The debate has been around for what seems like forever, and we’ve witnessed passionate arguments from both sides. Here at HANK & HOOK, we specialize in natural fiber yarns because we’re convinced there’s an amazing natural fiber for anything you wish to make. We decided to do a little research on the benefits and shortcomings of both so you can decide what fits into your own lifestyle. Without further delay...
Natural fibers have been instrumental to mankind since antiquity and were the primary materials used in clothing and homeware until the invention of synthetics. Farmers harvest a whopping 35 million tonnes of natural fibres every year from both plants and animals, which includes sheep, rabbits, goats, alpacas, hemp, flax, cotton, and much more. The United Nations even proclaimed the year 2009 as the “international year of natural fibers”.
Its benefits include breathability, temperature regulation, water absorption, high UV protection and anti-microbial properties. Natural fibers are also biodegradable and can be composted to release nutrients back into the soil (cue The Circle of Life). On the other hand, some people may be sensitive to sheep’s wool due to its lanolin content. Its production also requires a substantial amount of water, and many animal fibers require high maintenance and care as they cannot be machine-washed.
Despite the long history and relationship between human beings and natural fibers, synthetics have quickly permeated through the textile industry since their introduction in the late 1880’s. Synthetics such as acrylic and rayon were developed to mimic the appearance and durability of natural fibers, but at a lower price as a result of cheaper materials and mass production.
Today, synthetic fibers continue to make their way into our yarn stashes because they can resist wear and tear very well, and are seen as a solid alternative to natural fibers for those with wool sensitivities.
On the plus side, the manufacturing of synthetics such as polyester and nylon requires little use of water, and projects made with most synthetics can be thrown into a washing machine (read: none of that high maintenance attitude that you get from natural fibers).
Level of maintenance: higher than your ex
The downside of synthetics, however, is compelling: the use of non-renewable resources means the fibers are not biodegradable and therefore pollute the environment. Not to mention, the abundant use of chemicals in its production can cause scratchiness and rashes on some people (the last thing you want is people giving you !@#$ for that scratchy Christmas sweater). Fabrics created with synthetics also have lower thermal conductivity and absorption than animal fibers, which means for those living in the northern hemisphere… #sorrynotsorry.
Science has come a long way, and in some aspects has caught up to what nature’s been offering to the textile industry since long before the pyramids have been around. Despite technological advances, however, scientists have been unable to exceed the qualities of natural fibers without consequences (i.e damaging the environment). At the end of the day, synthetics were created to mimic the properties of natural fibers, so... we’ll leave it at that.
P.S. We’ll soon be releasing our full report detailing the differences between natural and synthetic fibers, so don’t forget to come check that out!