Off of my chest…

23 Dec

And onto my blog.

I had a mildly frustrating and mildly reassuring experience at my PA lys today. Overall it has left me feeling rather annoyed, but with this little nagging feeling that I have no right to be. The trip began because I needed size 8 dpns to make myself a hat and more of the pink evita for Mom’s Clapotis, and something bulky for a last minute gift. There was also the plan to do some scouting for patterns and yarns for my dad’s birthday present. He wants an argyle button-down sweater vest, very thin, very fine, most likely size 1 or 2 needles. The woman was being very helpful, very informative, very thorough, and seemed very knowledgeable. She also showed my mom a bunch of lamps, those fancy crafting ones whose name I’m blanking on right now, all the varieties of shapes and sizes and magnifying attachments. She was being so helpful and friendly and pleasant I thought I’d ask her for suggestions on non-wool sock yarns. My mistake. I should have known better. She asked me why no wool. I gave my typical, non-confrontational, “I try to avoid using animal products.” I usually try to avoid bringing up this topic at all costs. People do not want to hear it and I don’t want to get into the defending my beliefs debate.

Here I’d like to pause and state very clearly that I do not judge anyone based on what fibers they knit with, what food they eat, or what they’re wearing. Ok, I will mock what they’re wearing if it warrants it, but that’s fashion not ethics. My point is that my choices in these areas are my choices, I don’t require or even expect anyone else to make the same ones and I don’t actively work to persuade others to my views. I am not trying to persuade anyone with this post. I’m just venting. Ok, back to it then.

I wish I had just said I was allergic, but then I get angry that I feel I should have lied to keep myself comfortable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What followed was a 5-10 minute lecture on why I should use wool. I am not exaggerating. My mom left to browse the store because it made her uncomfortable and I nodded and smiled politely for over 5 minutes, obviously unpersuaded and trying to give her as little feedback or reason to continue as possible. In her defense she remained polite the entire time, her reasons were thought out and substantiated, she did point out non-wool yarns to me, and she did discuss options like that silk where the worm doesn’t die and local farmers, in particular a yarn where she knew the farmer and had been to the farm. She also offered to look into any companies I’d like and mentioned a particular yarn company works to ensure 3rd world countries get fair wages for their labor while another had unethical practices.

Another aside – I know part of the reason I struggle with this is because I am struggling myself to define my own ethical boundaries. My basic M.O. is that my wallet is my vote. I don’t buy things I don’t support and I try to buy things I do support. Insomuch as this is possible. No one is perfect. So wool, I don’t support factory farming. Do I support small farms? Or do I think there’s no reason to ever exploit animals. I do support local businesses and small businesses. Should I then support small local farms? And on that principle should I then make an effort to buy wool from small local farms to support something I believe in? This recently came up with Manos del Uruguay. I would like to support women’s co-ops. But it’s wool. And there’s no indication that the wool is from local farms. It could well be bought cheap from factory farms. A dilemma. In this particular instance Manos del Uruguay offers a cotton yarn, so I’m off the hook. But it’s gotten me thinking. Also, the main reason behind my beliefs is environmentalism. The way we currently mass produce animal products is harmful to the environment. But somewhere along the way I picked up some of the warm fuzzies that make most people go veggie. And now when I hear about mulesing I remember all the pictures I’ve seen of the poor little sheepies tied up and I want to cry. *

Which leads me to her argument:

  • She said that sheep have been bred by humans for hundred of years to grow more wool so that they now are uncomfortable if not shorn. Now that we’ve created them it’s our responsibility to take care of them.

I respect this because most arguments I’ve heard say the animals need to be shorn for their own good without acknowledging that it’s our fault that they’re uncomfortable. As though the sheep came into existence with the need for humans to shear it. I still don’t agree with keeping animals in factory conditions, both for environmental and for warm fuzzy reasons. I also don’t consider factory farming “taking care of them.” I’m less decided on smaller operations.

  • She said it’s in the farmer’s best interest to keep the sheep healthy to produce the best wool.

I respectfully submit that it is in the farmer’s best interest to produce as cheaply as possible a product that will sell. There’s a reason that a particular bale of wool sold for $675,000, but that we can buy skeins of wool that have gone through a number of hands and processes for next to nothing.

“Suffice to say these sheep are spoilt – they live their lives in cosy sheds dubbed the ‘Wooldorf Astoria,’ they’re hand-fed and have music played to them.” (Article here)

  • She said that mulesing has gotten a lot of bad press because of PETA. She explained the process accurately and called it inhumane, however, she said it causes less stress to the sheep than anesthetizing it and is effective against blowfly in an economical way, and sometimes it just comes down to economics. Scientists are working on a chemical treatment, but do we really want more chemicals?

We’ll take as a given that PETA are fanatics who have taken a particularly confrontational approach that seems to enrage as many as it sways. I respect her argument here because she knows what mulesing is and she called it inhumane. I still disagree because I like to try to put my ethics before my economics if possible, and this is a place it’s possible. I keep thinking, you would never do that to a human. But animals aren’t humans and I respect that many people don’t feel the way I do about how they should be treated. Personally, I don’t understand why the sheep just can’t just be kept in conditions less conducive to flystrike. But if she believes it comes down to an economical decision and that fits with her beliefs, I have no argument. And no, we don’t want more chemicals. I haven’t even mentioned my internal debate over the fact that cotton is responsible for an enormous amount of pesticides or what synthetics are made out of. Arg.

