Most vegan yarns are relatively obvious- cotton yarns, soysilk™, linen, hemp, and many more. Now there are more unusual fibers as well- recycled plastic soda bottle fiber, Angelina, corn, bamboo, and many more! No longer are vegans restricted to boring worsted weight cottons! Many of the vegan yarns now come in a variety of styles and weights now- there are vegan yarns suitable for knitting socks, thick ribbon yarns for chunky knits, and artisan handspun yarns. Many small companies also offer handpainted yarns and naturally dyed yarns for vegans as well.
Finding Unique Vegan Yarn
Your local yarn shop and Etsy are a good place to start looking for vegan yarns. Many stores carry at least a small selection of cotton and linen yarns for people who are vegan or allergic to animal fibers. From there, it is best to start looking online. Consider the type of yarn you want- searching by specific materials or structure of the yarn- boucle, thick and thin, handpainted, handspun, and so on.
Handspun Vegan Yarn
Most of what you find when you search online or got to local yarn stores is going to be commercially available yarns that have been hand painted with chemical dyes or yarns from larger companies- good for when you need a large amount of yarn, but not always very unique yarn. There are a variety of sellers who make vegan yarn- including Midnightsky Fibers (http://MidnightskyFibers.com) and Knitty Dirty Girl (knittydirtygirl.etsy.com)
There are several types of vegan hanspun available, and a yarn may incorportate more that one style- it may be made from upcycled/recycled fibers and be handspun, for example.
Vegan handspun yarns are generally one of the following:
-Yarn made from upcycled or recycled fibers cut in to strips- this can include yarn made from newspapers and tissue paper, or it might be long strips of fabric knotted together or spun in to yarn.
-Yarn made from vegan fibers- these are yarns made from spinning soy silks, cottons, hemp, and so on in to yarn. Unlike commercially available yarn, handspun vegan yarn can blend a variety of fibers together and/or be spun in to textures not possible on a machine. Many of these handspun yarns are also called “art yarn” or “handspun art yarn”. Just check to make sure the blend used for the handspun yarn doesn’t contain some non vegan items.
-Recycled yarn- from recycled clothing, usually recycled sweaters that have been unraveled for the yarn, which may then have be hanpainted.
Finding Vegan Spinning Fibers
Vegan spinning fibers are even easier to find than vegan handspun. Many of the fibers that make up commercial and handspun yarns are readily available as spinning fiber and can be found in many yarn shops, on ebay, and on etsy. You can also find handpainted and dyed versions of these fibers, including naturally dyed fibers.
What to Look Out For- What is Not Vegan
It should be obvious, but some of the new high tech fibers are NOT vegan. Neither are all naturally dyed yarns. Just because a yarn says it is “faux” does not mean it will be vegan- faux cashmere fiber may be made from nylon, but Optim/Optimum, which is also billed as faux cashmere or being very cashmere like is made from stretch merino wool. Likewise, while many natural dyes are vegan and from plants, some like cochineal and lac are not vegan. Many natural dyers will point out if a yarn is vegan or not, otherwise you should ask and not assume- that great bamboo dyed a brilliant red might be such a nice red because of cochineal (an insect) not madder (a root).
If you are concerned about the use of fibers that are heavily processed- as soysilk and other fibers often are, you may want to opt for vegan yarns and fibers that are made from natural materials or from recycled fibers. There is even organic naturally colored (not dyed! It grows in different colors) cotton now.
(In case you didn't know, I do make vegan handspun yarn that is naturally dyed!)