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Topic: Knitting As If the Web of Life Mattered  (Read 1117 times)
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« on: April 08, 2006 02:19:49 PM »


I am new here.  I've been a knitter for two years and love it.  I have also been an activist working for social, economic and earth causes for years.  I am in love with everyone and everything but so distraught that we are destroying each other and this miraculous web of life that births us and sustains us.

So far i have allowed myself to knit with just about everything from Noro wool to bamboo to organic cottons.  At first i just didn't want to think about the social and environmental issues involved in the craft of knitting but i just can't do that anymore.  I want to knit as if the web of life mattered.  I want to knit with integrity. 

I want your help.  I want to challenge myself and all knitting lovers to think about the following issues.  When we knit, do we know where the yarn is coming from, do we know what is done to the earth to create it, do we know what is done to the animals to make it?

Do we know what kind of energy is used in its creation and transportation to us, is it fair trade (did the people who make this get decent payment), is it locally made (local yarns involve less transportation and energy usage and therefore less damage to the earth), if this is a plant fiber, is it organic, is it cheap because its synthetic - and how does everyone get to craft or is it only going to be the middle class and rich?  How can everyone craft sustainably - knitting in particular? 

There are a lot of issues people don't think about when they knit.  You knit up that Noro wool scarf as a gift and enjoy the process but you've just cost the web of life another few lost species, added to global warming and made a few more people's lives miserable far away and at home to support your consumption habit - cause that's what most knitting is.  It may be healing and therapeutic but its at a great cost.  How can we ignore the real cost of our "habit"?  I don't want to anymore.

i am thinking of going to thrift stores where they are throwing out huge amounts of clothing because they are so glutted here in the U.S. and start shredding the clothing into knitting strips and knitting with that - t-shirts, clothing, whatever i find.  People made rugs like that. 

I want to knit.  I love giving my hand-made gifts.  Knitting sometimes helps me relax - and i want to maintain that.  I have fallen in love with knitting and yarn and color.  But it's extraneous and i know that.  People don't need what i make.  Its my way of loving them and myself.  But i want that way of loving to have integrity to the whole.

i am thinking of limiting myself for a while just to organic cottons or other organic plant fibers - all animal fibers are probably involved in some form of cruelty, even on small farms.  And raising domesticated animals destroys ways more than it gives.

There are only two websites that i know that discusses this stuff - FakeSheep and Artspun.  Great sites but they don't go far enough, although they are a great great start.  I will start there and find my way.

i would love to connect with others here who resonate with all this and want to join my exploration and journey in knitting sustainably.

thanks - i know this is long
wildreturn (christina)

ps one thing we could also do is just consume less ....period.  its not going to help to just find organic yarns.  Just like its not going to help to just find a new form of energy to replace oil - like solar.  We can't continue to consume the planet - oil enabled us to do this fast.  It is what is behind industrialization.  But we can't keep pumping out stuff for 6.4 billion people.  So when we knit, i think we need to think about this stuff.  i want to think about it with other smart people. 

i want to knit in a way that doesn't increase but decreases consumption, respects the web of life and sustains it, and is good for all.  I want to live that way in general but right now i am just trying to figure out how to do that with my knitting.  Maybe if industry hadn't taken over the handmade work we used to do, maybe if we weren't convinced we needed so much and had a right to just go out and buy up the destroyed web of life on the shelves in the knitting stores, maybe if we just slowed down and took time to realize that we can heal this planet and these problems without furthering its demise...oh, you get it...i am sorry....
« Last Edit: April 08, 2006 02:33:18 PM by Wildreturn » THIS ROCKS   Logged
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2006 04:09:47 PM »

Hmm...those are some pretty hefty questions, and anything I can say to you is merely my own opinion, but I hope it will help you out.

Overconsumption, globalization, and our society's dependence on oil are all huge issues and are relevant to far more than the yarn we buy (as I'm sure you are aware).  I try to be as socially and environmentally conscious as possible, in regards to the food I eat, the clothing I buy, the forms of transportation I use, etc.  However, I am also a college student on a limited budget, and it is often hard to balance the two (as the most environmentally/socially responsible choices are frequently also more expensive).  I've come to the conclusion that I can't save the world single-handedly, and it doesn't make sense to create impractical standards for myself to live up to.  I do the best I can with the resources I have, and I think that's all anyone can expect of his or herself. 

