The Fiber in the Fabric

After more than a year of cutting and sewing my fabrics exclusively, last December I branched out. The simple machine-embroidered "flour sack" dish towels were completed for Xmas gifts. Woven cotton was a big change from the sweater knits I'd been working with, but the towels weren't challenging. A few weeks later I sewed a t-shirt for the DH -- a lightweight cotton interlock. It was quick and fun.
The flour sack dish towels 

I'm still mostly cutting and sewing sweater knit fabrics. If you read my last post, you know why last week I was cutting and sewing sweater knit fabric that's not of my design, and you've gotten a peek at that fabric too. It's a lightly brushed wool blend. Though I've designed and knitted fuzzy fabrics recently (a luxurious kid mohair/merino blend), I'd never cut and sewn a brushed fabric before. Interesting. Though this brushed fabric is a loosely knit fancy jersey, its slight fuzziness keeps the edges from running or fraying wildly, yet it's not so fuzzy that the halo (yarn's fluffed up fiber) gets in the way when sewing. It will be a good fabric for anyone who hasn't worked with sweater knits. (When I do, at last, cut and sew my own brushed mohair sweater, however, I will cut, sew, and then brush.)

Did you notice I said it was a "wool blend" when referring to the store-bought fabric? Alas, the wool is blended with acrylic. I'm not a Yarn Snob, but honestly, there's nothing as wonderful as working with 100% wool. No yarn moves through the knitting machine as beautifully, and no knit fabric blocks as easily as wool. Wool is my fiber of choice. (Ok, so maybe I am a Yarn Snob.) Fortunately, the wool blend I've been cutting and sewing does have a large enough proportion of wool so that it performs nicely under steam and blocks well. But I have no plans on stocking any wool/acrylic blend fabrics in the shop in the near future.
I designed this double knitted jacquard. It's 100% wool.

A few days ago I happened across this article by Lakshmi Challa. It's about textiles' impact on the environment. You may have read similar before. The article made me want to pack my bag and run away to a nudist colony! (I guess it would be a small bag.) It's not so simple as wool - good; polyester - bad. Bamboo fabric isn't necessarily more virtuous than the standard wood pulp rayon. And what about pearl cotton, also known as mercerized cotton, whose subtle sheen and vibrant color I love, so very far from organic. I don't have answers; I'm not planning on raising my own sheep and growing my own cotton. But I am aware, open to and looking at alternatives.
Merino wool and bamboo yarn, developed for my Turtle Beach sweater

On a positive and hopeful note, there are some promising textiles on FabricLink's Top Ten Textile Innovations for 2013-2014. Especially of interest to me is CRAiLAR® Flax. It's production requires "99% less water than cotton" and fewer pesticides and other chemicals. Apparently, the fabric produced from this fiber is soft and breathable. I want to learn more and would love to get my hands on some of this stuff! Also on the list is RamTect™. It's an insulation material, 100% wool and lightweight.

So these are some of the things I was considering last week as I knitted both merino wool and mercerized cotton (separately), and then cut and sewed a wool/acrylic blend. I would love to hear what factors you consider when selecting fabrics and yarns. What are your favorite fibers/fabrics to work with? Do you consider ease of care? Vibrancy of color? Origin of materials? Is your choice totally project dependent? Or do you fall in love with the material first, and then find the project? I'd love to know.