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.
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.