On habitats: Part 1 – Natural Plant Fibers

A little while ago, my partner and I grabbed ice cream from a place in town. As someone who’s very intolerant (allergic? I have gotten hives before) to Dairy, we always ask what their Dairy-free options are. This particular outing, we were met with an enthusiastic description of how they always make two flavors completely vegan (a term I am both excited and hesitant about). My partner then asked the ice cream scooper if there was Palm Oil in the ice cream as a milk substitute and he reluctantly replied: “I’m not sure”.

Why the reluctant answer? Palm oil has a bad reputation because it has been and continues to be a major driver in the deforestation of rainforests. According to the WWF, Palm oil can be produced sustainably and the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has taken steps to create guidelines and regulations. Essentially, the ice cream scooper new that while the vegetable oil has some health benefits, it also comes with a lot of ethical concerns.

As we left the ice cream shop, my partner and I discussed what it means to be vegan and want to protect the environment if most of your alternatives are just as bad for it. As we finished our ice creams, I began thinking about Vegan knitters and their desire to work with non-animal fibers. Thus this multi-part series was born. We’ll start with plant fibers, move towards animal fibers and end with synthetic fibers. Important note: I am not vegan; the goal of this project is to take a look at what is environmentally sustainable and what isn’t so that we can all make informed decisions. 

Part One: Natural Plant-Based Fibers 

The most common plants used to create plant-based fibers include: abaca, bamboo, coir, cotton, flax, hemp, jute, kapok, ramie and sisal. In knitting, the list of plant-based fibers used to create yarn typically focuses on bamboo, hemp, linen, cotton, rayon, corn and soy. In other words, you can create fabric from a lot of different plants.

This week, we’re going to specifically focus on naturally occurring plant-based fibers: Linen, Hemp, and Cotton.


Linen: Linen fiber is taken from just behind the bark of the flax plant and retrieved when the woody stem and the inner pith (or pectin) is rotted away. This process can be completed one of two ways: the stems are submerged in stagnant pools/running streams and the workers must wait for the rotting (about 2 weeks) or the stems are placed in a solution of either alkali or oxalic acid before being pressurized and boiled. Once the fibers are removed from the stems, the fibers are passed through machines which combine them into roving and then spun.

The greatest concern of creating linen yarn comes from the chemicals used in the rotting or retting process. Before chemicals can be released into water supplies, they must be neutralized. The plant remains themselves are typically ok unless they become impregnated with a lot of chemical during the retting process.


Hemp: Much like Linen, Hemp must be retted from four to six weeks in order to loosen the fibers. During this process, the stalks typically lay in the field, allowing nutrients to return to the soil as the leaves decompress. The fiber is then cleaned and carded before being spun.

Unlike Linen, Hemp is not being retted using chemical baths. Additionally, the harvested hemp is not burned. This means that each part of the plant is used, saved or recycled, making Hemp sustainable.


Cotton: Cotton is the most flexible of plant fibers and is ready to be spun once washed, carded and combed. As long as your cotton is coming from an organic farm, it is sustainable.

Main Take-aways: As noted previously, I am not vegan and therefore not technically limited to any specific fibers. In other words, I admit that I do not typically work with 100% cotton, linen or hemp yarns. That being said, armed with the knowledge that I know now, I may reach for hemp instead of linen now that I know linen is often retted in a bath of chemicals. My relationship with cotton feels very much the same — it hurts my hands so I don’t rush to work with it.

October Book Club: A thousand splendid suns

Many of us read or listen to audiobooks while we craft, so I thought it would be interesting to dedicate the first post of each month to a book I’ve been reading and/or am about to start.

Back in August, I picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns from a take a book leave a book box when visiting my parents, but I didn’t really start reading it until the last couple of weeks. I feel the need to clarify something before getting into my discussion of the book: I picked up a hardcover copy of a book without a dust cover. In other words, I was drawn to the book because it had a beautiful gold mandala on it and when I flipped open to a random page, I was greeted by a beautiful poem that made my heart feel as though it was being squeezed. I read the first few chapters that day on the beach and then put it down in an attempt to finish reading the Hobbit, which I started reading back in June and am about halfway through (I swear I’ve been reading a page or two at a time, maybe it’s time to admit defeat).

A week ago, I picked the book back up again and started over. Before I knew it, I felt incredibly connected to Mariam and Laila. True, we are separated by pages and time, but you can’t help but become invested in Mariam and Laila as you read their stories. As you discover how they become connected with each other. As you root for their happiness and find yourself struggling to continue on reading because your eyes have teared up.

