Flatlay of 2 skeins of blue Tencel yarn above a knitted swatch.

Loops & Threads Capri Tencel Yarn – An Affordable, Sustainable Yarn?

I don’t usually do yarn reviews. But I was recently at my local Michaels store looking for some odds and ends, when I spotted this 100% Tencel yarn from Loops and Threads. My friend Sydney, I knew, uses Tencel yarn in her weaving (see her gorgeous work here), and I’ve heard that it’s eco-friendly. So I bought a couple of skeins and set about doing a bit of research. I have one or two secondhand garments in Tencel fabric, but have never knitted with it before.

About Tencel

According to the website Good On You, Tencel is a type of rayon that is made from responsibly-farmed eucalytptus, rather than old growth trees, and produced in a closed-loop system (where 99% of the chemicals used are recycled). It requires 30% less water than cotton fiber, and also less dye to achieve a desired color. So it has some things going for it in the sustainability department.

The downside, and this applies to any rayon-type fiber, is that is does require quite a bit of chemical processing to make fiber from wood pulp. (Though the same thing can be said for linen or hemp, if you’re using a modern chemical process to produce it, rather than the more labor-intensive traditional methods. And as I said above, the system used to produce Tencel is closed-loop, meaning close to 100% of the chemicals are recovered and reused in the process.) It also goes without saying that overproducing any fiber, as with fast fashion, will cause environmental harm, so we should always purchase carefully.

My Impressions

Anyway, I think this yarn could be an affordable alternative to linen for summer garments, so I put it to the swatch test. I cast on 36 stitches on a US 4 (3.5 mm) needle and knit in stockinette for a few inches, then bound off. The yarn is smooth and pleasant to work with. It has a bit of shine, like a mercerized cotton, which can be good or bad depending on your preferences. It’s slightly slippery, but less fatiguing on the hands than I find cotton or linen to be. Though the yarn itself has very little give, the knitted swatch has some memory, returning to it’s original shape when stretched. As you would expect for a plant fiber, the yarn also has some drape.

I soaked the swatch in my usual way, rolled it in a towel, and pinned it out without stretching. (I usually use a few pins just to keep the edges straight and prevent the swatch from rolling.) The swatch measured 5.5″ x 3.5″ before soaking and 5.875″ x 3.875″ after soaking and drying, so it grew just a bit in both directions. I noticed only a very slight biasing, if any, in the finished swatch.

I think I’m going to try making a summer tank from this yarn and see how I like wearing it. Have you knit with Tencel yarn? What was your experience?

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Mending a Sweater Hem

As spring arrives, some of my most-loved winter knits have seen some wear and tear. I’ve accumulated a small mending pile, including one of my favorite sweaters – the Poet sweater by Sari Nordlund (see it on Ravelry), knit in local Jacob wool yarn from Avillion Farm.

The hem of the sweater had unraveled a bit, so I thought I’d share how I mended it. Here is a before photo. As you can see, the bind off had come undone, and a bit of unraveling had occurred.

Before the repair

For the repair, I used locking stitch markers, a small-diameter crochet hook, and a circular needle approximately the size the sweater was knit with.

The first thing I did was to catch the live stitches – locking stitch markers are handy for that. I then used the crochet hook to ladder up the stitches that had run – you can do it from either the knit or purl side, but I often find it easier to work from the knit side.

I managed to get a bit of video of this process. You’ll notice that I use a second crochet hook to grab the stitches I’ve already fixed, and then I transfer them onto a second locking stitch marker. ((Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera set up quite right and all the work is going on in one corner, but you can still watch how I ladder up the stiches and place them on the stitch marker.)

Laddering up and catching the stitches

Once all the stitches were secure, I attached new yarn (fortunately I had a bit of the same yarn left over) and bound off the stitches once more. Now all that’s left is to weave in the ends! As you can see in the photo at the top, my sweater looks good as new.

Sweater hem after repair

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Washing Your Woolens

I’ve been washing some of my design samples to get them ready for Carolina Fiber Fest next weekend. I’m doing a designer showcase from 12-12:20 on Saturday March 12, so if you’re local to me please stop by and say hi! More information is available on the Carolina Fiber Fest website.

Anyway, I thought it would be a great time to talk about washing all those precious woolly handknits. One of the benefits of wool is that it’s naturally antimicrobial and doesn’t need to be washed all that often. However, it’s important to wash your woolens if you plan to put them away during the warmer months, as moths feed on the bits of skin, crumbs, or other debris on your clothes (they aren’t actually interested in the wool itself!).

So, how to was your handknits without shrinking or felting them? To start with, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my breed study posts, not all wools are equally feltable. Down and down-type breeds are often resistant to felting, and cashmere and alpaca also don’t felt as readily as some wools. And, of course, there are the wools that are treated to be machine-washable.

If you’re washing something more easily felted, use a gentle soak, avoiding agitation, and avoid shocking your wools with drastic temperature changes, especially going from hot to very cold water. You can, however, wash your woolens in pretty hot water without danger.

To wash by hand or machine? Many newer machines, especially front-loaders have a wool setting, and I’ve been testing mine out recently. I used to wash my superwash wool socks in a regular cycle with my other clothes, but lately I’ve been doing a wool-only cycle using my machine’s wool setting, and I’ve even been including some non-superwash items. And they’ve come out just fine.

