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.