Over New Year’s weekend, I spent a very relaxing few days binge watching Downton Abbey and just taking it easy as 2016 rolled into 2017. I can never sit completely still while watching television, so I happily took to the couch with my newest knitting project: a sweater.
Sweaters are no small task, and since they require so much yarn they are rarely inexpensive. Over the course of a week or two I put in over 20 hours on my bright blue sweater, rapidly knitting away five skeins of yarn from Harrisville Designs in New Hampshire. If I paid myself around minimum wage and took into account the cost of materials, my cumulative effort stretches to over $200. Why then, would I go through all that time and effort when I could waltz to my nearby Wal-Mart and buy a similar sweater for $10?
My sweater is probably better for the environment.
If I shop at Wal-Mart or Forever 21 or other “fast fashion” retailers, I have little to no say in what my clothes are made from or how they are made. In many cases, clothes are a mix of natural (like cotton or silk) and synthetic materials (like rayon), and will likely sit in a landfill after their lives in my closet are done. Even in the landfill they pose problems: chemicals from bleaching or dying “can leach from the textiles and—in improperly sealed landfills—into groundwater. Burning the items in incinerators can release those toxins into the air.”
Moreover, cotton, silk, and other materials are shipped around the world to clothing manufacturers, then shipped back to American markets. They can be stitched in factories that pay their workers unfairly, have unsafe working conditions, or even employ children. Unless I head to a farmers’ market or craft fair, buying locally-made clothes is difficult.
By contrast, I know exactly where the materials for my sweater originated. The wool was spun and dyed at Harrisville Designs in New Hampshire, one of the few woolen mills still in operation in the United States. It’s true, I don’t know if the dye is natural, but the wool sure is. The yarn was then transported 175 miles to where I purchased it in Maine’s Halycon Yarn store; I flew it down to Florida in my carry-on. The yarn still made a journey, but nowhere near the length of a typical commercial clothing product.
My sweater has added health benefits.
Knitting is experiencing a revival, and the Craft Yarn Council estimates that a third of millennial women between 25-35 knit or crochet. The repetitive motion of knitting stitch after stitch after stitch relieves stress, and in turn “can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” Knitting has been used to treat drug and tobacco addiction, obesity, depression, and more. Knitting even releases calories! Merely sitting burns 68 calories an hour, but add in knitting and that number shoots up to 102 calories. Sure, 34 extra calories doesn’t seem like much, but hey, better than nothing.
I won’t throw away my sweater.
Because I’ve invested so much time into this article of clothing, I can already tell I’m taking better care of it than most of my clothes. I hang it up, I hand-wash it, I make sure it doesn’t end up in a heap on my floor. Eventually, it will wear out, and when that happens I can simply unravel the yarn and use it for something else, like hats, mittens, or a scarf. If I decide to throw it out, the wool is biodegradable (again, I would have to check on the dye). Regardless, it is unlikely my sweater will end up in a landfill.
I am definitely not perfect. I do buy fast fashion clothing, and for my next sweater I opted to purchase yarn that comes from Peru. However, I am recommending that everyone take a closer look at where their clothing comes from. When you can, buy local or make your own! Knitting is easy to learn, relaxing, and fun, and I see a lot of sweaters in my future.