Thursday, December 21, 2006

Let's have some controversy with our tea, hmmm?

Have spent the day knitting lace swatches. The excitement is overwhelming. (In fact, it's a nice vacation, with other people to keep The Baby from trashing the house or eating glass tree ornaments.) I may yet pull off getting everything done in time to meet the deadline on this article.


I'm already considering a topic for ANOTHER article. I need opinions. That means youse guys.

It turns out that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - they are an extremist group who throw blood on people wearing fur coats and other lovely 'protests' masquerading as assaults) is boycotting the Australian wool industry over cruelty to sheep. Having grown up in farm country myself, you can imagine my opinion of all this. (I dislike a great deal of animal testing and feel that true animal abusers should be jailed. But getting mad at people who shave animals THAT ARE KEPT ALIVE TO BE SHAVED is totally stupid. Let's go harass the people who kill race horses for insurance money, hmm?)

I have heard a great deal of 'vegan knitting' talk on the internet over the years. You know; don't knit with silk because it's mean to worms (??), don't knit with wool because it's mean to sheep, that kind of thing. For some reason they seem totally ignorant of where plant products come from in their quest to knit 'kindly'.

So what do they knit with? Synthetics made out of petroleum products that will not rot for the next ten thousand years, or cotton, which is one of the worst crops IN THE WORLD in terms of soil depletion and pesticide use. Screw the planet's environment; just save the small furry animals (where do they think the small furry animals will live once the environment crashes? Mars?) Of course, power is used when processing any fiber, which is derived from petroleum, one way or another, unless you're using hand-spun organic plant material.

I'm thinking of an article about what cotton does to soil, or where acrylic comes from. I know I'll infuriate every 'vegan knitter' out there. The question is, do I want flamed, and will Knitty even accept it? (I think yes, if I stick to facts and don't get rude about it.) Should I? Do I dare?

Please keep in mind, this is not about people who refuse to knit with wool because they're allergic, or don't like it, or can't afford it, or live in a warm climate... whatever. Those are valid reasons. (Personally, I plan to never touch mohair again, simply because I HATE IT.) I'm talking about the people arguing from ignorance, who want to go hug a sheep while knitting with a fiber (cotton) that causes major economic hardship, destroys soil, and consumes more pesticides per acre than any other commercially grown crop.

It's sure tempting.


debsnm said...

I'm with ya 100% - I don't know if Knitty will accept it though - perhaps ask Jillian? I dislike PETA for many and varied reasons - there's better ways to make a point is the least of them. As far as I've ever been able to see or hear, sheep in Australia are pretty well treated - they get to roam pretty freely, eat all they want, and when it starts getting really hot, they lose the sweater they've grown over the last year. What the heck's wrong with that? Oh, and I'm sure you'll get flamed!

Bells said...

Interesting Julie. It's in the news here because that woman, Pink, is making a big fuss about muelsing (sp?) which is I think what you're talking about.

You might want to do a bit of research on a similar celebrity campaign a couple of years ago. Aussie actress Toni Collette (she was in The Sixth Sense as the mother) got all very outspoken about it, did a huge campaign etc, and then, a few weeks later, after serious talks with the sheep inudstry people, retracted her angry statements and all her campaign stuff saying there were issues she didn't understand beforehand and it's not as black and white as she thought etc etc. It got lots of press all over the place. Might give you some useful insight??? Although it sounds like you know what you need to know.

OK, long way of saying, yes, go for it. I'm sure it's a less than ideal practice, this muelsing (god I have to look up how to spell it), but it ain't all bad and yes, cotton etc are not necessarily better options either. We're in a freaking drought here, the worst ever they're saying, and fruit and vegetables are going through the roof because it costs so much to produce them and yet we're still growing's insane.

OK, rant over. give it a shot. I'm sure you can write an insightful, fact and evidence based piece and if Knitty don't accept it, someone else might.

I'm not sure Knitty has ever printed something a bit political. Maybe it's about time they did???

Bells said...

oh deb, meant to say, the problem with the sheep here is they're hungry buggers and well, there's nothing to eat. Very dead country at the moment. Other than that, yeah I'm sure they're treated well.

Anonymous said...

Knitty might accept the article. A few issues ago they had an article about where silk comes from and it did mention how certain types of silk are harvested in one strand by unravelling it while the silkworm is still inside (killing it). Other types of silk are collected after the silk moth has left the cocoon, which vegans are ok with. An article examining the hidden impact of different fibers would be interesting.