Back to the yarn question, specifically-  I believe strongly in supporting local farms, and buy yarn or wool locally when I can (I'm starting to get into spinning as well as knitting).  However, if I only used local fiber in my knitting, my options would be limited (not a whole lot of cotton being grown around here...).  I think it's actually a lot easier to find affordable, local, and fairly sustainable fiber than it is to find other products that live up to the same criteria (especially if you spin- I've gotten large quantities of raw wool for free from local farmers- free yarn is less likely though).  You can also always unravel sweaters from thrift stores and recycle the yarn.  So I by no means thing that knitting is a craft that is only accessable to people with money.

Another advantage of buying local wool is that you can see firsthand the conditions the sheep (or alpacas, or whatever) are kept under, and find out about the human labor that goes into making the yarn, so you can be sure you're not supporting sweatshop labor or anything.  I disagree that "all animal fibers are probably involved in some sort of cruelty"- all the small farmers I have gotten fiber from treat there animals exceptionally well (I realize that there are animal rights activists that believe that domestication/human exploitaion of animals is inherently cruel or wrong, but that's a can of worms I don't want to open.  I personally do not share this belief).  I also don't agree that raising domesticated animals neccessarily destroys more than it gives (I assume you meant in an environmental sense, but feel free to correct me if I'm misinterpreting).  As a student of ecology (and with a strong interest in agriculture) I am very aware of the environmental issues related to livestock farming, but I believe strongly that there are methods of raising animals that are sustainable, and in some cases even ecologically beneficial. 

I also firmly hold that not all fibers are created equal.  There are no plant fibers that have the insulative and water-resisting properties of wool (which stays warm when wet).  There are synthetics that come close (although I still don't think they are equivalent), but you've already pointed out the problame with synthetics.  I work outside, and cotton+cold, wet weather=death.  So I think cutting out animal fibers is impractical, at least in my field of work.

Alright, I think I'm winding down.  I do not think knitting is in any way "extraneous."  It keeps you from having to buy mass-produced hats, scarves, or whatever from WalMart (and keeps the people you knit for from doing that as well, even if they don't realize it).  Also, taking the process of creating clothing into your own hands is a subversive, awareness raising act.  It brings home the realization of how much work goes into, for example, making a sweater, and how often people are underpaid for that labor (depressing thought, but on the other hand, by knitting your own sweater instead of buying one you are refusing to support the system of opression that keeps people from learning a living wage).  And it makes you more self sufficient.  And it's incredibly rewarding to make things that you can use. 

Well, that may have been even longer than your original post- hope it was helpful to you.
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« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2006 09:49:19 PM »

FYI, guys, this topic has come up on craftster many times before, and every time the argument degenerates into insults and personal attacks. It's close to being too off topic for craftster, because it's not about how to make crafts specifically, but I'll allow it to stay up for now. Just be aware that moderators will be watching and will lock and/or delete it if it gets too far off topic or too incindiary. Craftster is not the proper forum for arguments about sustanability or animal rights, it's a place to discuss crafts and how to make them.

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« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2006 08:29:50 AM »

I live in a hippie college town that provides numerous earth/animal-friendly ideas to draw from.  Not all related to knitting (obviously Smiley ) but many can be used with knitting in mind.
Thrift stores have yarn, needles, patterns, & sweaters to unravel. Many new knitting books recycle old ideas, so why not just buy older, used books? Wild Knitting by Angela Jeffs has patterns for knit vegetables, underwear, house things, etc. which are similar to things I've seen in recent books.  Even books from the 1940s & 50s contain bikini patterns & cute outfits.  Pattern magazines from the 1960s & 70s are full of interesting pictures & projects.
Many libraries have a nice selection of knitting books.  Why buy when you can rent for free? It's also a great way to test out books before you buy them. New books & magazines can be purchased from local yarn shops, instead of Barnes & Noble. 
The knitalongs section here has a "Use what you have" thread.  Keeps consumption down & encourages creativity! It's a cool idea.
Knitted gifts do keep others from purchasing mass-produced items.  Handmade items generally last longer, as well.  People tend to take better care of personalized gifts (at least in my experience).  Therefore, less trash.
I'm planning to knit cute lunchbags for family members who currently use paper bags & don't recycle. I'm also considering making water bottle holders & purchasing nice plastic bottles to avoid wasted cheaper bottles that are only used once or twice before being tossed. I'm spoiled by my city's free recycling program, and sometimes forget that not everyone has that option.
Old t-shirts & plastic shopping bags make excellent yarn. 
Now that it's warming up, knitting can be done outside or by an open window.  More natural light=less electricity.
Online yarn sources such as handpaintedyarn.com sell products created by cooperatives.  Peace Fleece is another good source of yarn.  The Hunger Site (the "click a day" button site) sometimes sells yarn in its online shop. 
It sometimes takes thought & planning, but it's possible to (cheaply) knit with minimal harm to the environment.
Good luck! Smiley

