Here’s how to do it sustainably

Bikini tops and bumblebees, market bags and mushroom hats, washcloths and water bottle holders; if you can dream it, you can crochet it. What started as a trend at the start of the pandemic seems to be here to stay in the fashion world. Until 2020, crochet was stereotypically reserved for grandmothers. This changed after COVID-19 and the lockdown. At the start of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people had nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs and wallow in existential fear. What better way to block out anxiety than to pick up a hook and thread? Suddenly, the device exploded on TikTok. If you missed that time, this article from Mashable describes how crocheters have found both popularity and solace by showing off their creations on TikTok.

Crochet items were mostly found on Etsy, made and sold directly by artists. Unfortunately, when something goes trendy, cheaper and less ethical knockoffs always follow, and crochet is no exception. Fast fashion sites like SHEIN and big retailers like Target have jumped on the crochet trend, undermining Etsy sellers by significant margins.

Crafting is relaxing and rewarding, but as wearable crochet garments become more popular, understanding the labor involved in producing these items is essential. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but most crochet items don’t have to be cheap. Here’s something that may horrify you: it’s impossible for crocheted items to be reproduced by machines. Although knitting machines exist, the only way to crochet is by hand. Stitches are just too complex.

That means this $15 crochet top from SHEIN was handmade. If I had to do it myself, the materials alone would cost $15. After factoring in the cost of labor (say five hours, if you’re extremely fast and crochet non-stop), this top should cost at least $60 if the maker was paid $10 apiece. hour for his work. On average, SHEIN workers are paid much less than this. The rave reviews talking about the summit take on a deeply unsettling tone once you stop and think about the work that has gone into it. A real person sweated over this top and probably got paid a few cents in return.

By buying the cheaper option, chances are your dollar is supporting deeply unethical labor practices. A lot of people aren’t used to spending more than $20 on a shirt, so dropping more than $50 for a crochet top might seem ridiculous. The reality is that if you want to fairly compensate artists for their work, you will have to get used to a higher price. Granny squares are some of the most popular crochet items right now and can be made into everything from bucket hats to blankets. A granny square takes the average crocheter about 30 minutes, and a top like SHEIN’s would require about 20 granny squares. It’s more than 10 hours of work.

These facts are not meant to shame you for your shopping choices; if you are interested in crocheting, this is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the origin of your clothes. In America, we are often completely removed from the processes (and people) that create the clothes we wear. It’s too easy to ignore that there’s a real person sewing our clothes together. We drive to the store, look through the shelves of neatly hung items, try on an outfit, take it home and that’s it. Handmade crochet items are a whole different ball game and should be approached with an entirely different anti-consumer mindset.

If you want to participate in the crochet trend, prioritize quality over quantity. Having a few well-made, ethically produced items will pay off in the long run. Buying from a small, independent artisan not only means your item will be more unique and guilt-free, but it will also be more durable. A quick fashion crochet piece made with poor quality yarn and poor quality stitches will fall apart after a few washes, while a more expensive, slowly made piece will last for years. Over time, you will actually save money. When you wear crochet items from sites like SHEIN, you also have to wear the guilt that your purchase has directly contributed to a deeply harmful and wasteful industry.

You could spend all day investigating brands to determine their ethics. Or, you can pick up a crochet hook and learn how to crochet. It’s the most ethical option of all – you know exactly where the product is coming from, and the only person you have to worry about overworking is yourself.

I’m not going to lie and pretend it’s ridiculously easy. There’s a learning curve, especially if you’ve never thought of yourself as a crafty person. The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay to do something that looks like shit. You will miscount your stitches. You will be frustrated. Your final product will likely be horribly lumpy and warped, and you may never want it to see the light of day. But that’s how we learn. Even the most talented crocheters had to start somewhere.

