It’s that time of year again – time to get cozy in hand-knitted scarves, mitts and socks, and what better material to use than wool? There are many advantages of wearing wool: it’s stain resistant, durable, soft, elastic, and of course very warm. (It’s flame resistant too!) But contrary to popular belief, it’s not always natural or humane.
Such is the case with merino wool from Australia. A common practice, known as mulesing, involves cutting off some of the hide of the animal to prevent a disease caused by parasites. Also, PETA argues that since most shearers are paid by volume, not by the hour, they are rushed into shearing as much fleece as they can in as little time as possible. This can lead to serious injury to the sheep, including gashes, cuts, and even nosebleeds1. We should therefore avoid using wool altogether, it would seem.
I disagree. Yes, we certainly could switch to cotton or bamboo; after all, plenty of yarns advertise as being 100% natural. But buyers beware: according to an environmentalist2, unless a company specifies what those natural standards are, we should avoid those yarns as well. Some companies advertise as being natural because the source is a natural one, such as wool or cotton. However, chemical processes are sometimes used for shearing wool, or in the case of cotton, pesticides for protecting the crop. These chemicals are not only harsh on the skin, but on the environment as well.
Another option is acrylic or polyester yarn. But these are petroleum based, and we know that whatever way you look at it, petroleum is harmful.
My personal opinion is that we should continue using wool, but we must ask the right questions when purchasing that skein for our next project and subsequently avoid bad practice yarn (such as Australian merino wool). Usually, local farmers’ markets sell hand-sheared and hand-died wools3, which often use better animal practices than “manufacturing” farms. Here is a list of eco-friendly wools recommended by activists:
O-Wool by the Vermont Organic Fiber Company
Da`vida Fair Trade Store yarns
Llamajamas 1855 Handspun Wool Yarn
There are also some stores here in Toronto offering eco-friendly yarn. Here’s a short list:
Lettuce Knit (Kensington Market)
Passion Knit (Near Lawrence and Yonge)
Romni Wools (Near Bathurst and Queen)
1. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “The Wool Industry.” PETA.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/wool-industry.aspx>.
2. Siel. “Eco-friendly Wool Yarn for Green Knitters.” BlogHer. N.p., 18 Jan. 2010. Web.
30 Oct. 2012. <http://www.blogher.com/eco-friendly-wool-yarn-green-knitters>.
3. Hack, Tobin. “What’s the Most Eco-Friendly Form of Wool?” Mnn.com.
Mother Nature Network, 3 May 2009. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/natural-beauty-fashion/stories/whats-the-most-eco-friendly-form-of-wool>.