(edited, because I somehow managed to underline everything)
« Last Edit: April 09, 2006 08:33:40 AM by tinygoatstacker » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2006 08:59:27 AM »

I am sorry to hear that this topic came up before and devolved into arguments and insults and personal attacks.  I have nothing like that in mind.

i think crafttster is perfect for this discussion. I think of this as a place to support crafting and all the issues of making it. I am sure many craftsters think about these topics and would like a place to think through the issues, express their feelings and frustrations about loving crafting and how hard it can feel to be creative about doing it without destroying the web of life. 

i love the ideas generated so far.  I just went to the thrift store and got a bunch of old t-shirts.  I am going to try the idea from the book Alterknits and cut them up in a way that prodcuces a ball of yarn and then i am going to knit the rug they talk about in there.  I have ideas for bags too.  I love the idea of a lunch bag for family.  I love crafting especially for gift-giving. 

I agree with "chamaecypar" - its too hard to be a purist.  I don't think that's specifically what was said - more like we can't save the world single-handedly and we can just do the best we can.  I agree!  I figured this topic had come up for others and i wanted their ideas on how to knit sustainably - that's all -  for those interested.  I am not trying to judge others who aren't interested because it can be overwhelming to try to tackle this regarding knitting.  But i know some have and i thought we could generate ideas for those interested. 

I have been using local yarn.  As a matter of fact, i am going ouit to visit a local producer of yarn - the Yarn Farm -  and her sheep and see where she grows her flax that she spins and weaves into linen. I think bringing local producers and consumers together is a great idea.  There's not a whole lot of cotton grown for yarn around here either. I've been using Blue Sky's organic cotton.  I am hoping to try out this local linen though and see how that goes. 

and you can also take those thrift store wool sweaters and felt them and turn them into big throws or blankets or purses.

"Chamaecypar" - i would love to know more about your experiences in visiting local wool producers and the animals on their farms.  When you say they treat them exceptionally well, what does that look like?  One concern i have about my local yarn producers is that because of economics, they use unsustainable practices for feeding them - like the hay is grown with nasty toxic fertilizers.  But i will ask more questions when i get to the farm.  I know she has five merino sheep.  I hope she hasn't had to use that "mulesing" practice on them of cutting off folds of their skin, but i can ask her.  I don't see what's wrong with small scale domestication.  I think the real problem might be in large scale domestication, as you have pointed out.  But how do we as craftsters encourage more of the small scale?  How do we encourage a reduction in our population?  If you are a student of horticulture (that's small scale farming - agriculture is large scale) and ecology, i would love to hear what methods of raising animals are sustainable and in some cases ecologically beneficial - so that i can encourage other craftsters who are interested what to be on the lookout for and what to support and encourage.  I would like to do a zine about it to distribute - a non-purist zine.  I want to thank you for helping me also see the positive and subversive sides of knitting.  I need that right now cause i love this craft and sometimes have trouble seeing those things past my other worries about what it might be doing to the web of life. 

and thanks to you too, "tinygoatstack" for your ideas.  I am try to use the library too - but a lot of the books get stolen and not replaced for some reason on knitting.  I found used books on Amazon though!  Sounds like you have great thrift stores - so far i haven't found yarn, needles and patterns there. But there's definitely sweaters! i really appreciate the ideas for knitting functional needed things too.   I think i have knitted my mom 3 scarves so far....how many scarves does she need?  but i love knitting for her.  I knitted my mother-in-law the "alien" illusion scarf pattern from Stitch and Bitch and she loved it so so so much.  She's so into aliens she made us drive from the East Coast all the way to Roswell New Mexico where they have this very patched together International UFO Museum.  But i loved really touching her with such a personally meaningful gift that i made and worked hours on.  I don't like knitting with plastic yet.  It comes out - well, plastic. 