Bella Coco’s series on “How to Crochet for Absolute Beginners” is one of the most popular places for beginners, but there’s no end to the free resources on how to pick up crochet. Type “beginner crochet” into the YouTube search bar, and you’ll find a dizzying array of results. Learn the most basic stitches (single, double, and treble), learn how to change thread colors, and soon you’ll be a seasoned pro. The best projects for beginners are washcloths. Get some cotton yarn and make small squares as you like. After your third square, the edges will stop being wonky and start to look like something close to perfect. Keep in mind: the beauty of handmade items is that they are handmade., flaws and all.

The “ikoxun” YouTube channel should be your next stop once you feel comfortable with the basics. She provides step-by-step visual guides on how to crochet trendy items like granny square shrugs and pants, as well as how to alter the patterns to fit perfectly. to your body. It’s incredibly easy to fit items to your body like a glove. SHEIN could never. As your skills develop, you’ll slowly create a collection of items to suit your body and your tastes. You will have spent hundreds of hours producing something with your own hands, time that would otherwise have been spent scrolling aimlessly. It’s cheap and intensely rewarding. Creation is an inherent human need, and crocheting is just one way to fill that void. Once you get the hang of it, you won’t be able to resist knitting, embroidery, sewing and felting, and – you get the picture.

Before heading to Jo-Ann’s, there’s one more thing to consider when talking about sustainability in the context of crochet. While producing your own clothes is far more sustainable than buying fast fashion, it’s not entirely guilt-free. The cheapest and most accessible yarn on the market is acrylic. Acrylic yarn is attractive for several reasons: it’s more economical than most natural fibers, it’s easy to find (big chain craft stores like Jo-Ann’s and Michael’s almost exclusively stock acrylic yarn), and it’s durable as well as washable. safely. This durability comes at a cost. Acrylic yarns are made from petroleum, which means they are not biodegradable. Every little piece of wire ends up in a landfill for decades and decades.

Very big. What should I do if I can’t afford to buy ethical products, but can’t afford to crochet sustainably? The solution is a bit more complex, but that’s why sustainable fashion is often referred to as “slow” fashion. It takes longer to get there, but it’s worth it in the end to know that your choices haven’t actively harmed the world around you.

Natural fibers are the most sustainable choice. They include yarns made from naturally occurring materials like wool, cotton, silk, linen, bamboo, or (my favorite) hemp. These materials naturally degrade over time. They also feel better on your body. In a time when we might be consuming up to a credit card’s worth of microplastics a week, it feels good to know that I’m not intentionally putting more plastic on my skin. Natural fibers are more expensive and sometimes harder to find in stores, but that doesn’t mean they’re impossible to get hold of.

First, find a local craft store near you. Not only do they carry more yarns made from natural fibers, but they can also carry yarns spun by local artisans using local materials. There’s something so comfortable about knowing exactly where your materials are coming from. If that’s not an option, go to thrift stores. The Facebook market and estate sales are always full of people pawning their stashes of cheap wool. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can save a sweater or other knit garment and undo it, then rewind the yarn into a ball.

If you can’t or don’t want to reduce your acrylic yarn usage, just try to be mindful of your waste when crocheting. When cutting off the ends for a project, save your scraps and store them in a jar to use as stuffing for projects such as pillows and amigurumi. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your trash will never end up in the ocean or landfill. Also, be careful about the tools you choose to use. Invest in metal or wooden hooks rather than plastic – the price difference is minimal. Instead of buying cheap plastic markers that look like baby teethers, use safety pins or even old hoop earrings. Your wallet and the planet will thank you in the long run.

Crocheting sustainably is easy, but it takes patience. You can see other artisans with walls and walls of acrylic threads displayed in a tantalizing rainbow, but don’t let the excess fool you into making bad buys. Make crochet a slow, intentional hobby. Actively disengaging from the consumerist propaganda machine that screams “more, more, more” will calm your mind and make you a more fulfilled person. As your skills grow, your pride in your new, handcrafted wardrobe will also increase. Making ethical and sustainable choices doesn’t just benefit the planet; it feeds your soul.