Here is the review that I left on good reads:


This a story of love and sacrifice, of not knowing what you had until it’s slipped between your fingers, of hope and faith and courage — all admits wars trying to tear everything apart. I feel as though I have become friends with the main characters, reading letters that they have written to me of their lives and that I have put down the last letter I’m going to receive from them.

This book made me cry, hold my breath, hope for better things and admire the strength of those going through all of the above in real life. This one is worth your time and your tears.

Please keep in mind this is a book that pulls at your heartstrings, I don’t recommend reading/listening while working on a complicated project. That being said, by the time I was reading the 4th chapter I was struggling to put the book down.

November’s book club will focus on The Clockmaker’s Daughter, by Kate Morton (see synopsis below). Feel free to read along with me, let’s start a virtual book club.


My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?


A fingerless mitt pattern


There are pros and cons to making a lot of socks (let’s be honest there are mostly pros). Actually, this is probably a general con of project knitting: you always end up with an awkward amount of yarn leftover in the end. Sometimes it’s an entire skein and sometimes it’s less than a quarter. When it’s a significant amount, you can imagine that you are connecting two people. For example, I finished a sweater for one friend and am planning on using the leftover to make a baby sweater for my coworker. Two people, who will probably never meet connected by yarn. Somehow this makes the second project more special (minus the occasional situation when you’ve knit with something you don’t enjoy for someone you do enjoy, in which case I recommend donating the yarn so that someone else can make the yarn connection).

The con is when you’re left with an awkward amount of yarn leftover and suddenly have to play yarn chicken, which brings me back to sock knitting. The person I complete a pair of socks for absolutely effects the amount of yarn I have left, which makes sense because everyone’s foot is a different size. I’ve danced around with a few different ideas on how to use up the leftovers but have never found a good universal pattern that I can rely on. I’ve worked several pairs from the Knitting Squirrel, but the thumb gusset always works out a little wonky and I often find myself several yards short. There’s also Runners Pocket Mitts, which are awesome if you skip the pocket but fit just a little too snuggly.

This got me thinking about ribbing. 1×1 typically gives me a stiff rib and 2×2 starts to relax more but still has a lot of give to it. I started off this endeavor with nothing in mind but the goal of fingerless mitts with both give a texture. Initially the plan so I was to do something like this:

  1. [k2, p1] repeat to end
  2. [k1, p2] repeat to end

Unfortunately, I was talking and playing a board game and when I looked down at my knitting I discovered that I had knit 3 rows in a 3×1 rib. While a cast on and 3 rows of knitting is not enough to commit one to a project, I found myself enjoying the potential stretch and how the subtle ribbing allowed the yarn’s striping to pop.

A couple hours later I had my first mitt done and needed to write down what I did so I could repeat the action on the second mitt. The result is the pattern below, which used about 120 yards of yarn at a gauge of 40 sts and 44 rows = 4 finches (unblocked) on a US size 2. Enjoy :]

Cast on 56

Knit 3, purl 1 for 2 inches

Thumb gusset:
Row 1: K3, P1, M1R, K3, M1L, P1, K3 … knit 3, purl 1 until end of row.
Row 2-3: knit 3, purl 1
Repeat rows 1-3 5 times for a total of 10 sts increased

Row 4: K3, P1, M1R, K3, M1L, P1, K3 … knit 3, purl 1 until end of row.
Row 5: knit 3, purl 1
Repeat rows 4-5 3 times for a total of 6 sts increased

K3, P1, bind off 20 sts, knit 3, purl 1 until end of row.

Knit 3, purl 1 for 2.5 inches

On finishing projects

Flax Light in Cascade Heritage, drying from being wet blocked

This has been my week of finishing projects, both my own and others. For starters, I finished my Camp Loopy project (about a week too late to get rewards for it, but what can you do). Despite missing the challenge deadline, I’m super proud of myself for completing an adult size fingering weight sweater in a little over a month. Sure there was no colorwork or cables, but that’s still over 1000 yards worth of knitting in five days over a month. This includes the number of days where no knitting happened. So basically, in a pitch, I could crank out a sweater faster than a month if I needed to (hopefully I never need to, see my post on deadlines)

Pattern and yarn used unknown

In addition to finishing my own sweater, I had the privilege of completing two additional sweaters. The first is a Kimoto style sweater that my coworker knit for her future niece or nephew.  While I’m not sure what the pattern is, it’s been a while since I’ve done any garter stitch seaming that required me to think about how the pieces fit together. My coworker will need to add a tie to the side of the sweater to keep it closed, but being able to hand her a sweater that took her hours to knit and me about an hour to seam up was satisfying. It’s one of the few moments where I’ve wondered if the process of knitting or the final product of knitting brings me the most joy.

