acetate has a long history dating back to 1865 and the uses for forms of cellulose acetate are amazingly various.  Some of these are historical, some are quite current: photographic film, filters in cigarettes, lacquer (aka dope) to stiffen the fabric of early aeroplanes, magnetic tape for computers, glasses frames, fibre tipped pens (textas etc),  high absorbency products (disposable baby nappies, feminine hygiene, surgical products),  playing cards, the original Lego bricks were made of it (till 1963), toys & model animals, award ribbons ... all those sashes for Miss World & Miss Universe & for all the other Best in Shows ...

Manufacturing - the Cradle
This will get a bit scientific and I'm not a scientist but I think that basically the plant material is deconstructed into a cellulose by using acetic acid (vinegar is 3-9% acetic acid), acetic anhydride and sulfiric acid.  That sulphate is removed with water then the cellulose gets dissolved in acetone (nail polish remover) to make a viscous resin which can be extruded into fine cellulose acetate fibres.
Acetate needs a disperse dye but it takes to colour well and should be quite colourfast.
What is it used for?  Where will we find it in our wardrobes?
Often used for lining garments - sold under the name Bemsilk in the fabric shops.  It has a nice shine so is often used for satins, taffetas etc in bridal and evening wear.  Is also used blended with other fibres.
How should we look after it?
Acetate is resistant to mold & mildew (a bonus in Sydney).  But Acetate doesn't take well to heat - so never tumble dry and take care when / if ironing.  It loses strength when wet and dry-cleaning is recommended.  It doesn't like abrasion so avoid rubbing.  May be damaged by some of the things in perfumes - is damaged by nail polish remover.  So if you get nail polish or super glue on acetate don't use nail polish remover as you might dissolve the fabric.  Best to embroider or appliqué something over the top!
Concerns & Bonuses
Made from renewable resource and/or cotton waste ... but let us hope that those trees are replanted.  In the past the chemicals used often went into the waste water system ... let's hope that no longer happens everywhere that Acetate is being produced.
Acetate burns like paper ... it is processed cellulose.
What happens to it when it does go to land-fill? - the Grave
Acetate biodegrades well.

What is it?
Synthetic / man made - a polymer / plastic.  Strange words here - acrylonitrile (aka vinyl cyanide) monomer, vinyl acetate or methyl acrylate comonomer.  DuPont made the first acrylic fibres in 1941.
Manufacturing - the Cradle
As with most plastics, there are environmental concerns in their manufacture  (google those strange words & see below)
What is it used for?  Where will we find it in our wardrobes?
Acrylic is used as an artificial wool - it is manufactured as a filament that is cut into short staple lengths (to imitate wool) and then spun into yarn for hand knitting / crochet and for commercial knit-wear.
On the positive: it is cheap, it survives careless washing (hot water and strong detergents) better than sheep's wool.
On the negative: those chopped lengths can pill badly, and personally - as a hand knitter I don't like using acrylic yarn - it feels like plastic.
Acrylic is also used in home furnishings, wigs and fake fur.
Acrylicus Fakus :-)
{aside: I've been yelled at by animal rights types when wearing (very obviously) fake fur and I have enjoyed yelling back that it is Acrylicus Fakus ... clubbed to death in the Antarctic ... those poor little baby Acryicus Fakuses ...}
How should we look after it?
Acrylic is quite robust in the wash though it often pills.  Avoid heat in drying - don't iron it.
Other Concerns
Fire - Acrylic burns like plastic (gives off nasty fumes and goes to hot melted stuff that'll stick to you).  There is Modacrylic - modified to be fire retardant but that process involves more forms of vinyl that are hazardous.
Cancer - acrylic fabrics may cause cancer!  Those strange words above sure look scary to me and vinyl cyanide is a carcinogen and mutagen.  Not good for people working where it is made and possibly not good to live with.
Pollution from washing - acrylic fabric releases lots of tiny synthetic particles when washed - our washing water often ends up in the oceans ... see "Concerns" towards the end of this wikipedia article
Recycling / Repurposing 
When your acrylic garment gets too shabby to wear even around the house, there are things you can do to keep it from land-fill and here are some ideas.  The better parts could be made into toys, or clothes for dolls.  Chop it into small bits and use as 'stuffing' (very useful for draught stoppers / door-snakes).  I wouldn't recommend using it as a polishing cloth as acrylic tends to scratch but it might make good cleaning cloths, or cut into strips and use to tie up unruly plants in the garden.
What happens to it when it does go to land-fill? - the Grave
It's plastic, not readily biodegradable.

What is it?

A natural fibre from the alpaca, a camelid from Sth America, scientific name Vicugna pacos, bred for thousands of years for their fibre and meat, there are no known wild alpacas.  There are 2 types - Huacaya and Suri, the Suri look like they have dreadlocks, or like Dougal from the Magic Roundabout only with long legs and a long neck ...
Suri Alpaca 


