Vegan Knitting Guide: Tips for Terrific Ethical Knits

Vegan Knitting Guide: Tips for Terrific Ethical Knits

View Vegan Living from Another Angle

Hello fellow knitting friend! You may be asking yourself, “What IS vegan knitting?” This guide will help you (or anyone who loves to knit) figure out the materials you’ll need to enjoy your craft without using any yarn, tools or supplies that contain animal products. It’s so easy to do once you know what to look for.

As a knitter of long standing (over 18 years!), but also a relatively new vegan, I was entirely caught off guard when someone asked me about my knitting habits as a vegan. It didn’t even occur to me that I would change anything regarding my craft.

But once I thought about it for a minute, and did some research about the wool industry, it made so much sense. We’re using an animal’s hair to knit up garments to wear on our bodies, much like we would wear fur or leather as a coat or belt.

I asked myself: “Do I truly want to be doing this?” My answer was firmly: “No.”

I want all of the stunning creations that I spend many, many hours knitting (and wearing) to be rooted in love, not taken from an animal. From that moment on, I decided to figure out a way to make my craft ethical from start to finish. 

This guide will help you focus on the joy of knitting, the beauty of yarn, and the power of plants—just like we do with our delicious food. 

Vegan Knitting Guide Illustration Graphic

Discover the Difference between “Normal” Yarn & “Vegan Yarn”

As you may know, most “normal” commercial yarns are made of either synthetic or animal fibers. Sometimes, there is a mixture of the two. Luckily, there are also yarns that contain only natural plant fibers. Both synthetic and plant-based yarns could classify as “vegan” yarn. Yay!

When I first looked into this, I was surprised to find out what some yarns were made of. It’s something I took for granted (“yarn is just yarn”) and something I never really thought much about. It’s fascinating to discover where yarn comes from. At that time, as an avid a spinner, I only had experience with animal fiber and very little knowledge about plant fibers.

Here are some examples of synthetic, animal and plant fibers that you may be familiar with and some that might be new to you.

  • Synthetic Fiber: Acrylic, microfiber (a polyester-based) and nylon (polymer-based), all of which are basically made up of plastic with a petroleum/chemical base
  • Animal Fiber: Alpaca, angora (rabbit), bison, camel, cashmere (goat), llama, mohair (goat), qiviut (musk ox), silk (silkworm), vicuna, wool (sheep), yak
  • Plant Fiber: Bamboo, cotton, hemp, linen, tencel (cellulose or eucalyptus)

Now that you know the difference between the three types of yarn, it will be simple to choose the cruelty-free option for your next project.

Vegan Yarn Brands List

Vegan Yarn Brands

Here are are few vegan yarn brands you can look out for. It’s exciting to see shops like Vegan Yarn open up offering an entire range of ethically sourced and consciously produced yarn. 

Why To Say “No” to Animal Fibers & Furs

Although animal fiber yarn is warm, light and also biodegradable, the suffering that it causes animals far outweighs the positive attributes. We have an in-depth article about wool that explains everything you need to know. A quick Google search for “mulesing,” a common practice in the wool industry, will also help you see the problem with commercial wool.

Simply put, animals commodified for wool and yarn do not just “get a haircut.” They are placed into very stressful and painful situations, are bred to have extra unnatural rolls of skin so that their overproduction or hair can be sheared off, often quite violently. The process is FAR from cruelty-free and it’s best to be aware of the situation so you can avoid being part of more animal suffering.

Ponder the Pros & Cons of Natural Fiber & Synthetic Yarn

Once you know which yarns to avoid, you can concentrate on the good stuff: all the amazing plant fibers you can knit with. This chart can help you choose the right yarn for the right project.

Vegan Knitting Guide Table Pros & Cons

Know your Knitting Needles & Notions

To get started, grab your knitting bag(s) (if you’re like me, you have many!) and all of your needles and notions. If you have a knitting notebook, get that out too. It’ll be the best time to catalog the items you might need to find or purchase later on. Also, find a box for items you might want to swap or sell and a small bag for trash. Now, let’s go through everything and see what you have. Exciting!