Pattern and yarn unknown

Next up, I visited my Cioci (amazing crocheter) and picked up a sweater that she knit several years ago that had been sitting unfinished in her closet. This one required more work, as it was an adult sweater and I needed to knit the neckline after seaming the pieces together, but was also more mindless because of the bust and armhole shaping. I’m excited about my next drive down to visit my Cioci, it will be nice to set the sweater that we collaborated on into her hands. I love the idea that we worked together on something that will keep her warm, even if that means admitting that the acrylic yarn she chose is the opposite of what I would have chosen (does acrylic really keep one warm?), but I will acknowledge that I am biased towards natural fibers (and that there is a time and a place for synthetics, ie nylon to reinforce sock yarn).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of weaving in ends and don’t often choose sweaters that require seaming (although I think this is moreso because I hate purling). While I finished these two sweaters as favors, there has been something wonderful about putting together the pieces of someone else’s work. Weaving my own magic into their garments, if you will, while watching individual pieces transform into sweaters. I’m not saying that I’m going to start a side business of seaming garments for people, I’m just saying I would have a good time doing it.

And just in case you thought finishing three sweaters in less than a week wasn’t enough, I also finished a pair of fingerless mitts that I started before August’s Camp Loopy challenge. The pattern was heavily modified due to a serious game of yarn chicken. While there is nothing currently on my knitting needles, I do have an embroidery project going and plans to warp my loom to make a table runner. Or at least that’s what I tell myself I should be working on as I spend my suddenly large amount of “free” time on Ravelry looking for my next project or surrounding myself with my stash trying to decide which skein of sock yarn wants to be worked next (after all the holidays are rapidly approaching and I haven’t even created my knit list yet).


On habits

The interesting thing about a habit is that it takes so long to form it and mere seconds to break it. For example, I spent the last week recovering from food poisoning and couldn’t run. This means that I went from being in the habit of running every day to needing to convince myself to put my running shoes on. I have to rebuild the habit of enjoying a run after work, which seems counter-intuitive when you consider how often I run normally and how much I genuinely enjoy the activity. On the other hand, if I find myself lacking time to run on any given day, I find myself itching to engage in the habit.

This is different, and yet very similar, to the habit of bringing my knitting everywhere. I feel naked when my knitting isn’t tucked safely in my purse, yet I can “forget” that it’s in there and not touch it all day. The flip side of this is if I leave my knitting at home on I spend my day feeling antsy, even if it was by choice. This is not because I’m addicted to carrying my yarn around with me, it’s because it feels weird to skip the habit of putting my knitting bag in my work bag, I leave my house feeling like I’ve forgotten something.

Does this mean that habits are addicting? In other words, am I gaining satisfaction from the act of completing the activity or the activity itself? My habit of washing my sheets every week is not exciting, but crawling into clean sheets Sunday night is. I don’t get excited about putting my knitting bag in my work bag, but I do smile at the thought of sneaking a few rows in between meetings. Sometimes I do enjoy slipping into my running shoes, and sometimes I go because I know it’s good for me. In the case of the sheets, the activity is not satisfying but the reward of crawling into bed later is. Depending on the knitting project or running route, the act of putting my knitting bag in my work bag or my running shoes on my feet is the satisfying piece of the habit.

So which is it? The habit or the activity that follows? In the Journal Article Habits without values, researchers discovered that rats will pull a known lever over a knew lever even if the new lever provides the treats. This supports the idea that a habit can be completed regardless of the outcome attached. This means I can put on my running shoes (the habit), go for a terrible run and do it all again the next day with no expectation that it will be better. The same can be said of putting my knitting bag in my work bag and washing my sheets. The habit does not need to lead to a reward (but when the reward is there it’s nice).

So perhaps the act of putting my knitting bag in my work bag is satisfying because it is a habit. Perhaps a habit is just something you do out of the comfort of repetition, after all, is this not why I find comfort in the knit stitch? Perhaps I find comfort in knowing that I will wash my sheets every Sunday and that I will put my sneakers on and go for a run after work.

Does this make me less adaptable? Does it mean that I am less open to new things or change? I would like to think it doesn’t, but I also find myself reaching for my sock needles whenever I am in between projects and am not sure what to make next. There are perks to having habits, even within your craft. I suppose the trick is to not allow your habits dictate your flexibility and way of thinking.

On that note, I’m off to figure out what yarn I want to use to make my partner a birthday gift. And in true habitual nature, it’ll probably be a nice pair of warm cozy socks.