Caption: Agatha Gutierrez Echenique shares some pictures of his sock knitting for his sustainable hobby feature.
I am a big textile fan. My friends can easily spot me in a crowd because I almost always wear two layers of oversized knitwear regardless of the season. I think knitted socks make or break an outfit, and even if you can’t always see mine, rest assured they’re patterned in a fun way.
For these reasons, people are always not surprised when I say I’m a knitter. Knitting is something I do to unwind: there’s nothing more relaxing than cranking out a so-called “vanilla” pair of socks (read: simple, thoughtless pattern) as a reward for writing another challenging essay for my graduation. The process is repetitive and therefore meditative and the end result is comforting and creative: a little bundle of joy that serves as a reminder of a fun time every time I wear it!
But I didn’t start knitting just because it’s incredibly healthy for you (and it is scientifically proven!). I also took up knitting because I saw it as a hobby that would lead to a more sustainable lifestyle given one’s wardrobe choices and subsequent purchases while shopping. I happen to be a little short on cash as I’m sure a lot of university students are. Consequently, when I needed to buy clothes when I wasn’t thrifty, I tended to visit the stores that were within my budget, ie cheap fast fashion stores. However, the unfortunate reality of these stores is that they tend to use materials that have rather adverse effects, ecologically speaking. and employ them exploitative sweatshop labor in making their clothes.
Against this background, it was simply unreasonable for me to continue shopping at fast fashion chains, no matter how seldom I visited these stores. And while many of my needs could be met by shopping at thrift stores, there were other needs (like socks!) that were much more difficult to meet. Also, sometimes it was nice to have the idea of having a custom piece just for me. For these reasons, I thought it would be nice to take up knitting. And I’m so glad I did!
Well I should say a few things about knitting for those out there who consider it a hobby. For one thing, you don’t start out making socks, not even really sweaters. Most knitters start with crooked scarves, potholders, and coasters. Making garments that fit is quite difficult as it requires mastery of a multitude of different skills: yarn tension, correct stitch size, mastery of multiple stitches, either sewing or knitting in the round and blocking. So if you’re considering knitting as a sustainable hobby, keep in mind that you won’t be refreshing your closet in a matter of months. In fact, well into your first year of knitting, you’ll probably feel comfortable knitting garments for yourself.
Also, while I advocate knitting as a sustainable hobby, it can also be an expensive hobby. For example, consider making a sweater that you could otherwise buy at a fast fashion chain. A sweater can hold between 6 and 8 skeins of yarn (read: skeins), depending on the size sweater you’re making. The cost of a skein of yarn will vary depending on the type of yarn you are purchasing. There is sometimes a dispute among knitters about acrylic yarn, which is the cheapest yarn on the market. Acrylic yarn is synthetic yarn made from a type of plastic. Because is acrylic yarn made in plants that are not usually well managed and because it is not the type of fiber that is biodegradable, it’s not the greenest yarn overall. However, it’s important to remember that buying skeins of acrylic yarn to make yourself a sweater is probably a lot more ethical, especially compared to the impact of fast fashion, which sees mass labor violations in the manufacture of clothing. Natural fibers are not in everyone’s budget and that’s understandable.
However, there are some natural fibers – wool and cotton, which are fairly cheap and biodegradable, and therefore considered more environmentally friendly (although nothing is quite perfect. Raising cattle and growing cotton are both activities that use some water, for example – something that can contribute to desertification ). In either case buying 6-8 skeins of either acrylic yarn or wool or cotton still costs around £12-18 at the cheapest (in the case of acrylic yarn) or if buying slightly more expensive wool yarn the price goes around £4 or so. in addition, Yes, really Nice yarns like merino, cashmere, angora or mohair can get pretty expensive – think upwards of £100 for a jumper.
This only includes the fiber price. We haven’t factored in tooling costs yet. Knitting needles – which you usually need around 2-3 different sizes of needles to make a sweater with – cost between 4 and 6 pounds. You’ll also need a tapestry needle or crochet hook to weave in the ends: add another 2-3 pounds. If you use a pattern and buy it from someone, you also need to consider these costs: patterns can be free or cost upwards of £10, although most cost around £2 to £5.
Finally, probably the biggest cost in knitting is not actually a monetary cost, but a time cost. I’m knitting a sweater that will take a week of straight knitting. By that I don’t mean that I knit sporadically for a week and then casually come out with a finished sweater. I mean I need a total of one week of knitting and knitting to finish my sweater. So, maybe, it will be ready by the end of this semester, if my degree allows it. This hobby is not for the faint of heart!
Still, I think it’s worth it because by the end of my knitting week I’ll have produced a garment that’s exactly to my liking (a gothic sweater with a clown ruffle collar!) that I also know is ethically made, because I had to witness every moment of his conception. I know the manufacturer! In a capitalist society, most of us are completely alienated from the processes by which the things we wear, interact with, and even eat are brought to us. Knitting is one of those little hobbies that lets us reconnect with those creative processes that make us a little bit more human.
With that in mind, I have a few tips to make the hobby more accessible to you. For one, while the section where I discussed costs may seem a bit daunting, there are many ways to reduce the price associated with knitting. One of them is to find people who are already knitting! Back at my home facility, I started a knitting club and gave away my extra knitting needles to people interested in learning to knit. There are likely people – especially older people in your family – who already know how to knit and have several tools related to the craft who would love to help you on your creative journey. There are also several craft groups affiliated with local churches and yarn shops to help aspiring knitters get started. All it takes is a little googling. Additionally, charity shops can be a good place to find cheap knitting needles and yarn — many people donate old tools and craft supplies they no longer use.
It can be difficult to start knitting as there is a lot of information out there and you may not have a clear idea of how to start. My advice is to get a pair of 5mm straight knitting needles and a skein of cheap worsted yarn in your favorite color. Many people recommend starting with a scarf as a project – I hesitate to do this because I feel that a scarf is quite a long, tedious project and it can be easy to get discouraged by its seeming infinity. Instead, it might be good to just make some little coasters in garter stitch by casting on about 20 or 25 stitches and knitting until you have a nice square. Then you can have a nice set of coasters to set your mugs down in your student room! And if you feel comfortable with the movements of knitting, you can try knitting in the round and make yourself a hat.
After all, YouTube is your best friend when it comes to learning to knit. There are some great tutorials by in particular Very pink knit and ExpressionFiberArts. And for those who already know how to knit, I have a few particularly sustainable pattern recommendations that will really expand your eco-friendly knitting repertoire. For example, it is possible to use so-called ‘to plan‘: That is, by cutting up strips of old t-shirts or plastic bags and tying them together, you can make tarps that can then be knitted (or crocheted) into tote bags or containers that can be used over and over again. This is also possible with very old items of clothing take apart the garments and use them in their yarn to knit them again or use the yarn for other projects – Whether this is possible depends on the garment and its seams.
With that said, I wish you the best of luck in all your sustainable knitting adventures!
Photo credit: Photos by Agatha Gutierrez Echenique.