There are a lot of ethical issues to consider when doing craft. For me and my knitting, my biggest concern is the animals used in fibre production. I also worry about the overuse of synthetics.
Animals are a hot topic for me. I’ve been a proud vegetarian since I was 15 (I’m now 21). The reasons I don’t eat meat are varied and complicated, but one main reason is that I don’t like animals to be in pain. I am, however, not a vegan, so in principle I’m cool with using animal fibre. The problem with animal fibre is when animals are treated badly in order to get it. These are just my opinions, mind you, and of course you’re welcome to disagree and share your own.
Firstly, silk. Silkworms produce a thread of silk which they wrap around themselves when they are pupae. When they’re ready to turn into moths, they break through the silk, meaning it is no longer a single thread. In silk production for textiles, what is generally wanted is the intact thread of silk. This is harvested by boiling silkworm cocoons. This kills the worm and leaves the silk thread in one piece. Obviously, vegetarians don’t like silk because it kills an animal. I was aware of the way silk was produced so thought I’d never be able to use it in knitting. But then, I found out about peace silk (see http://www.aurorasilk.com/yarns_and_threads/threads/peace_silk_thread/AhimsaPeaceSilkYarn.htm for more information). With this kind of silk, you let the worms turn into moths then harvest the broken silk threads and spin them. I’ve never seen silk like this but apparently it’s fluffier (but still lovely). Anyway, when I found out about peace silk I was so excited that I advertised on Freecycle and found an extremely nice lady who let me take cuttings from her mulberry tree (silkworms eat the leaves. They also can live off other stuff but mulberry leaves are the best). My plan was to raise the trees and in the meantime learn to spin wool. Then, when the trees had enough leaves, I’d try to raise some silkworms! I was so excited. But alas, of the six mulberry cuttings I took, zero struck. My dad says that one day we might buy a mulberry tree and then I can try again. It’s still a dream of mine. One day, when I have my self-sufficient garden and an angora rabbit for a housepet, I will raise silkworms and spin my own silk, and give silkworms to my children’s classrooms for them to raise and observe. One day.
Secondly, wool. Wool is normally fine, but in some countries (ahem, Australia, my home) the sheep aren’t treated all that nice. Firstly there is mulesing. Mulesing is common practice on Australian sheep farms. It is where a layer of skin is cut off (without anaesthetic) from around a lamb’s buttocks, leaving behind a smooth area of scar tissue where no wool grows. Now, before anyone bites my head off over this, mulesing is done for a very respectable reason, and that is, sheep in Australia can get fly strike. Fly strike is a horrible condition where fly larvae feed off the skin. Sheep also have their tails docked (without anaesthetic) in Australia for the same reason (also so that when they’re chasing foxes down dens, their masters don’t accidentally pull their tails off. Or maybe that’s Jack Russels). A sheep’s bum is apparently very wrinkly so prone to fly strike. Mulesing prevents fly strike in the mulesed area but it doesn’t wipe out the problem. Overall I don’t think mulesing is worth it, and there are alternatives. Indeed, non-mulesed sheep exist in Australia. You can raise non-wrinkly sheep or treat and prevent fly strike with chemicals (yes, I know, this would kill baby flies, but I’d rather that than cutting off an awake sheep’s bum skin, in the same way that I worm my pets to prevent them from getting sick). I, for this reason, don’t make a habit of buying wool and if I do, I look for non-Australian wool. I’ve tried to find knitting yarn which is certified to be from non-mulesed sheep, but have failed to do so. If anyone knows of a brand of wool from non-mulesed sheep, tell me about it! But here and here are some wholesalers. I should say that the Australian government is currently trying to discourage mulesing but this link I put up earlier can tell you more about that. But the poor sheep don’t just have mulesing to deal with. The ultra fine wool industry raises sheep which produce, unsurprisingly, ultra fine wool, which is all expensive and fancy and stuff. These sheep are kept indoors all day in tiny solitary pens, even wearing jackets to protect their wool. This is no way for a social animal like sheep to live and I liken it to battery hen egg production. So no ultra fine wool for me.
My other problem with fibre: synthetics. This isn’t as big a problem for me, but it’s worth a mention. In fact, I use lots of synthetics, especially acrylic, because I’m a poor student and that’s what I can afford. I don’t outright think synthetics should be discontinued, but what bothers me about synthetics in general is that they’re not biodegradable and I like composting things and knowing they won’t end up in landfill. I guess it’s an ideal of mine for everything to go back to the land one day, but being an ideal, I don’t expect to achieve it. Acrylic yarn is my biggest peeve because it’s made of petroleum, so it’s basically plastic. Again, my objection to acrylic yarn is philosophical in that I think we should depend less on petroleum, and acrylic yarn is a petroleum product, therefore we should depend less on acrylic yarn. Having said that, I’m not so radical that I’ll stop using it. Where I can, though, I like to use animal and plant fibre for my knitting. Either that or I go through my Grandma’s stash or look in op shops for yarn.
So those are my two cents on ethical fibre choices. Oh, also, I love organics and therefore organic yarn. And no I don’t have dread locks.
The Knitted Kitten