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Yarn, Yarn, and More Yarn

Yesterday I wrote about crochet books after reading a rant by Twinkie Chan that she published back in January on crocheters supporting their own craft. Something that was part of Twinkie Chan’s rant was “Crocheters don’t spend as much money on yarn.”. So, let’s talk about yarn.

Disclaimer: This is my own cynical opinion,

It was pointed out that it appears that crocheter’s normally use acrylic yarn because it’s cheap and crochet takes more yarn than knitting. I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but all stereotypes have a gleam of truth in them somewhere, even if it’s an outdated truth. Personally, I hate acrylic yarn. I won’t use it and no one can make me. I hate how it feels and I just can’t seem to work with it successfully. If I need to frog something my stitches never come out. The stuff is really the bane of my existence.

Personally I find it weird that people want to make blankets and scarves and whatever else out of the same material that is used to make fake nails, paint, and cover CDs. Every wonder how acrylic yarn is made and why it’s so scratchy? When I was in college I majored in biology and organic chemistry. One of my closest friends majored in metallurgy and inorganic chemistry. These kinds of nerdy science things occasionally come up just because of the stuff that is stored in our heads. It’s only natural that I would wonder how my nail polish and 90% of the yarn in Michael’s is made of the same thing. Let’s delve into this. There is going to be a lot of chemistry stuff here, fair warning.

Acrylic is made from the synthetic polymer polyacrylonitrile. Don’t worry if you can pronounce that. It’s made from carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen (petroleum) and is a weird thermoplastic in the sense that it doesn’t melt under normal conditions. It will degrade first. In the United States, in order for something to be called an acrylic fiber it must contain 85% acrylonitrile monomer. Acrylonitrile is a colorless volatile liquid that is used in both vinyl and non-latex medical gloves. It is also toxic at low doses and causes cancer in rats. Does this mean your yarn can make you sick? Probably not, but it does explain why a lot people get really dry cracked hands from using acrylic yarn for long periods. Acrylonitrile is also highly flammable. Now you know why acrylic yarn melts if you iron it. You should also know that when it melts or burns it releases  hydrogen cyanide. I am pretty sure everyone knows what cyanide is. There is a bit more to it than this, but the simple explanation is acrylic fibers are made by acrylonitrile being polymerized in a special salt bath where it coagulates and is then spun into fibers. A lot of times acrylic fibers are made flame retardant using organophosphates (the same stuff used in a lot of flea baths for your pets). The stuff sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it? Did I mention it doesn’t biodegrade?

DuPont created the first acrylic fibers back in the 1940s but wasn’t widely used until the 1950’s when it was discovered it was warm and help up well. It was used in everything from boot linings to sweaters to rugs and furniture. I’m not going to go into the history of DuPont, but it is interesting that they started out making gun powder.

Now that we know how it’s made, and that it’s only been in production for 60 to 70 years, why is it so popular? In short, it’s cheap, easy to clean, and indestructible. It’s also hypoallergenic. Archaeologists 8,000 years from now are going to be finding the remains of afghans made out of this stuff. Those same archaeologists are going to come across all the mummified chickens that homeschoolers make. I can only imagine the stories that they will come up with about our society.

I blamed the crochet industry for lack of decent crochet books, and I am going to blame the crafting industry for acrylic yarn. It’s what places like Michael’s and Joann’s have made readily available, probably because of the mass production. Synthetic things are quicker and more economically easier to make. You don’t have to wait for sheep or alpacas to be sheered or plants to be grown. Not everyone has a local yarn store that has the selections that you don’t find at chain stores, like the pretty hand dyed yarns. Yea, you can by them off the net, but there is shipping, especially if you are buying a lot of stuff. You save money by not paying shipping, and you may only have X amount you can spend, and you have to cut back what you buy where you can cover those shipping costs. We use what we can get a hold of.

This doesn’t change that knitters use more natural fibers than crocheters. The argument is that knitters make more wearables like sweaters while crocheters make more blankets and toys. When was the last time you gave any thought to what a stuffed animal was made out of? I am also going to point fingers out how how a lot of crochet projects are marketed as “one skein” projects. Acrylic yarn tends to have more on the skein than say cotton yarn. Someone sees “one skein” and they automatically realize that this is a project that can be made quickly. Maybe they don’t have hours to devote to making an afghan or become easily bored with large projects.

Everyone has their own favorite yarns to work with for whatever reason, but if people, especially those who sell yarn to those of us who use it, are going to complain that “crocheters don’t spend much money on yarn” they should look at how things are marketed toward us (we certainly aren’t encouraged to use natural fibers) and how the crochet industry refuses to change with the times (again, see yesterdays post).

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