When you take some time to reflect on sustainability issues, you realize that it all boils down to a basic idea: using our limited resources with care. We have only one planet to share and to live on – sustainability is a question of survival.
When you walk into a yarn store to meet thousands of skeins of yarn, all in different colours and fibers, you get an immediate sense of limitless abundance. It’s a wonderful feeling, but it’s not entirely true. Even here, sustainability is at stake. Every skein of yarn takes it’s toll of natural resources in the production process. How much depends on many, many factors, such as fiber content and dyeing methods, not to forget the energy needed to run the machinery used in the production and to transport it once it's made.
I’m definitely not saying you shouldn’t buy yarn. Nor am I saying that we should all buy only eco-friendly yarns – as much as I love the idea, these yarns are still expensive and hard to find.
So, walk happily home from the store with your newly-purchased yarn. Indulge in it, cherish it and – respect it. Don’t put that half leftover ball in the garbage (where it will have to be disposed of, also at a cost!), or in a corner where you forget about it. Don’t waste your yarn – use it!
You think that you don't have enough – not enough of the same colour or the same yarn to make anything. Mix your odds and ends, and you'll realize that you have more than enough for a new project.
It might not seem very straightforward at first, when you pull out your bag/box of various odd balls and leftovers. But it will be a lot of fun, I promise.
One interesting tip I came upon in Sally Melville’s book Styles is to sort your yarn stash by colour. I haven’t done this with my "main" stash (the mere thought of re-sorting my main stash makes me exhausted), but I have done it with my odd-balls-and-left-over stash. Greys with greys, greens with greens, pinks with pinks and reds with reds. It's eye-opening and sometimes surprising. (Why do I have so much orange yarn? I never wear orange!). It also helps to spark ideas.
It can be tricky to use yarns of different weights in the same project. When preparing the samples for this article, I took a radical approach. I decided to use only one hook size (4mm/US G-6). The yarns just had to comply with this choice. A lot of yarns did so without problem. Fingering weight yarns worked perfectly, as long as I remembered to double them. Yarns that were similar, though not the exact same weight, tended to balance each other as long as they were sufficiently "mixed up" in the swatch.
I started by pulling out four yarns with very different textures, but all in the same colour: namely, different shades of lilac. Yarn A was a rather heavy cotton, yarn B a bouclé, yarn C a fingering wool/acrylic blend and yarn D a bulky with a texture somewhere between bouclé and thick-and-thin.
Stripes are a lovely way to mix colours, so why not try it with textures? I started with a simple swatch in half double crochet in the front loop only, working two rows with each yarn.
The yarns behaved quite nicely, except perhaps for yarn D, which was much thicker than the others. It fit perfectly with the colour scheme, though.
For my next swatch, I used yarns A, B and C in one-row stripes.
The thinner stripes made the yarns blend better. Since I was still using hdc in the front loop only, the width and appearance of the stripes varies depending on which side of the fabric they were worked on. This adds interest and at the same time contributes to the appearance of a cohesive fabric.
Yarn B made a very nice border – in my imagination, this swatch is a part of a girl's jacket.
Alas, after all these coordinated colours the rebel in me needed a break. I pulled out various odd-balls:
and decided to have a go at them with granite stitch.
I love this stitch, and it didn't let me down.
In this swatch, I used the technique of "three colours, one row of each" – I just changed one of the three colours more or less regularly. The overlapping character of the rows in granite stitch contributes to blending the colours and the textures. It creates both a visually appealing fabric (at least in my opinion!) and helps to keep the gauge relatively consistent.
Now, I wanted to try to see what happened if I, on purpose, mixed a thicker yarn with a much thinner one. My crochet intuition told me working in the round was the key.
I started out with a worsted weight tweedy yarn and a fingering baby yarn.
I used them to make a simple circle in double crochet. It worked even better than I had anticipated.
No pulling or frilling or cupping occured. The circle lies flat and I love how it looks. The rounds vary in thickness and in height, which adds a lot of interest without making the fabric look or feel weird. It took a lot of self discipline to fasten off so soon – to see this circle grow was totally captivating.
And then, of course, I had to make a granny square.
Since I have resisted my urge to join the Granny Along so far, I had to pull out a book to make my granny square. I hadn't made one for a very, very, very long time.
Since mixing textures and weights was my goal, I went for a thick bouclé and a thin mohair blend.
The first two rows looked awful, but then the granny magic started to work, and I finished my little square with a smile on my face.
Finally, I realized I couldn't write this article without mentioning free-form. Free-form crochet is the answer to all your odd-ball questions, a wonderful technique with absolute freedom and endless possibilities. I really, really wish I could show you a stunning free-form piece I made. But I can't. I have never succeded to work in free-form. Maybe I haven't tried long enough, maybe I haven't tried hard enough – maybe I lack a "scrumbling gene".
Please, go and check out the work of the stars of free-form crochet like Myra Wood, Margaret Hubert, Prudence Mapstone, and Jenny Dowde. Don't miss the Flickr album of less known, but equally talented Estonian artist Marianne Seimann. Give it a try. I haven't given up. Some day I will manage to do free-form too, my way.
But I couldn't just shrug off the idea of making small pieces and putting them together to create a whole.
I decided to use a gray/black flecked yarn as a base, and then added colour:
I then crocheted very simple squares, all in single crochet and all in a 2 row stripe pattern. The only variation was the number of stitches and the number of rows – and of course the contrast colour yarn used. After crocheting a number of these mini-swatches, I played around with them until I liked the composition, added a row here and there, and then sewed them together:
Not a bad start for a bag or a cushion cover, don't you think?
Have I convinced you that your odd-balls-and-left-over-stash is a treasure? Go pull it out, sort it by colour and start to play.
Thrifty? Frugal? Just helping to save the planet!