the problem with buying sustainable yarns, like from Peace Fleece, is its expensive for the average person. I am trying to find ways we can all do it sustainably.  And even knitters who can afford it pride themselves on finding cheap bargains - and find it hard to spend more money to try to prevent harming the earth.  but i don't want to even persuade people really. I just want to put the info out there and when people are ready they will have it.  I want to offer people ideas and resources and a place to think about what it means to craft ethically, with integrity, and without destroying the web of life - whatever that means to them personally - i don't want to push my ideas on others - just put them out there for discussion.

by the way, i would love to know if there were any good ideas generated in those old thread before they devolved into insults and arguing.

thanks again
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« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2006 09:46:57 AM »

I just chanced upon this topic, and thought it was interseting. So here's my two cents:

I'm a new knitter, especially stash wise (I only have 4 balls of yarn, and I got 1 as a present). And I also can't afford yarns like Noro, or Kidsilk Haze, etc. Personally, I just wouldn't spend that much money on yarn. I buy all of my clothes on extreme sale, and when I make my own, I also attempt to make them as cheaply as possbile. So for me, it just doesn't make sense to spend my time knitting, say, a scarf for $20, if I would have never baught it at that price.

A good source of yarn, as mentioned, is thrift stores. I have never been lucky enough to just find bags of yarn, although I heard of people that did. Instead, I unravel sweaters. It lets me get higher-end yarn for cheaper. Obviously, I suppose that some of these sweaters may have been created in sweatshops and using earth-harming materials, etc, but in my opinion, reusing something deflates the cost. Like if you buy something and use it a lot, it becomes cheaper/per use. Does that make sense? I'm afraid I'm bad at explaining.

Then I wonder, if we all stop buying acrylic yarn, and mass -produced yarn, the first people to experience the difference will be the workers, who will by fired beacuse they aren't needed. (I know I'm over symplifying economics, but bear with me). It will take a long time for companies to begin to treat their workers decently, and meanwhile, people that live under the poverty line won't be able to make it - they just don't have a time buffer.

I don't want to sound like a pessemist, and I'm not recommending doing nothing. But sometimes I am afraid that the world has just sunk into a swamp, and there's nothing we can do to get out.  Huh
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« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2006 10:46:30 AM »

by the way, i would love to know if there were any good ideas generated in those old thread before they devolved into insults and arguing.

If you type "knitting ethics" or "wool ethics" into the search box above, I believe some of them are still up. They were more specifically about the ethics of using wool and about Peta campaigns around wool, but went in other directions as well.

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« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2006 08:14:02 PM »

I think mulesing may only be used in Australia- I may be wrong, but I think the parasite that makes it necessary is not a problem everywhere.

About my experience with farmers- one of my relatives raises sheep (for meat), so I can always get wool from him.  Since he farms organically, his sheep are free-range, and I don't have to worry about what he feeds them.

I also have met some local people who have alpacas- since they keep them more as pets than for fiber, they are treated very well.  I also was given a large amount of wool by a co-worker of my aunt who keeps sheep (as pets, and probably also to get the agricultural property tax write-off).  Anyway, I've seen all these animals, and I know they all look pretty comfortable, and are well cared for.

I'm going to PM you to answer your other questions, so as not to derail the thread too much from craft-realted discussion.
« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2006 04:11:16 AM »

It was mentioned earlier that some of the sustainable yarns are pretty expensive, and out of reach for some knitters. As a knitter who has a good job that pays well, I kinda see it as my duty to buy those more expensive sustainable yarns - if those of us who *can* afford to buy them can create a demand, then hopefully manufacturers can see that there's a market for this stuff, and expand the range! Eventually the good practices of the few small companies will become more common.

I'm also considering buying a Prius for the same reason - it's more than I'd normally spend on a car, because I don't give a damn about a car except that it gets me around when I'm not using public transport. But my partner and I can afford it, and we'd like to show manufacturers that there's a demand for products with features that are good for the environment. Toyota is already in the process of bringing out a smaller, cheaper hybrid - it won't be a luxury vehicle like the Prius is, it's more for the average Jane. But they needed to test the market a bit with a high-end version before committing to making a lot of others.

So if the knitters with money splurge on the sustainable, tree-hugging yarns, and the knitters without money go the thrift-store, recycling route, then between us all we can show that knitters want yarns that don't damage the earth!
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