What to do when you inherit a lot of acrylic yarn

Every knitter probably has a story about “extra” acrylic yarn. The word “extra” here refers to coming into a whole lot of it somehow. We may have lots of acrylic yarn because we made some stuff to decorate the house and there’s quite a bit leftover. Perhaps we took a walk through a department store and couldn’t resist a certain color or texture that fascinated us and it was too cheap to resist. Maybe a neighbor or a friend gave us a whole bin of it, including acrylic yarns that no longer exist, with labels from twenty years ago. In my case, a neighbor figured out that I like to knit and gave me her yarn because she can’t knit anymore. I have a box of the stuff, in all kinds of colors.

However we came into it, though, there it is in a bin somewhere, all mixed together perhaps, ancient discontinued labels blended with newer more contemporary labels, some with no label at all because it either fell off or was misplaced when it was used and became a leftover blob of acrylic to be stashed and eventually passed on to us.

So many knitters and crocheters hate acrylic. They’re the “yarn snobs.” But even some of the acrylic haters can’t say no to a free bunch of yarn. Besides, if we don’t use it, well, eventually it will wind up in a landfill. We might as well make something and save the environment, right? Putting this material to use is much more ethical than trashing it.

I am most certainly not an acrylic hater. I have my issues with it. It’s not exactly easy to knit with. I care about the environment and have my qualms about how it’s produced and disposed of. It’s not my favorite yarn. Regardless, I am more than happy to knit with it if I have some. I just prefer knitting and crocheting with other materials. On the other hand, I have been seen buying acrylic on purpose every once in a while because, in my mind, it was the best yarn to get the job done the right way.

Anyway, what to do with this stuff?

1) Think charity knitting. Lots of places that distribute winter items to the poor actually want acrylic and might even announce this preference. Their reasoning is practical: it’s easy to store, it’s machine washable, it won’t disintegrate, and moths won’t eat it. Hats, socks, scarves, mittens, leg warmers, head warmers, ski masks, and other winter gear are often needed. We can whittle down the acrylic stash by making these items for people who will appreciate the extra warmth. Yes, we know that they won’t be as warm as if we made these things with wool, but acrylic items do provide some extra cover that people need in cold weather.

2) Pick out colors from the bin that go with your home. Think throw pillows, small throw blankets (if there’s enough for the project), and any other kind of item to decorate the house with. I’ve been lucky enough to witness an Ottoman cover, a very beautiful one, knitted with some Caron acrylic yarn. It was modern looking and stylish.

3) Use the Barbara Walker mosaic continuous strip method to make a blanket. This approach to stash busting the acrylic proves to be effective because the amounts of whatever color do not matter. The blanket is totally improvised. Mosaic patterns are added onto the blanket round and round, each with its own color pattern. My point here is to use random colors from the acrylic bin, combining them any old way to make something very busy and colorful. The instructions for this are found in her fourth volume of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. She calls it the “Continuous Strip Mosaic Sampler.” I’ve started one with the acrylic yarn that was gifted to me and I must say that Walker was correct when she wrote that this kind of knitting requires no planning at all. I have all four volumes of her Treasury so I can randomly try a lot of her mosaic patterns and wing a big blanket in many colors. As you might have guessed, I really like to wing it and make “whatever” when I have the chance.

4) Accessories: belts, bags, wallets, beaded jewelry, slippers, etc. are handy things to make in acrylic yarn.

5) Crochet or knit a bunch of squares and assemble them to make any item (I know, not original, but it’s an idea).

6) Single crochet an afghan with randomly combined colors. Alternatively, crochet an afghan holding two strands together.

7) Baby clothes: they use small amounts of yarn — guaranteed color consistency and sufficient yarn to finish the project — and are appreciated for their easy care. These clothes will be passed around from old parents to new parents, which means that the mean old plastic doesn’t wind up polluting the planet.

For now I’ll stick with my continuous strip mosaic blanket. It’ll take forever to finish, but it’s so random that I can pick it up every once in a while, drop it for a while, and go back to it without trying to remember what I was doing. It’s fun when I finish a round because I can look through Walker’s books to find the next stitch pattern I want to add on to the blanket.


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