Like many self-admitted fiber crafters, I endeavor to avoid yarn and garments made from non-natural fibers. Rayon, which comes from wood (pine, spruce or hemlock), or cotton pulp, is sometimes called “the laboratory’s first gift to the loom.” Rayon is considered a natural yarn and, in fact, is regularly blended with real (natural) fibers. Hmmm … as a laboratory is involved, I am skeptical that it should be considered a “natural” yarn.
Rayon’s origin was in the latter half of the 19th century when a disease afflicting silkworms was hurting France’s silk industry. Louis Pasteur and Count Hilaire de Chardonnet went to work, but it was de Chardonnet who wanted to make an artificial silk. In 1885 he received a patent on his process making “artificial” or “imitation” silk. It would be renamed “rayon” 40 years later by the Federal Trade Commission.
I believe that if a lab and chemists are needed to turn the “natural” content into yarn and the process leaves chemical waste products, it is (at best) an artificial fiber. Read how rayon is made at “From Wood to Wearable.” Here are two pictures illustrating the process (source).
(It is surprising to see how frequently words such as “caustic,” “acid,” and “bleach” are used in describing the process!)
The viscose method of creating rayon emits zinc and hydrogen sulfide.
Zinc: While small amounts of zinc are found naturally, zinc is also a byproduct of mining, smelting and steel producing. It has adverse effects on both nature and humans.
Hydrogen sulfide: The byproducts of an array of industrial products (e.g., petroleum and natural gas extraction and refining, pulp and paper manufacturing, etc.), it a poisonous gas (smells like rotten eggs) that has serious adverse affects on humans.
Endeavoring to keep my “footprint” as small as possible, I am even more determined to not use artificial yarns. I certainly would never judge others who use artificial yarns, of course; though I cycle and use public transportation as much as possible, I still have a car – and that’s some footprint!` 🙂