Posted on May 4, 2005 at 2:01 pm

Tuesday night at Knit Club, there was a conversation about vegan knitting, and the potential cruelty factor involved in using commercial yarn.  I have been thinking about this ever since, and my feelings on the subject are hardly fully formed, but my immediate reaction to it was one of absurdity. I know lots of happy sheep, but then again, I have no idea where my beloved Magpie came from.

I go to shearings and am amazed that some people there are learning for
the first time that sheep are sheared like we humans get a haircut, and
that the sheep don’t have to be killed.  How is it that our lives are
so removed from the land that this misconception exists? 

I know lots of shepherds and their sheep, many of them more like companion animals than just a head in a herd in their relationship to their companion family.  It was the intimacy of spinners I met through NETA  with the animal’s fiber in their garments that attracted me initially to spinning.  I loved that spinners identified their sweaters as having come from Nelly, or Baabaraaa, that the black stripes in a cardigan came from Albert’s first shearing, or that the angora in the blend for this shawl was from a precious and now departed member of the family.

But frankly, I am only getting going as a spinner, so most of the yarn I knit with still comes from sheep I neither know, nor could identify as a breed.  There’s merino in many of my favorite commercial yarns, but I don’t know even what breed produced the fiber in the Yorkshire Tweed I’m making the Tweedy Aran Cardigan I’m knitting along with Juno.  I never stopped to think about it.  I’m not going to abandon commercial yarn, but I think it’s worth some of my time, trying as I do to make informed choices, to look into the history of the yarn I buy.

PETA launched a campaign against Australian wool last year because of the unpleasant conditions some Merino Sheep from that country apparently suffer.  There’s a page on their site here that describes their stand as regards us knitters, and a PDF guide to ethical yarn brands here.

Although she hasn’t posted in a few weeks, Moira in New Zealand has an interesting blog devoted to the pursuit of non-animal fiber knitting.  She is a vegan who chooses to leave even cruelty free animal products to those of us who might have otherwise chosen something with an unpleasant journey. She has an eloquent description of her philosophy here.

There are lots of alternatives to animal-based fiber. Some of them are even affordable.   I’d be interested in any thing you might want to add to this brief sampling.

There’s always cotton.  One of my favorites is Rowan All Season’s Cotton. For organic cotton in many natural colours, try to find Sally Fox’s FoxFiber Yarns.   

Southwest Trading deals in soy silk.

Habu Textiles has a wide range of alternative fibers, including corn, banana, and various takes on hemp, linen, and linen paper.

Tussah silk is specificaly cruelty free, harvested only after the moth has left the cocoon, which is why it’s so expensive.  There’s a description of the process here.

And then there are the acrylics.  I am interested at the moment in finding a convincing wool-like 100% non-wool to knit a garment I’m calling a Goddess Wrap for a dear friend who has a wool allergy.  If you know of one, please tell me.