You probably know by now that I only use natural, i.e. non-synthetic, fibers in my work. There are numerous reasons for this, some of which include the fact that animal fibers such as wool and alpaca have insulating properties and plant fibers are breathable, whereas acrylics and other manmade fibers are not. This has to do with the microscopic scales found on animal and plant fibers, which create space between the individual fibers. Synthetic fibers are completely uniform and don't have this property. Shown under a microscope, the different fibers appear like this:
For me, personally, it also comes down to which fiber is more sensually pleasurable to work with and a superfine alpaca is a joy to have running through my fingers, but I can't say the same for polyester. I also consider the processes used to create all these fibers, and without going into a great deal of research on the subject, I can only imagine the toxic chemicals used to create man-made fibers.
So the environmental factor has always been a consideration for me, and reading this article in The Guardian just added to my concerns. You can read the article here, but I'll give you the basics. Ecologist Mark Browne has been studying sediment along shorelines around the world and has found that it is full of fibers, the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. "In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing." Studies have shown that ocean organisms ingest microplastics and introduce toxins into the food chain. The article goes on to say, "By sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines, Browne estimated that around 1,900 individual fibers can be rinsed off a single synthetic garment - ending up in our oceans." I don't know about you, but this was an eye-opener for me. This is not to say that natural fibers do not end up in the wastewater, too, but the difference is that natural fibers will break down over time. Synthetics do not.
There's an additional point to be made in the Guardian article regarding some of the big clothing manufacturers, but you can read the piece yourself to learn more about this issue, if you're interested.
So there you have it; possibly more than you wanted to know. I promise prettier pictures next time!