Once again I’m on a bit of an anti-acrylic crusade. I’ve made so many positive changes in my life: I recycle, I use reusable ANYTHING, I buy packaging-free as often as I can- but I think the one thing us makers overlook sometimes – myself included – is acrylic yarn.
You might have seen my previous post about how truly terrible acrylic is for both you and the planet, and this definitely isn’t a post to shame or guilt anyone out of their acrylic. More to highlight that there ARE other alternatives out there.
More often than not, acrylic is purchased because of its low price point compared to other fibres, as well as the vast range of colours it comes in.
With conversations circling around the topic of yarn substitutions for patterns you might find this article interesting, or read on to find what fibres make a great swap.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Similar Price Points
All it takes is unchecking the “acrylic” box on your online search for yarn and you’ll find a myriad of choices. I’m basing this on the price of a 100g ball of Stylecraft Special DK in the UK which retails for approximately £1.85.
Stylecraft Craft Cotton is an inexpensive brand of cotton yarn. 100g will set you back approx £2.20 for a 100g ball. So for an extra 35p you can be super-eco in your choices.
Cotton is perfect for summer- while acrylic is not. Swap the “hot and sweaty” for cool and breezy by choosing a more sustainable fibre. Cotton also comes in a variety of colours that make it the best choice. In the US, in particular, the production of cotton is subsidised by the US government so it comes out even cheaper across the pond.
Disclaimer: cotton is ALWAYS going to be the cheapest alternative to acrylic- which I know doesn’t make it the best fibre for winter garments- but acrylic isn’t necessarily the best choice for this either. If you’ve ever worn any acrylic garment for an extended period of time, you might be familiar with the intense heat it brings- and with that, the tendency to itch. It can make it almost stifling to wear.
So let’s talk about Merino Wool. Merino is a special kind of wool- in fact, I’m wearing it right now in 33C weather in France. It’s boiling outside so why am I wearing Merino?!
Merino wool is special as the composition of the fibres means it wicks sweat away from your skin- keeping you cool. The same way you can wear your sheepskin UGG boots all year around (yup, I checked on the label) you can wear Merino all year around too!
Merino doesn’t have to cost the earth either. While it maybe more expensive than acrylic- Merino is a durable all-year round fibre. So the price far outweighs the benefits.
Try: Hobbii Happy Sheep Woolpower £3.50/100g.
Help! I’m allergic to Wool and/or I need a Vegan alternative.
There are SO many fibres out there to choose from that being allergic to wool or a vegan doesn’t mean you have to stick to synthetic fibres. The truth is: if a fibre is long enough to spin- you can make yarn out of it- some people even look at spinning dog/animal or human hair. But without delving into the macabre, here are some more alternatives:
Raffia, corn silk, silk, hemp, recycled t-shirts, cotton make up just a few alternatives.
Hemp yarn can be purchased for as low as £2.00 per 100g and is great for homeware items and accessories.
Bamboo is probably the most popular “alternative” yarn, with a price point similar to cotton I’ve found. In the Caribbean last year I found it hard to walk down a street without someone trying to sell me some form of bamboo clothing because of its amazing anti-sweat and cooling technologies- perfect for those sweltering St Lucia afternoons!
Raffia is popping up everywhere too and is a great accessory-making yarn but runs up into the expensive end of the market depending on what you’re after. Starting from £14.50 on Wool and the Gang. I’ve used it for Sun hats and I KNOW they’ll stand the test of time. Use them for anything needing a little rigidity.
Now let’s move onto talk about some of the “cooler”, more “alternative” yarns out there:
Soy yarn is made as a by-product of the soybean industry. The fibre is naturally a light yellow colour and takes chemical/acid dyes well (for those of you who are dyers) and so this yarn is commercially available in a wide range of colors. The dyed yarn features both sunlight and perspiration fastness.
Soy protein yarn is lustrous like silk, and like silk, enjoys a higher breaking strength than wool and cotton. Soy breathes and has a moisture absorption like cotton, making it comfortable to wear in the summer.
Because of the high heat at which it is processed, it won’t shrink in the wash, and because it is fast to dry and anti-wrinkling, it makes a great garment for travelling- I definitely should have more clothes made in this! Soy has a natural antibacterial resistance to coli bacillus, staph a., and candida albicans, so some many crocheters/knitters particularly like it for children’s and babies garments. It is also moth resistant (just like acrylic but without the chemicals!)
Rumour has it too that because soy yarn is rich in amino acids, soybean protein is said to activate the collagen protein in the skin. So does that mean it’s anti-ageing?! Gimme!
In pilling tests, soybean yarns held up as well as similarly spun cotton yarns and better than similar polyamide yarns. Because of the low crimp in soybean fiber, it does fuzz, but does not pill the way many polyamides did in the “nylon brush” test the industry subjects its yarns to.
Corn Silk can be picked up for as little as £1/50g depending on where you look for it. It’s like cotton in appearance, is breathable, has high wickability and good flame resistance. It also has more resilience and crimp than cotton, making the resulting fabric springier, and perhaps being easier on the hands to knit or crochet with.
Its made by fermenting the simple sugar from the corn plant. This fermentation process transforms the sugar into a polymer called polyactide which is then extruded at high force like other polymers into a fiber that is spun into yarn. I think that’s pretty cool!
Corn’s properties include low odor retention and good moisture management. It has a fluid drape and is easy to care for. Quick drying – like it’s friend soy yarn- it also has demonstrated increased soil release properties in the industry’s washing tests, so stains don’t so easily set as with cotton.
Don’t let acrylic and it’s price point be the limiting factor in your yarn choice decisions. Take advantages of sales and hold out for the “sale” times of year: the Black Friday, Boxing Day and Payday sales- you’re more likely to get yourself a better quality yarn at a cheaper price than you were expecting.
PS- a lot of the fibres mentioned above don’t have the same itchy or bobbling qualities that acrylic does so they’ll look nicer for longer.
From now on I am going to cease promoting acrylic yarns and I hope you will too. Every time I think of purchasing acrylic I think “am I okay with this being around on this planet longer than me or my children?”
If the answer is no, into my shopping basket it will not go!