Environmental footprint
What is the environmental impact of alpacas?  Well, they have padded feet rather than hard hooves, they require less food than most animals of their size, are said not to damage root systems ... so all that sounds better for the environment than sheep.  Fly strike is not an issue, so no mulesing (much better than sheep).  Interesting animals, they use a communal dung pile where they do not graze and this behaviour tends to limit the spread of internal parasites.  They have a 3-chambered stomach and chew cud ... so they get maximum nutrients from low quality food. Gestation on average is 11.5 months (wow!) with one baby (rarely twins), they can live to 20 yrs.  More info on Alpacas in Australia here
Alpacas are shorn once a year, using the same electric shears as for sheep.  Alpacas can kick and spit so in Australia they are usually lain on their sides on the ground or on a table (better for the shearer's back!) with their legs tethered ... known spitters might get a sock over their noses.  All that sounds unpleasant but most animals go into a sort of trance while being shorn - the submission of a prey species?  or perhaps it tickles?
It seems that a lot of the alpaca produced in Australia is sold to hand spinners or as specialty yarn to crafts people for knitting and weaving.  There are a small number of mills that will process alpaca fleece.  Alpaca is not greasy like sheep's wool,  so it is easier and takes less water & detergent to clean.
Commercial mills have heavy machinery so energy use is a consideration - home spinners run on cups of tea and ginger-nut biscuits.
Alpaca can be dyed with the same dyestuffs as sheep's wool (protein dyes) but Alpacas came in some really gorgeous natural colours - from soft greys through lovely gingers to strong blacks.
Baby Alpaca - we often see this on yarn labels - it doesn't actually relate to the age of the animal.  It means that the alpaca fibre is 21 - 23 microns - fine and soft.
What is it used for?  Where will we find it in our wardrobes?
Mostly we find alpaca in the yarn store and it is lovely to knit with.  You might also find garments made of alpaca, mostly in craft-shops & speciality stores.  Not all that yarn or fabric will be from Australia alpacas - much of it comes from Sth America.
Notes for fellow crafters:  alpaca yarn behaves differently to sheep's wool, it has beautiful drape but doesn't have the same 'return' after stretching.  It is lovely for loose fitting garments and for shawls and scarves (where you can enjoy the soft handle) but alpaca is not so good when a snug fit is required.  Unless treated (label will say machine-wash) it will felt, full, shrink (all basically the same thing) but the scales are small so it takes longer than sheep's wool.
How should we look after it?
Knitwear should be stored folded - not hanging.  Gentle wash, preferably by hand, in luke warm water with very little soap (yellow laundry soap is best) do not rub, support garment when lifting it from the water.  Rinse well.  Pop into an old pillow-case and knot the top and spin dry.  Never tumble dry.  If you do not have a gentle spin dryer you can roll garment in dry towels and press out the excess water.  Dry laid flat on clean dry towels away from direct sunshine.  It shouldn't need ironing.
Like wool, alpaca burns slowly and will self extinguish if direct flame is removed.  There is little smoke but it smells like burnt hair (because that's what it is).
What happens to it when it does go to land-fill? - the Grave
It is natural and will break down.

What is it?

A natural fibre (fluff) from certain breeds of rabbit.  There are English, French and German or Giant - sounds like the beginning of a bad joke!
apparently there is a rabbit in there!
Environmental paw-print
If you've ever kept a pet rabbit you know that they are quite cheap to maintain.  Feral rabbits are a problem in Australia but I doubt a fluffy angora rabbit would last long in the wild here.
OK - this is the concern ... in 2013 PETA released a video showing dreadful treatment of angoras in China.  At the time 90% of commercial angora fibre came from China.  Apparently the problem starts with the breed of Angora ... seems that it was a bad joke after all!   This blog article explains things rather well but I'll try to do a 'Readers' Digest version' here.
The English and French angora rabbits shed their coats and the fibre is harvested by gently combing out the old fluff as the new coat grows in.  "A time consuming process, best done over several days" ...  I think people in Australia usually keep these breeds as pets and to use the fluff for their own hand spinning.  The German or Giant angora doesn't shed and needs to be shorn - most commercial angora comes from this breed.  Now I'm not going to watch that PETA video but apparently it showed rabbits being plucked like chickens and claims they were kept in filthy cages.  Perhaps PETA found a rogue angora farmer because it doesn't really make sense to me - angora is expensive fibre, you would want to keep your rabbits (and their fluff) nice and clean.  This breed should be shorn every 3 months, they are productive animals, why would anyone terrorise, hurt or damage a good source of income.

A just shorn angora bunny
Angora rabbits can and should be shorn without hurting them ... however, it is impossible not to laugh at a freshly shorn angora.

What is it used for?  Where will we find it in our wardrobes?
Angora is a lovely luxury fibre; it is (and should be) expensive.  Angora is actually finer and softer than cashmere!  We find it in knitting yarn and occasionally in garments.  If you are concerned about those PETA claims it might be difficult to avoid Chinese angora in ready-made clothing (though price might be a guide).  There are Australian and humane suppliers of angora fluff for hand-spinning and angora yarn for knitting.
Note:  because angora has a short staple and because it is expensive, it is usually blended with other fibres.

Personally, I still have dreams of owning a few angora rabbits and using their fluff to spin enough yarn to knit myself a classic 1950s style twin set.
How should we look after it?
Angora is delicate - you don't want it to shed all the soft fluff.   In the past, people put their angora knitwear in the refrigerator.  Not sure I would do that - but I would store folded, not hanging.  Gentle hand wash, in luke warm water with very little soap (yellow laundry soap is best) never rub, support garment when lifting it from the water.  Rinse well.  Roll garment in dry towels and press out the excess water.  Dry laid flat on clean dry towels away from direct sunshine.  Don't iron.
What happens to it when it does go to land-fill? - the Grave
Angora is so expensive I'm not sure I want to think about this ... but it is natural and will break down.

Art Silk - artificial silk - an early name for Rayon and an example of clever marketing ... I'm not sure if the Art Silk of the 1920s was what we now call Acetate or another form of Rayon.

Well - I've only done the A's and this post is already really long ... so I'll leave it here and get started on the fibres that start with B for the next post.