Image Description: Agatha Gutierrez Echenique shares some photos of her sock knitting for her post on the sustainable hobby.
I am a big fan of textiles. My friends can easily recognize 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 while you can’t always see mine, you can be sure they’re fun patterned.
For these reasons, people still aren’t surprised when I say I’m a knitter. Knitting is something I do to relax: there’s nothing more relaxing than tossing a so-called “vanilla” pair of socks (read: easy and insane pattern) as a reward for writing another essay difficult for my degree. The process is repetitive and therefore meditative and the end result is uplifting and creative: a little bundle of joy that reminds me of a fun time every time I wear it!
But I didn’t start knitting just because it’s incredibly healthy for you (and that’s scientifically proven!). I also started knitting because I thought it was the kind of hobby that, given my own wardrobe choices and subsequent purchases while shopping, would lead to a more sustainable lifestyle. I happen to be a bit strapped for money, as I’m sure many university students are. Therefore, when I had to shop for clothes, if I was not a thrift store, I would tend to go to stores that fit my budget, i.e. fast and good fashion stores market. The sad reality of these stores, however, is that they tend to use materials that have rather deleterious effects on the environment. and they employ exploitative sweatshop labor in making their clothes.
Given this, it was simply unconscionable for me, no matter how often I visited these stores, to continue shopping at fast fashion chain stores. And while many of my needs could be met by shopping at thrift stores, there were other needs (like socks!) that were much harder to meet. Plus, sometimes it was nice to have the idea of having a custom piece just for me. For these reasons, I thought it might be good to take up knitting. And I’m so glad I did!
Now I should say a few things about knitting for people who consider it a hobby. On the one hand, we don’t start by making socks, or even really sweaters. Most knitters start with unbalanced scarves, potholders and coasters. Making fitted clothes is quite difficult, because it involves mastering different skills: thread tension, good gauge, mastering several stitches, sewing or knitting in the round, blocking. So if you consider knitting to be an enduring hobby, know that you’re not about to revitalize your wardrobe in a few months. In fact, it will probably be well into your first year of knitting that you feel comfortable knitting clothes on your own.
Also, while I advocate knitting as a sustainable hobby, it can also be an expensive hobby. Consider, for example, making a sweater that you might otherwise buy at a fast fashion chain store. A sweater can hold around 6-8 skeins (read: balls) of yarn, depending on the size of the sweater you are making. The price of a skein of yarn differs depending on the type of yarn you buy. There are sometimes disputes between knitters over acrylic yarn, which is the cheapest type of yarn on the market. Acrylic yarn is a synthetic yarn, made of a kind of plastic. Because acrylic yarn is created in plants that are generally not well managed and because it is not the type of fiber that is biodegradable, it’s not the most eco-friendly yarn, overall. However, it is important to consider that, in particular, in relation to the effects of fast fashion, where there are large-scale violations of human labor in the production of clothing, probably buying skeins of acrylic yarn to make a sweater is much more ethical. Natural fibers are not in everyone’s budget and that is understandable.
However, there are natural fibers – wool and cotton, which are quite reasonably priced and are biodegradable and therefore considered more environmentally friendly (although nothing is quite perfect. Breeding livestock and cotton planting are two activities that consume a lot of money). water, for example – something that can contribute to desertification). Either way, buying 6-8 skeins of acrylic, wool or cotton yarn always costs around 12-18 pounds at least (in the case of acrylic yarn) or buying a wool yarn slightly more expensive, the price goes up about 4 pounds or more. Besides, really a nice yarn, like merino, cashmere, angora or mohair, can be quite expensive – think over £100 for a sweater.
It just includes the price of fiber. We still haven’t factored in the cost of the tools. Knitting needles – for which you usually need about 2-3 different needle sizes – cost between 4 and 6 pounds. Additionally, you will also need a tapestry needle or crochet hook to weave in the ends: add another 2-3 lbs. If you’re using a template and buying it from someone, you’ll also need to consider that cost: templates can be free or over 10 pounds, though most weigh between 2 and 5 pounds.
And finally: the biggest cost of knitting is probably not an actual money cost, but a time cost. I am currently knitting a sweater that will take me a week of straight knitting. I don’t mean that I will knit sporadically for a week and then come out, nonchalantly, with a finished sweater. I mean in total I would have to have sat down and knitted for a week straight to finish my sweater. Therefore, it will be done – maybe – by the end of this term, if my diploma allows it. This hobby is not for the faint hearted!
However, I think it’s worth it because at the end of my week of straight knitting I will have made a garment made exactly to my tastes (a goth sweater with a clown ruffled collar!) which I also know is made in an ethical way because I was able to witness every moment of its conception. I know the manufacturer! In a capitalist society, most of us are totally removed 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 where you can get back in touch with those creative processes that make us a little more human.
With that in mind, I have some tips to make the hobby more accessible to you. On the one hand: although the section in which I talked about the costs may seem a little scary, there are many ways to reduce the price associated with knitting. One of them is to find people who already knit! Back at my home establishment, I started a knitting club and gave away my extra knitting needles to people interested in learning to knit. There are probably people – especially older people in your family – who already know how to knit and have several craft-related tools who would be more than happy to help you on your creative journey. There are also several artisan groups associated with local churches and yarn shops that are there to help budding knitters get started. All it takes is a little Google research. Also, charity shops can be a good place to find inexpensive knitting needles and yarn – many people donate old tools and craft materials they no longer use.
It can be difficult to start knitting because there is a lot of information available and you may not have a clear idea of how to start. My advice is to buy a pair of 5mm straight knitting needles and a ball of cheap worsted yarn in your favorite color. Many people recommend starting with a scarf as a project – I’m hesitant to do this because I think a scarf is quite a long and tiring project and it can be easy to get discouraged by its seeming endless length. Instead, it may be a good idea to make a few 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 put your cups on in your college dorm! And when you feel comfortable with the movements of knitting, you can try knitting in the round and making yourself a hat.
Finally, YouTube is your best friend for learning to knit. There are excellent tutorials by, in particular, VeryPink Knitwear and ExpressionFiberArts. And for those who already know how to knit, I have a few more sustainable pattern recommendations to add to your eco-knitting repertoire. It is possible, for example to make so-called ‘planning‘: i.e. by cutting strips of old t-shirts or plastic bags and tying them together, plarn can be made which can then be knitted (or crocheted) into tote bags. whole or containers that can be used again and again. For very old clothes, it is also possible to separate the garments and collect them for their yarn to re-knit them or use the yarn for other projects – the ability to do so will depend on the garment in question and its seams.
That said, I wish you good luck in all your sustainable knitting adventures!
Image credit: Photos taken by Agatha Gutierrez Echenique.