Now, you may not want to try this with your special heirloom knits – I’m still wash many things by hand – but for everyday things like socks you might want to try the machine. Some knitters want to get away from superwash wool yarns for environmental reasons, and being able to care for these knits more easily can encourage that. If you’re considering trying the wool cycle on your machine, the best thing to do is to wash your swatch – yet another good reason to swatch your knits!

Do you wash your handknits in the washing machine? Let me know in the comments.

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Zero-Waste Sewing

I don’t usually post about sewing here, but I’ve been reading a lot about zero-waste sewing lately, and I thought I’d share a couple of projects.

My first project was a simple full skirt, made from a square tablecloth I bought at a yard sale a couple of years ago. I didn’t use a pattern for this project. After playing around a bit in front of a mirror to see how it would drape when gathered, I folded the tablecloth in half and cut a waistband at the folded edge. This gave me two rectangular pieces of fabric that I then gathered and sewed together at the sides. I decided to make the waistband flat in front and with an elastic back, so I interfaced the length the waistband I wanted for the front waistband, then folded it and sewed to the skirt, pulling the gathers in somewhat more at the front than the back. I then threaded the elastic through a portion I’d left unsewn, and sewed it down at the side seams.

Here is the finished skirt. I am planning to open the side seams and add pockets; I have another of the same tablecloth I plan to make a top from, and hope to use the leftovers from that piece to make the pockets.

My second project was a pair of pajama shorts. I had a yard of 58 inch wide fabric, and I wanted to see if i could alter the pattern to cut it from a single width of the fabric. Starting from a pattern I’ve used before, I cut the front and back pieces out of Swedish tracing paper and sewed them together at the inseam to form a single pattern piece. I altered the inseams slightly so the pieces would be on the grain when I cut out the single pattern piece.

I did end up needing to make some adjustments to the crotch seam for a better fit, as I did my adjustments on the fly and they weren’t perfect, but in the end I managed to cut the shorts out of just a bit more than 1/2 yard of fabric!

Here are some resources on zero-waste sewing in case you’re interested in trying it out:

The Cris Wood Sews Envelope Dress

Seamwork article on zero waste design

Zero Waste Sewing by Elizabeth Haywood

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Thoughts On Sustainability In Crafting

This past weekend I had a chance to listen to a panel on ‘Sustainability in the Crafting Community’ during the virtual NY Sheep and Wool Festival. The panel was presented by Merritt Bookstore and included Kathy Hattori, Clara Parkes, Sonya Philip, Katrina Rodabaugh, Adrienne Rodriguez, Hannah Thiessen, and Kristine Vejar. A wide range of approaches was discussed, and I thought this would be a good time to reflect further on my thoughts around this topic, which is one of my core values as a crafter and business owner.

Topics on the panel ranged from mending to mindful use of materials to thrifting and natural dyeing. Here are some ways I personally try to be more sustainable in both my crafting and my design work:

  1. Being mindful about what I make and how much material I purchase and use. I love to make (and design) sweaters, but honestly I’m not sure how many sweaters I personally need right now. So maybe this year I will make other things that I need or that I can gift. I also don’t stash a lot of yarn, and I try to buy a project quantity of yarn so that I don’t have all those odd single skeins no one knows what to do with. I generally have at least an idea whether I might actually make socks with that yarn I’m eyeing or whether I will need a sweater or shawl quantity, and I purchase accordingly.
  2. Designing and knitting things I will wear for a long time. This means being less trendy and more timeless in my style choices, and choosing details and finishing techniques that will help a garment to wear well. For me it also often means knitting with finer yarn on smaller needles. Not everyone enjoys knitting sweaters with fingering weight yarn on US #3 needles, but it has the added benefits of giving me more hours of knitting enjoyment per project and is often more economical as well, since finer yarns contain more yardage per skein.
  3. Using (mostly) good quality, natural fiber materials. This is probably one of the first aspects most people think about when they think about sustainability. Not only do these materials last a long time, but when they’ve reached the end of their life they can be more easily broken down. That doesn’t mean I never use sock yarn that contains nylon, or superwash yarn for a gift meant for someone who throws everything in the wash. (My sister-in-law is notorious for shrinking sweaters.) And I won’t judge you for using acrylic yarn if it’s what you’re going to wear for a long time. If there was one main takeaway from the panel, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. It’s about making mindful choices. I personally happen to love wool and linen especially, so that is what I use.
  4. Using local and breed-specific yarn. This is something I am really passionate about – there is an astonishing variety of wool textures and natural colors available if you look beyond large scale commercial processors, and as a designer it keeps me endlessly inspired. I can find some really nice yarn from farms that are local to me, and buying yarn from different sheep breeds helps keep those breeds from dying out, maintaining genetic diversity. It also means I can find wools that are suited to a variety of purposes! There are definitely supply chain issues with producing these yarns affordably, as was discussed in the panel, and and I encourage you to read Clara Parkes’ book Vanishing Fleece to learn more. It can be a challenge to design with yarns that aren’t widely distributed and may vary from year to year, but despite these issues I am hoping to design more with local yarns in the near future.

What are your favorite tips for being more sustainable with your crafting?