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Category: Sustainability

  1. Cotton or Linen?

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    Let’s talk about cotton.

    I’d be surprised if there isn’t cotton in the wardrobe of everyone reading this. I’d be even more surprised if there aren’t several cotton tote bags (and it’s quite possible I might even have screen printed some of them.)

    So why are we moving away from cotton?

    In theory cotton is a brilliant fabric, but in reality producing it uses a lot of water and pesticides. I vaguely knew that cotton used what I thought of as quite a lot of water, but doing some research showed me I was underestimating this very badly.

    How much water? That varies depending on how the cotton is grown and how much effort is made to reduce water use. A kilo of cotton uses between 7000 and 30,000 liters of water.

    If cotton was being produced somewhere where it rained all the time and water needed to be used up that might be workable. However cotton thrives in warm countries and is often grown in dryer areas.

    So the amount of water used by cotton makes it unsustainable, and that’s part of the reason we’re going to be using a lot less of it.

    Another reason I’m keen to stop using cotton is the amount of pesticides used in its production. Unless it’s organic cotton uses huge amounts of pesticides. Many of these are toxic and can contaminate surrounding areas and water.

    Another reason for stepping away from cotton is that it’s become something that we happily accept without thinking about what it costs. Cotton tote bags are the norm these days at yarn festivals (and all sorts of other places too). They’re given away for free or sold as souvenirs. Unless you reuse your bag often, it’s done a lot of environmental damage for very little gain. What’s even worse is when bags are decorated with vinyl – so plastic is heat pressed onto a cotton bag that may have been produced in less than ideal conditions to create an ethical and ecological nightmare.

    Why linen?

    I love linen fabric. I love how it behaves, how it creases and how it ages. Linen is a brilliant fabric for bags because it’s strong.

    We’ve been able to source linen which is grown in Belgium and dyed in the UK. That means that the use of pesticides and other chemicals are tightly regulated.
    Flax production (that’s how linen starts its life) uses very little water in comparison to cotton. It’s not a crop that relies heavily on pesticides.

    We haven’t found anyone making linen bags that we can print, so we’re making the bags ourselves from scratch. That gives us the ability to make exactly what we want. We can put pockets in everything, including the tote bags. We can work out sizes so that we don’t waste any fabric. We worked through a 20 meter roll of fabric making bags for Edinburgh yarn festival and the only waste was a couple of inches at one end where I squared the fabric up, and another couple of inches at the other end where we couldn’t fit anything else in.

    Making the bags ourselves means we know exactly how the people making your bags are treated – because they’re us. So I can guarantee no sweat shop conditions (although if you’d asked me that when I was ironing twenty linen tote bags I might have rolled my eyes at you)

    Our new project bags have cotton ribbon and thread. Linen ribbon seems to tend towards the open and delicate rather than sturdy so for now cotton ribbon is the best option. If anyone knows of sturdy linen ribbon for either drawstrings or handles please get in touch. We’re using cotton thread rather than polyester. There was a moment of great excitement when I found linen thread, followed by the disappointed realisation that it was meant for book binding.

    Our new tote bags have cotton handles for now while we continue looking for linen webbing. It’s not perfect but it is better.

    One of my jobs for later today is to take photos of the new tote bags and project bags for the website, and I’ll share those on Thursday.

    Thanks for reading – and if you have any comments or queries please let me know.


  2. Being Transparent

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    There’s a lot of talk about being a green business, an eco-business,an eco-friendly business. Some of it comes from businesses that are genuinely taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. Some of it is coming from businesses that feel it’s the next way to sell you something new.

    It only takes a few moments of browsing on any of the big fast fashion websites to see how keen they are to boast about their ethics. It’s great to know that this matters, and it would be even better if it was backed by real action rather than vague statements. If a business model relies on constantly selling more clothes which will be worn only a few times then that business isn’t environmentally friendly, no matter how much it hopes that its PR will persuade us otherwise.

    So what does that have to do with our business?

    From that start we’ve tried to be an ethical business. That’s meant working with suppliers whose values we share. We think about the environment when we choose what to make and how to make it. We do our absolute best to treat our customers well.

    A lot has changed in the fourteen years since we started The Knitting Goddess. There’s a lot more information available. Despite that it’s still confusing to work out what the ‘right’ choice is.  Every time we think about making a change which initially looks simple it turns out that we’ve opened another can of worms.

    When we decided to stop using plastic mail bags for packaging it looked like biodegradable bags were going to be a brilliant solution.Then we found out that these bags are made from materials like corn starch and coated with plastic. The plastic is treated so it will break down which sounds good. Then we found out that the plastic was breaking down into tiny bits of plastic. That’s not good in any way. For now we’re using paper mail bags for posting orders. They’re brilliant in that the paper can be reused and is easily recycled. We’ve cut the plastic we use. However making paper uses resources,and the paper bags are heavier than the plastic mailers. So it’s a good solution but not a perfect one.

    As a business we’ve decided that the best thing we can do is be transparent. That means talking about the reasons that we use different materials. It means being upfront about the less pretty side of things.  It means giving you the information you want to make the right choice for you.

    Let’s take plastic in yarn as an example. We don’t sell any acrylic yarns, but you’ll find nylon in a couple of our bases. Nylon can be a useful thing in yarns which are going to be subjected to lots of wear so it can be a good thing in yarns that are going to be used for socks.  Hand knitted socks are at the opposite end of the scale to throwaway fast fashion, so using materials which last is important. Not all sock yarns need nylon, but it’s one example of a yarn where plastic is useful.

    Making these changes on the website is going to be a work in progress. We’re not going to get everything right first time. As we find out more our opinion on what’s best for us as a business might change.  It’s going to take time to pull information together for everything we make and sell, so if there’s a product you have questions about please get in touch.

    What would you like to know? Leave a comment or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.