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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Why Knit Vegan?

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My Empire of the Sun cardigan, made of a hemp-cotton-modal blend.

 

While I was at Hawthornden last year I got into several conversations about veganism with my fellows, and on one occasion Colin asked, “Well, what are you knitting with?” At the time I was working on my vintage quickie 2.0, so I replied, “It’s a bamboo-cotton blend.” He seemed a bit disappointed that he hadn’t caught me knitting with wool!

 

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Valley Yarns Southwick, a bamboo-cotton blend. After Hempathy, my new favorite yarn.

 

Recently I overheard a friend talking about A Verb for Keeping Warm, a yarn company based in California. My friend explained that they started out by salvaging fleeces; the sheep had been sheared before their slaughter, but the wool was going to waste. I didn’t make this comment at the time—I’d have made myself that annoying vegan, you know—but it astounded me that no one gave a thought to the dead sheep! I’m all for salvaging materials, but there is something unnerving to me about destructive or dishonest acts to foster creative acts like spinning and knitting.

How is the wool industry destructive or dishonest, you ask? Well, you are taking the hair off a sheep’s back, which is a sort of thievery, if we are to be frank. Then we ship the animal off to the mutton factory when it stops producing sufficient wool. I know you want to believe that we are doing the sheep a favor by shearing her and that the animal lives out her days on a sunny green pasture, but that’s just not reality. For more information about how sheep are actually treated, please read this PETA article. I also highly recommend listening to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast episode from 2010, “The Shearing of Sheep.”

Here’s the trouble with wool: it may be “nature’s perfect fiber,” but it does not belong to us. Even if you assured me that the sheep you spin from live in your own backyard and that you will never sell them for meat, I will say “thanks but no thanks.”

 

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You may have noticed that I kept knitting with wool for awhile after I transitioned to a vegan diet, and I can only say that my knitting was a fairly large blind spot for me. There are many absolutely breathtaking wool and silk yarns out there, and it is all too tempting to push aside any uneasy thoughts of where it came from or how it was produced.

And yes, it’s true there aren’t a ton of great vegan yarns out there…YET. But there are enough to get started with, for sure, and I hope to offer vegan knitting resources on this blog on a regular basis in the coming months and years. I’m particularly excited about Vegan Yarn out of British Columbia. (But I can’t buy any more until I’ve knit some socks out of this lovely stuff!):

 

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Bamboo-nylon sock yarn from Vegan Yarn.

 

Another thought I’ve had is that if Vaute Couture can make gorgeous coats out of fabrics that can totally pass for wool, surely someone can do the same for knitting and weaving yarn!

 

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Classic Elite Firefly, a viscose-linen blend.

 

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Hempathy! My one true love! It is easy on the fingers yet indestructible, and it comes in gorgeous colors. It’s pretty hard to come by though—crossing my fingers it won’t be discontinued!

 

And finally, I would like to offer you some proof that plant-based yarns can result in projects that are every bit as attractive as their wooly counterparts. Last month my new yellow cardigan made it to the front page of Ravelry!:

 

ravelry front page

 

(Thanks to Kath for sending me that screenshot!)

 

9 Comments to Why Knit Vegan?

  1. Kathleen's Gravatar Kathleen
    April 30, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Hi Camille – I just wanted to chip in my 2 cents on hypocrisy and PETA. While I respect your choices in living your values re: veganism and knitting, I want to share this article from the NYT about PETA euthanizing thousands of animals given up to their shelters. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/peta-finds-itself-on-receiving-end-of-others-anger.html

    I recognize that PETA is a bit of a hot button organization for me, but many people choose to give up pets to PETA because they believe that every effort will be made to preserve their lives. It strikes me as hypocritical that an organization that will go to great lengths to condemn what they deem unethical treatment of animals used as a source for food, clothing, or entertainment are unwilling to expend the same energy to preserve the lives of dogs and cats surrendered to their care, an admittedly less headline-grabbing activity.

    /rant

  2. April 30, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    The colors are so pretty. I’ve been knitting again, and your thoughts on vegan yarns are not lost on me. I have actually been more cognizant of where my project yarns come from now because of your insight.

  3. April 30, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post! Very honest and thoughtful! Thank you for mentioning my shop. 😉 Happy knitting!

  4. Jen's Gravatar Jen
    May 1, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Actually, many weavers work with cotton, some to the point of exclusivity. Working in cotton exclusively has been normal and accepted for the 13+ years I’ve been weaving, and everything I weave for my employer up in Boston is straight-up 100% cotton. Weaving is actually quite different from knitting in that regard; there’s loads of suitable vegan fibers for weavers on the market and many finished fabrics perform better in cotton than wool (particularly household linens, which is a common use for woven fabrics). SO! Weaving = very vegan friendly. 😉

  5. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    May 2, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    In response to Jen (and the fact that one of your yarns was a cotton blend), cotton is horrible for the environment–it wastes huge amounts of water and requires a ton of pesticides. This pesticide use obviously has impacts on animals as well. I understand your issues with wool, but I urge you to find alternatives to cotton (easier said than done).

  6. May 27, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    While reading this, I was brought back to when I was a little girl and hated to eat meat. I refused to open my mouth & mother was infuriated. Why did I not want to eat meat, because I could not fathom the idea of eating an animal be it a cow, turkey or other. My mother had other ideas and I HAD to eat meat and eventually got over the image of the animal in my mind with each bite swallowed. Perhaps I was onto something so very long ago without realizing it. I do eat meat still yet most of it is organic and we eat smaller portions, with the hopes of tapering down this as my choice for protein (see Camille’s post on protein from veggies!!).

    I am just getting back to knitting and now my delima is that I am slightly allergic to wool. If I am around it too long ie wool sweater,, I start sneezing to beat the band. A couple of years ago, I found a pattern on Purl SoHo for a cotton knit Cowl –
    http://www.purlbee.com/the-purl-bee/2011/4/10/whits-knits-striped-cotton-cowl.html – and had a hard time finding the cotton yarn. The cowl is about half done! At present, I am knitting a hat in wool! Thanks Camille for all the valuable information above re non-wool yarn. It is nice to have options in all things.

    I do adore all the fine folks from Squam that I have met for they teach me a so very much whether in a class, in a blog or in person and I am the better for it!!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.