Needles:

We know that needles and hooks are usually free of animal products (please check that none are made out of bone). But it’s good to go through them all and determine what material they are made of, whether you have too many—or not enough—and which ones may be broken, etc.

Now, have yourself a Marie Kondo moment! Look through them all carefully and place the ones you love in your needle holder and sort the rest into swap/sell or discard. It feels awesome to actually see what you have —you might find that you have four size 8 needles or maybe none at all! Make a note of which needle sizes you need to purchase or replace.

Notions:

This is the most fun for me, but I know some knitters despise it. To me, it’s like clearing out your purse and feeling fantastic that it’s super organized, clean and free of unnecessary items. You may even find some bonus cash.

I love my notions bags and I truly need two. One for blocking, sewing, pom pom makers, etc. (things that I don’t need often) and one for everyday essentials, such as scissors, stitch markers, tapestry needle, measuring tape, pencil, notebook, cable needle, and pattern tape.

Shop Smart for Savvy Supplies

Luckily, you can find “vegan” knitting supplies anywhere you find your usual knitting supplies.

Craft stores carry both plant fiber (mostly cotton) and synthetic yarns, as well as bamboo, wood, plastic, and metal needles.

Specialty/local yarn shops will offer a larger variety of plant-based fiber yarns, less synthetic yarns, and a greater number of choices for accessories. I find that local yarn stores are also very willing to help you find what you need. Just let them know that you’re vegan and looking for non-animal fiber yarn. They can easily point you in the right direction and are usually happy to do so. This type of store may also have more animal-based accessories (leather, suede, silk, bone, fur, etc.), so be careful when making your purchases.

Online yarn shops may be your best bet, especially if you have something specific in mind. Most online yarn shops have either a search engine which you can look for items like “linen” or “bamboo needles”. If you’re lucky, the website will also offer a more personalized search that allows you to not only narrow down the type of fiber, but also the thickness—like worsted or laceweight.

Online craft shops (like Etsy) are also super helpful and you might just find incredibly unique and beautiful knitting related items that you didn’t even know existed. I’ve found gorgeous ceramic yarn bowls, handmade wooden knitting needles, and hand-spun bamboo fiber with the most sensational shine. The only problem you may encounter is the “time suck” factor where you’ve completely forgotten what you were originally searching for and you now have $250 worth of amazing pieces in your cart—whoops!

No matter where you choose to shop, there are way more wonderful options than there have ever been before…and, hopefully, more in the future. Not only will you be making more careful and cruelty-free choices, but you’ll also become more mindful about how and where you want to spend your money. If you can support a local, vegan-friendly artist, store, or creator, all the better.

Substitutions are Simple(ish)

That’s the great thing about knitting—you can alter a knitting pattern just as easily as you can a meal recipe, just substituting vegan options in place of any animal ingredients. Choosing a plant-based (or synthetic) yarn is not as difficult as it sounds. The only two things you need to consider are yarn weight and knitting gauge.

Yarn Weight: If the pattern calls for worsted weight (4, medium) yarn in an animal fiber yarn, you can substitute any worsted weight, plant-based fiber yarn. Keep in mind that some yarns are meant to create a lightweight, drapey fabric (as in a shawl) while others are meant to create a firm, durable fabric (like a sturdy hat or heavyweight sweater). If you know the purpose of the knitted item you want to make, you can find the most suitable yarn for the purpose. Here are some suggestions to help you along, but you are not limited to these…use what you think is best and give it a try. You can always rip out the swatch and try something else. 

Best yarns for a lightweight and airy texture that drape well (for shawls, thin blankets, berets, finely knit mittens, and socks):

  • Bamboo
  • Tencel
  • Linen

Best yarns for a heavyweight, sturdy texture that hold up well (for thicker sweaters, cozy socks, warm blankets, and everyday mittens and hats):

  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Mixture of cotton with another lighter weight yarn from above

Knitting Gauge: I know that many knitters despise knitting up a gauge swatch, but it is essential when you’re substituting a different yarn for one that it calls for in the pattern. The designer has specifically chosen that yarn for its structure and finished appearance. If the yarn you are substituting is too thin or too thick, your finished project will not look or wear at all like what the designer intended—or what you dreamed of wearing.

