THE GREAT DEBATE: Natural v. Synthetic
[This article published in YARN Magazine No.15 September 2009]
So, where do you sit on this heated topic? Opinions tend to be fairly well divided, however, I can be found sitting comfortably in my usual place, on the fence watching the battle rage!
And before I go on … my thoughts on the subject are purely my thoughts – sure there will be lots of conflicting opinions and emotions and that’s great! What would life be without the odd stoush or two?
Let’s examine the pros and cons.
Wool, as we probably all know, is very warm, has good water-resistant properties and is flame retardant, being more likely to smoulder than burn. That’s apart from the fact that it is natural, smells and feels divine and has that certain feel-good factor because you know you’re doing the right environmental/ecological thing.
On the other hand, even the softest wool can be unbearably itchy to quite a number of people with sensitive skins. Also, when it does get wet, it takes a fair while to dry on the body and you get colder. And not everyone is that crash hot when it comes to washing precious woollens – nothing compares with that feeling you get when you lift your beautiful jumper out of the suds to find it’s become ideal for Mini You!
Talk of synthetic fibres seems to evoke a pretty heated response from some folk, making them sound unwholesome and somehow sinister. Yes, we know they are light years away from the real thing but, my oh my, they are light, warm, quick to dry, fairly indestructible and come in the most amazing range of colours and textures. Most of them can be bunged in the washing machine, on all the wrong cycles, and still come out looking chirpy. For me, their major drawback is their flammability and that must be added into the equation when planning a knitting project, particularly if it’s for children of all ages and the elderly.
When the decision is particularly hard, I have my own set of guidelines. Essentially, I let the project tell me what I should do. By being too pragmatic about the aesthetic versus ethical question, are you going to compromise the end result? Don’t sabotage the overall effect and sacrifice the drama of the project – maybe it really does need the zing that some synthetic yarn can add to it. You can get too hung up on the ethics and end up with something dull and boring!
Mix and match the fibres to get the effect you want. Mix the ‘good’ with a bit of the ‘ugly’ to achieve the outcome you want. And goodness knows the cost of natural fibre can be prohibitive in these fast-moving financial times. Don’t let your feelings on natural v. synthetic prevent you from the enjoyment you get from practising your craft.
Ask yourself …
does the natural fibre do the job? It doesn’t matter how you feel about it – if it isn’t appropriate for the job or plain just doesn’t work – get over it and bring on the synthetics! Life’s a compromise and so it can be with yarn selection. Ease into it gently … make your next project 50% natural and 50% synthetic or 75%/25%.
To sum up – there’s room for everything. So, make something that looks good and makes you happy, regardless of its genealogy. Happiness is the key to everything – and that’s according to my hero, the Dalai Lama. He cracks me up – have you ever seen a religious leader who giggles so much!
Here’s to happy knitting, lots of colour and texture and plenty of giggles in our lives!