On gifts & fiber

Recently, I found myself in an odd situation: I was in my happy corner of the couch, hot tea and a square of dark chocolate to my left, and knitting needles in hand… with a grimace plastered to my face. If I could envision a perfect evening of relaxing, this would undoubtedly be my chosen formula. So why the disgust? At risk of sounding completely snobbish and like a total fiber-elitist, I’ll tell you: I could not stand the feel of the acrylic yarn in my hands.

I felt like my hands were covered in a plasticky residue, my tensioning finger was red with irritation. The yarn seemed to scratch and grab at my wooden needles and every stitch was work. This is nowhere near my first time knitting with synthetic material, but this time it just felt different. As my appreciation for natural fibers has grown and my commitment to purchasing, using, and wearing earth- and people-friendly yarns has deepened, I stopped reaching for the other stuff. While much of my beginner knitting used acrylics and blends, it has slowly become neglected in my stash, and it’s really been quite awhile since I last used it. So I guess the transition back to it caught me off guard and surprised me in its noticeable difference.

I continued to knit with this yarn I was hating for a few reasons: the first and biggest being that the synthetic fiber content seemed best for what I was making. This sweater was a gift for my twin nephews, born to my older sister who is (1) an exhausted first-time mom who is (2) completely opposed to handwashing and (3) absolutely would not dress her kids in something that she couldn’t pop in the washing machine. I didn’t want to make her something she wouldn’t use. And I knew she couldn’t care less if the sweaters were synthetic. Plus, I already had the yarn on hand (no small thing for being overseas with little access to other quality yarns) and I have been trying hard to shop first from my stash. At the end of all the stitching, there I was wrapping up two sweaters I was not happy with, but knew she would love. And it got me thinking about the principle of fiber use and gifting…

How do you make decisions about the material you use for gifts? If I had my way (and an endless budget, which I most certainly do not), I would knit exclusively with natural fibers, grown and processed in the US (or elsewhere that had a proven ethical supply-chain). The dyes would be predominantly natural, or at least very earth friendly, and I would prioritize small farms and mills that directly support local farmers. And while I’m in this fantasy knitting scenario– the recipients of my knitted gifts would be equally as concerned about these things, and the process of caring for such a garment would be worthwhile to them as well. But really, who do I know that is like this? Unless my gift recipients are also fiber folk, it’s likely the ethical and environmental factors have never occurred to them. They might appreciate the value of something that’s handmade and treat it thusly, but most of my family and friends just want something they can treat like store-bought.

So do I knit with (and give my money to) materials from companies I do not want to support or enjoy using? Or do I stick to my principles, but give people gifts that they ultimately will not use? Or do I not give fiber gifts at all, unless it’s to a person who won’t mind the extra care? It’s a question I’m still mulling over, but I have a feeling the answer will fall somewhere near being more selective in my gifts, and not just knitting for people because they expect that I will.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you ever felt a disconnect between your personal principles and the things you make for others? How has our gift-giving changed as your fiber tastes have evolved? Let’s talk!

[Note: it is in no way my intention to make anyone feel guilty if they use– or even enjoy!– knitting with synthetic fibers. There are lots of factors that play into what we knit with, and I wholeheartedly believe it’s a personal choice. One big factor is cost, and I would never begrudge someone for that. Plenty of us only can knit because there are cheap options, and I would far rather someone be able to knit at all than not enjoy the craft because they couldn’t afford “only the best” materials. Much like eating healthy… I believe we do the best we can with the knowledge, resources, and personal convictions we have, and don’t feel guilty about the rest! This is simply my train of thought about sticking to my own convictions when my desire to be a generous giver seems to be in conflict.]

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3 thoughts on “On gifts & fiber

  1. I have been in a similar position lately. Many of the things I’m knitting are for babies. I want the item to be washable and still feel soft. It’s been tough. I’ve tried using everything from washable sock yarn to straight up acrylic. It’s hard to hit that spot where knitting the item is pleasant for me and easy care for the recipients.

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    1. Exactly! This is where much of my gift giving happens too– to babies. I know it’s really a small problem to have in the scheme of things, but once you fall in love with natural fibers, it’s hard to go back. Thanks for sharing!

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