Take the time to knit a 4”x4” swatch with the needles and yarn you intend to use. Examine the finished fabric and texture:

  • Is it too open and loose?
  • Is it too tight and overly firm?
  • Can you see the pattern you’re creating?
  • Does the fabric lay the way you want it to?

If you’re happy with the feel, texture, and look of your swatch, then knit away! If not, don’t give up and try a new yarn and/or needle size until you get the perfect “Goldilocks” fit.

Eco-Friendly Knitting Guide

Embrace Eco-Friendly Options

If you’re a vegan who cares about the environment (and who isn’t?), you might also wish to consider more sustainable earth-friendly options when shopping for new stash or supplies.

  • Choose plant-based fiber yarns whenever possible and pass over synthetic versions.
  • Consider purchasing only digital patterns. If you find it easier to knit from a paper copy, use 100% post-recycled paper when printing or reuse one side of already printed papers you aren’t using.
  • Buy bamboo or wooden straight needles or double-pointed needles (dpns), which can easily biodegrade in the compost.
  • For circular needles, choose cables that are made out of metal instead of plastic or, even better, choose kits which offer interchangeable cords and tips to save not only time and money but also additional materials that might end up in the landfill.
  • Discard your plant-based yarn scraps in the compost instead of throwing them in the trash…or perhaps make a cute pet toy with your leftovers!
  • Search for stash options at thrift stores instead of buying new. Or better yet, trade with friends! You can make it into a swap party where you exchange patterns, needles, yarn and accessories.
  • Before purchasing new stitch markers, consider making your own out of yarn scraps or finding ones made out of recycled metals or wood/bamboo. You might even be able to make your own if you’re handy with woodworking tools.
  • In search of more yarn? Maybe it’s time to clear out your closet. If you have sweaters or t-shirts that no longer fit well or are too worn out to wear, either unravel the sweaters for “new” yarn or cut up old t-shirts to make great cotton jersey “yarn.” You can search YouTube for helpful tutorials.

Study Your Stash Situation

You may be wondering, “What should I do with my current stash of animal fiber yarns, spinning fiber and other accessories?”

This is a very personal position that you’ll have to decide for yourself. Most people find it easier (and less painful, especially if there is a favorite yarn or fiber to consider) to finish knitting up or using the animal fibers/accessories they have and gift the finished projects to friends and family who aren’t vegan. From that moment on, you can commit to avoiding a purchase of any new animal-based yarns/fibers/items for your knitting stash.

Other people find it easier to sell, give away, or donate all of their non-vegan yarn and items or share with knitting friends or their knitting group. You could also do a mix of the two. Sell some items you aren’t that attached to and use up the ones you would find it difficult to sell or give away. This is totally up to you with no judgment.

Becoming vegan is a process and no one should tell you that you’re “doing it wrong.” My only loving advice is to be careful in the future of which items you purchase and how they are made/where they come from. Sometimes yarn or accessories can have tiny additions of leather, suede, wool, felt, fur or bone. Just be mindful and curious.

Vegan Knitting Resources

More Great Vegan Knitting Resources

These helpful websites offer vegan-friendly options in the way of accessories, yarn, fiber, and support. If you come across any other fantastic finds, let us know so we can add them to this guide.

I hope this guide has helped you to get a better understanding of vegan knitting and how to approach your old, wonderful craft with new, compassionate eyes. There’s not much to it, but the simple and conscious choices you make will make a huge difference in the life of a fiber animal and also the planet.

Happy Vegan Knitting!

Vegan Knitting Guide—Vegan Yarn & Terrific Ethical Knits

This Vegan Knitting Guide was written by Gina House for World of Vegan. You can download a printer-friendly version here! Please note that this article contains affiliate links which support our work at World of Vegan! If you have questions about vegan knitting, we invite you to contact [email protected], and you can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Ravelry.

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