Knitting: the colder months

3 balls of non-animal yarn and a half knitted scarf

From left: Patons Rainbow (8 ply acrylic), Patons Zhivago (acrylic and tencel) and Katia Degrade “Sun” (100% cotton), which I’m using to knit a neck warmer (short scarf thingy).

Winter has suddenly hit Melbourne, with maximum temperatures in the mid-teens each day, and as this is my first winter as a vegan knitter, I’m facing a few challenges.

There are not many pastimes, in Melbourne, that are quite as cold as standing at a tram stop in a chilly, early-morning breeze. So, when I reached for one of my favourite handknitted neckwarmers last week, and remembered it was made of WOOL, I had a little moment of panic. Would I wear it and feel sad whenever I looked at it, or go without it and freeze. I chose to wear it, and work out a replacement as soon as possible.

Vegan knitting in warmer weather is easy—there are so many lovely cotton and bamboo yarns around, but unfortunately, in the winter months there aren’t too many really lovely alternatives to wool.

What’s wrong with wool?

A lot of people have told me they don’t see anything wrong with wearing wool. After all sheep need to be shorn or their wool becomes  uncomfortably thick and heavy, but there’s a lot more to it than that, as I’ve discovered.

Of course, the original, wild sheep didn’t have shearers to relieve them of their load. They naturally shed their wool when it was necessary. And, of course, they lived in much colder climates than Australia, so they needed it to keep warm all year round.

As time has gone on, sheep have been bred to increase their wool production, while keeping them small enough for easy handling. Think back to high school biology, where we learnt that a high surface-to-volume ratio allowed a small structure (like the walls of the intestines) to have as large a surface as possible (in the case of the intestines, this helps with absorption of nutrients). Well, sheep have been bred to have a large surface area for producing a maximum amount of wool—resulting in breeds like the merino having folds of skin bearing thick, high quality wool.

Herbie the Sheep

The poor old sheep are left to carry around this hot and heavy weight until the shearers relieve them of it—but of course, then they have no insulation from the heat and cold! Just have a look at poor old Herbie the sheep who was taken in by Edgar’s Mission last week. He had been freshly shorn (in this weather!) and was found on a roadside with hypothermia.

Unfortunately, shearing isn’t the only way that sheep suffer during wool production in Australia. There’s also mulesing—the practice of cutting a large patch of flesh from the sheep’s behind, to prevent flystrike. Animals Australia explain it better than I can.

And, of course, like all farmed animals, when they outlive their productivity, they are sent to slaughter—perhaps in Australia, or maybe even loaded onto a ship for live export (but that’s a whole other blog post!).

Warm alternatives to wool

So, to cut a long story short(ish) I’ve decided to find an alternative to wool. I love knitting, and with my study over now, I have been looking forward to knitting some non-animal winter “woolies”. The trouble is, it’s really hard to know what yarn to use in the winter.

It’s been pointed out to me by several people, that no yarn is quite as good as wool, as far as warmth, springiness and texture go. Well, as far as I can tell that’s right, but that’s not the point, of course. I don’t want to support an industry that uses an animal as a commodity, so I’m on a quest to find a good alternative to wool.

At the moment, I’m knitting a neck warmer out of a thick cotton yarn (see the picture above). I’ve also bought some acrylic to experiment with.

Getting advice

I’ve been asking advice from people who are wiser than me about this kind of thing. There are two interesting vegan groups on Ravelry that I hadn’t noticed before: Veg*n Craft*n and Vegan Knitters and Crocheters. Their discussion boards have some promising suggestions. I rather like this Tatamy Tweed (cotton and acrylic blend).

I’ve been a little bit hesitant about going to a yarn shop to ask them, because it’s a fairly confronting thing to do to a store owner who runs a business pretty much selling wool, and sometimes I’m just not in the mood for a debate. I did, however, contact one yarn shop that I thought might have reason to be knowledgeable about vegan yarns. Yarn & Co in Smith Street, Collingwood  is a gorgeous shop, just opposite Las Vegan Bakery  and down the road from Vegan Wares  shoe shop. I figured that with lots of vegans in the area, they might have come across this problem before. I contacted them by email and they were very helpful. I’m going in to check out what they have—and at least I know I won’t have to face a debate when I get there.

I’ll let you know what I find…but right now, I’d better get back to the knitting needles. I’d love to finish that neckwarmer tonight—I hear tomorrow’s forecast is 16˚C with showers!

Check out this little video I just found on vegan knitting by Jasmin Singer from Our Hen House, if you’d like some inspiration.

4 thoughts on “Knitting: the colder months

  1. Oh it’s getting chilly here too.
    Doesn’t Herbie just break your heart? I’ve been reading the updates on FB. He was not going too well this morning/overnight. I just hope he makes it. As Pam says, there are so many wonderful experiences ahead for him if he can just hang on.
    I’m not a knitter so I’m afraid I do not have anything constructive to add. But, good luck at the Collingwood store.
    Speaking of Vegan Wares, I bought a pair of boots from them (online) in June 2000, and they are still going strong! I love them. We have a fairly short cold season here, so they only get worn for 3 or 4 months, then stored away for the next Winter.
    Speaking of live export, I recently wrote a post about the trade, specifically about Jacob (did you read about him via Animals Australia?).

  2. Poor old Herbie didn’t make it. I can only say that at least he didn’t die in an abattoir or alone and freezing in a paddock. What a cruel and unnecessary death though!

    Glad to hear your Vegan Wares boots are holding up – because I got a pair for my birthday…that’s my next blog post, actually, because they just arrived. I’m a bit excited!

    Yeah, that Live Export story about Jacob was awful. We’re having a LE rally in Melbourne this weekend. Hopefully we’ll get a good turn out. I went to a small rally in May at one of the Prime Minister’s community cabinet meetings, and for 3pm on a cold weeknight, we got a reasonable turnout…didn’t see the Prime Minister though – she went in through a different entrance.

    • Ah, I saw that protest in the media. Good on you!
      I am really sad to hear about Herbie’s death. I didn’t know. I agree with you- it is somewhat of a comfort to know that he didn’t die alone or be slaughtered.
      I’ve just read about your boots. I love them! Sorry, you’ll have to read me repeating myself on that post.

  3. Pingback: No more shivering this winter! | The Lentil Institution

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