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Scraps of Synthetic Yarn

I've been knitting for nearly my whole life. My mother handed me a pair of size 8 needles and a skein of yarn when I was about 7 years old, and showed me how to cast on and knit. I practiced and practiced, and my swatch of garter stitch grew from 15 stitches wide to 18 stitches to 20 stitches as I knit into odd loops or split my plies and made one stitch into two, and then it shrank down again to only 17 stitches as some slid off my needle or got dropped. It wasn't pretty.

I made a few small items over the next several years, and then, during college, my urge to knit kicked in seriously. I tackled big projects, like afghans and sweaters. My memories of that period are catalogued according to which project was on my needles. I taught my friends to knit and we took weekend trips (when we could borrow a car) to every yarn store within 25 miles of our Iowa college town.

Mostly, I used synthetic yarn. Sometimes I'd find something interesting with a touch of wool or mohair, but acrylic was my standby. It's cheap (it fits a college student's budget), easy to use, non-allergenic, durable, and--let's face it--today's manufacturing techniques can create some pretty nice yarns.

And all those nice yarns are essentially just plastic.

That same durability that lets me wear my old sweaters 30-plus years later will also keep them from decomposing, at that far-off time when they are truly worn out. They are destined for the same fate as the ubiquitous water bottles, grocery bags, and takeout containers that we see languishing in garbage piles and washing up on shorelines.

I'm making a switch now to yarns made from natural fibers. My rabbits and alpacas will conspire with my spinning wheel to keep me well supplied with yarn. I will discover first-hand the subtle characteristics of each fiber that make it special. After I wear my sweaters so much that they fall apart, I'll put them in the compost bin and let the worms and soil organisms finish the job.

But what can I do with all the odds and ends of (mostly) acrylic that I've been accumulating since 1986? It's time to use it up.

My first scrappy project was an afghan--a large afghan, so I could use more yarn.

I love slip stitch patterns, since they allow for interesting colorwork, without having to carry a second yarn along on any given row.

In this pattern, all of the black rows were knit (garter stitch), with six stockinette rows of color after every two rows of black. When I changed to a color, every sixth stitch of black was not knit, but rather slipped, to pull it over the colored stripe. Then, when I changed to black again, that slipped stitch was knit along with all of the other stitches on the needle.

Here are close-ups:

My other scrappy project was a cardigan. I was inspired by the patchwork that quilters sew with odds and ends of fabric. Why not put yarn bits together the same way?

I picked out all of my greens and blues, and a few purples and a pink, and cut them into lengths about 3 yard long--enough to work one of the 8 stitches by 10 rows squares. I used the yarns in whatever order they came out of the bag, taking care only to avoid using the same yarn on contiguous squares. I threw in a few different stitch patterns, and now I have a one-of-a-kind sweater. I was able to completely use up a few of the old skeins. There were an awful lot of ends to finish off, though.

Since I already had these yarns, I wanted to be sure to put them to good use. I think I'm now done with buying cheap petroleum-based yarn.

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