But over 5 minutes! On why I need to start using wool when I asked for non-wool sock yarns! Was that really necessary? I didn’t berate her for selling wool. I’m still buying yarn from her shop. Hell, I was even buying something with wool in it! (My mom was buying it and it wasn’t for me, my ethics don’t stop me from knitting wool items for friends if that’s what they want and they’re willing to pay for it. I’m not going to stop them or refuse to knit for them.) So I certainly wasn’t trying to insult her or put her out of business. She baited me by asking why I don’t use wool then jumped on her soapbox. But then I wonder, I believe in free speech, I believe in everyone’s right to their opinion. Other than general social niceties, why shouldn’t she share her viewpoint with me? She seems to just think I’m misguided. And if I weren’t so non-confrontational, perhaps I would have been able to respectfully say, I understand what you’re saying, I respect that you’ve really thought through this and I disagree with you on these points, I hope you can equally respect that. But I didn’t. I nodded. I smiled. When she finally stopped talking I thanked her for all the information and changed the subject. And then I came here to vent. I’m frustrated at her for lecturing me for a relatively really long time and I’m frustrated with myself for standing there and taking it.

Hopefully I haven’t offended any wool knitters. I get the impression that those of you who choose to make your presence known are a very supportive bunch of people and there are many veggies among you. So thanks in advance for your commiseration with my frustration.

And now I’ll distract you with pictures. First up, my Christmas present from my best friend. Then the last minute project, yes, after all that ranting, with wool in it. It’s Plymouth Yarn Encore Mega, 75% acrylic, 25% wool. Made in Turkey, and if the lys lady is to be trusted, they’re the ones that work to ensure fair wages. So at least there’s that. The slipper is knitting up quickly and seems quite comfy. Hopefully the friend will enjoy them along with this whole story. Lastly, fake sheep has made a great page with information on a huge variety of non-animal yarns for anyone who’s interested. She also writes eloquently on her reasons for being a vegan knitter.

* I am purposefully not describing the process of mulesing or general conditions of factory animals and not linking to any pictures. I said I don’t preach and the pictures are graphic. You can google mulesing if you want. Also, I’m a firm believer that information from each side is heavily biased, so I’m not sure where I could comfortably link to. Make sure you take anything you read with a grain of salt.


Posted by on December 23, 2005 in knitting


14 responses to “Off of my chest…

  1. Michelle

    December 23, 2005 at 5:53 am

    Hi. Of course you know that as a vegan I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, but even if I wasn’t, you have no need to apologize. This is your blog with your opinions in it. I just read something that said that striking NYC transit workers should go on welfare because, she hears, the hours are great, and you don’t hear her apologizing for that kind of talk. I completely understand not wanting to get into confrontations — I avoid them at all costs — and I’d never want to get into the conversation you had to get into. Sorry about that. Though I don’t knit socks, my general impression is that for vegan sock yarns, other than cascade fixation it’s slim pickings. I hope someone responds to prove me wrong, cause knitting socks would be nice (once I learned how).

  2. katiedid

    December 23, 2005 at 8:31 am

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I love how you thought it out in balance – understanding that she has a right to free speech as well – most people (on both sides) don’t do that. It may be helpful to note that if had tried to politely “discuss” with her, rather than listen politely, it may not have went so well. But it may have. You just never know.
    Anyway, I totally respect your reasons for not using wool but I don’t understand if your point is to avoid large corporation type farms – how you know the cotton and other fibers are being produced in a smaller business type? Or is your main concern the animals? I’d love to know because I’ve always had such a hard time *just* sticking to small businesses (not for yarn, I haven’t even attempted this for yarn) for other things. Like where can I buy socks, if not from Wal-Mart or Target or Kmart? It’s been easiest with restaurants since it’s obvious which are chains.
    Anyway, enlighten me! This is a great discussion!

  3. Imbrium

    December 23, 2005 at 10:56 am

    This is such a tough topic – on the one hand, she is certainly entitled to her opinions, and if she feels that passionate about it (and is that educated about it) I would generally support her expressing those opinions.
    On the other hand, she was working in a customer service capacity and was asked a polite, reasonable question. The most appropriate answer from her (in my opinion) would have been to say “yes, we have some right here,” or “no, I’m afraid we don’t, sorry.” When I go to a store I’m generally there to purchase something, not get a lecture.
    I’m a semi-vegetarian (I eat seafood and, on VERY rare occasions, a little bit of red meat), mostly because I’m a picky eater. Whenever the topic comes up, I just label myself a vegetarian – it’s easier than explaining my dietary peccadilloes. I’m not particularly sensitive about it, but I am occasionally shocked at how ignorant and mean-spirited people can be about it. I get everything from gentle teasing to the woman who looked at me and said “you know, they did a study and found out that vegetarians die 5 years earlier than normal people.” Yeah…so do people who piss me off.
    I can’t tell you how much I admire and respect your commitment to your ethics. Using your wallet conscientiously is incredibly difficult, especially as small independent stores are replaced by enormous conglomerates. Your kind of moral fiber (pardon the pun) is a rare and precious thing these days.

  4. ellie

    December 23, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Hi katiedid, supershort answer is it started as a party line thing. Vegans don’t use animal products. As I relaxed and re-evaluated what I eat (I still try to eat mostly vegan, but would never call myself vegan currently – I eat too much cheese) I decided to stay vegan with my knitting. Partly for all the warm fuzzies about how to treat animals and partly because, environmentally speaking, factory farming is harmful. I know cotton has pesticides, but to the best of my (not overly researched) knowledge, factory farming is still a much bigger polluter. So it’s more about using the animals for production and the damage to the environment than about not supporting big business, but in addition to all that I do like to support small local businesses when I can. That’s sort of where my debate with myself is at right now. Do I want to start using local small farm wool, or do I still feel I don’t want to use animals for anything if I don’t have to. Also, I say when I can, because you’re right, it can get hard when you need a particular item and it’s so much easier and cheaper to get it at the big place. And sometimes that price difference really matters and you can’t afford what you’d really like to do. I certainly can’t make everything out of handspun organic etc. etc. that stuff costs a fortune. Insubordiknit has some great vegan yarns I hope to buy someday, but for right now I can’t spend $20-30 for 60 yards. I hope that one day my wallet catches up to my ideals. 🙂 In the mean time I try to do the best I can.

  5. gina

    December 23, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Have you tried Katia Mississippi?

  6. ellie

    December 23, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    Gina – I’ve tried Katia Jamaica and I loved it. Thanks for the tip! I will definitely look for that one.

  7. ellie

    December 23, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Michelle – I didn’t even know about Cascade Fixation. I just made my first pair of socks recently and I used Classic Elite Yarns: Star, then the one I’m making now is my gift from Imbrium, called Snuggly by Sidar. So thanks for the info. Maybe this will inspire me to start a page on yarns I’ve used and that have been suggested.

  8. ellie

    December 23, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    Imbrium – Thanks so much for the hug. I was feeling growly. 🙂 I feel much better now.

  9. Lolly

    December 24, 2005 at 7:17 am

    More than anything, I guess I am just floored by her lack of customer service skills… I can’t believe she attacked you in that way. It was like she was waiting for it! I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons (and I was a vegan in the past – cheese, too, was my “downfall”) but I do not keep vegetarian/vegan in my knitting as I use wool, mohair and alpaca often. I do however, follow research on companies that treat the animals, and their human employees with respect – a fellow blogger friend of mine is doing some in-depth research and a letter-writing campaign to many of the large companies… I completely understand and sympathize with your concerns, Ellie, and I will offer you any help I can on great non-animal yarns that I come across. Although I do eat dairy, I do follow other vegan things – like I will never wear leather. I think each person has to make decisions for themselves; I am not a “militant vegetarian” to my meat-eating family members (which is every single member) but I have surrounded myself with supportive friends who also keep vegetarian or vegan. It still amazes me that what one eats can be such a controversial topic: I still get ribbed for it by some family members, even after being a vegetarian for 12 years!
    I have used Cascade Fixation, and I quite like the yarn – it takes a little getting used to, though! There are also several cotton sock yarns I have seen – Schoeller Stahl sells some, as well as Schachenmayr. There are some on too (I think…)
    In other news, I have A Gentle Madness too – I have not read it yet, but I have read several other Basbanes’ books – I scored Eisentstein’s Printing Press as an Agent of Change for Christmas this year! It is nice to have my own copy to use instead of wrestling with the library and putting them on hold all of the time! 😉

  10. katie

    December 24, 2005 at 11:15 am

    I hope that one day my wallet catches up to my ideals. 🙂
    Man, I know that feeling… thanks for the answer though, it’s all so interesting to me. I’m not vegetarian but I try to buy my meat directly from small local farms so I don’t support the appalling meat slaughtering corporations.
    Anyway, if I come across any good yarns for you, I’ll send the info your way.

  11. ellie

    December 24, 2005 at 11:35 am

    Thanks Lolly! Would you mind letting me know where you get your info, (or which blogger is doing the research, assuming s/he’s posting about it) so I can follow along too? I’m lucky enough to have my brother as a fellow vegetarian and a very supportive mom and mainly supportive family, though it seems like some of those eyebrows just never stop. Those supportive friends really make a big difference. Also, congrats on the Eisenstein book! Enjoy.

  12. ellie

    December 24, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Thanks Katie!

  13. Rebecca

    December 28, 2005 at 7:25 am

    Sorry I’m a few days behind in my reading. I used to be a vegan and am now a happy little carnivore. But I would never lecture anyone on their personal decisions. Even if your decision not to use animal products was entirely “I’m going to jump on the bandwagon here,” I don’t understand why anyone would give a lecture. If anything, the LYS might make more money by charging more for their cotton, etc. I find her behavior offensive, really.

  14. insubordiknit

    December 28, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    send me your address!


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