Sheepish Annie said...

I'm all about the animals. I eat only the meat I need to survive and I try to be educated about where it comes from. I am an advocate for animal rights and I support my local "no kill" shelter. But I'm reasonable about the whole thing. Sheep have wool. We use it. They wander away after being sheared, shake it off and go eat some grass. Let's keep it in perspective, here!!! I mean, if we were teasing them afterwards about their baldness or calling them names, then I suppose something should be done. But I really do think that there are far bigger issues out there with regard to animal rights than the shearing of sheep. Write the article...someone will surely want to publish it!

Rae said...

As an educator, I never think education is a bad thing. Education is a good thing.

I think the article would be very interesting! I'd love to read it.

Delana said...

If they think Shearing is cruel they should watch a sheep suffer from fly strike which is basically being eaten alive by flies and maggots embedded in the wool (or the manure caked on the butt of a sheep with an undocked tail)Shearing and docking do an excellent job controlling this.
Besides Hair sheep shed All their wool in the spring so what's the difference?

April said...

OK, so I went to the Wool Is Best website and found out this about mulesing - "Mulesing is a vital part of sheep husbandry in Australia, particularly in reference to Merino sheep. It involves surgically removing the skin around the breech (backside) to prevent wool growth which reduces the risk of fly strike caused by a unique and very aggressive Australian blowfly (Lucilia cuprina)."

I think this is a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. You can do this procedure and cause the animal pain or you can allow it to grow it's coat and have it be caused pain by these horrible flies.

I love how PETA always seems to highlight one side of the story. Assclowns.

Anonymous said...

do it! i had to live with a bunch of vegans in a co-op once. they live in a fantasy world. they wont drink milk, but they will kill spiders or any other bug that is 'icky'. we had to buy vegan chocolate chips, but when i suggested we buy chocolate chips that were fair trade and not produced by slavery in africa, they thought i was crazy. they also made the house buy this shit called "better than cream cheese". and by better, it means made from hydrogenated soybean oil. HOW IS THAT BETTER.

Cam-ee said...

I'm the daughter of a grazier who runs approximately 5000 merinos on his property.

PETA is making a fuss over muelsing, a technique used exclusively on merinos, due to the unique structure of the rear quarters. While most sheep have a basically smooth lines around there, the skin of the merino is wrinkly. The urine and fecal matter gets lodged in those wrinkles, and the blowflies are attracted to the humidity in the folds.

Muelsing prevents this by removing the skin folds, so the wool does not grow and provide an ideal environment for flystrike.

Shearing doesn't always keep this under control as the sheep may not be sheared often enough, or may not be found early enough on a 4300 acre property over extremely rough country.

By the way, Delana, only one species of sheep sheds its wool, that being the English Leister.

Me, I'm more than happy to spin and knit with Australian merino wool.

Knitting Lizard said...

Sounds like you have a lot of supporters. Write the article.
I am an animal lover, worked at a vet hospital, volunteered at the wildlife center, but PETA is definately overboard. (Insert sarcastic comment) And if shearing sheep wasn't bad enough, can you believe some people are actually so cruel they would throw their dog
a wedding?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have nothing but utter contempt for PETA. I would like to be able to just drop them all up north of the Arctic Circle, wearing only their "cruelty-free" clothes, and make them stay there all winter, and see how they survive the cold.

By all means, write that article!

Netter said...

PETA started this campaign in 04 with a gross billboard in Midtown Manhattan asking people to not buy wool sweaters. My hubby saw it and was all up in arms. (I think he was really just trying to get me to stop buying yarn, he eats veal for goodness's sake.) Now, they're targeting knitters.

Netter said...

Now, cheap cashmere is an environmental disaster.,0,7007933.htmlstory (found via

Cindy said...

Interesting concept. I like the idea of an article addressing the consequences of our yarn choices, but to do it properly you would need to provide a balanced analysis. What about a two part article - 1) focusing on plant products (including new options out there like bamboo, soy, seaweed); 2) animal products? It would be a massive amount of research to address the environmental impacts of producing these materials and the ethical issues involved, but I would thoroughly enjoy reading the final product.

Seems you already have good resources for the plant impacts. Additionally, here is a (long) link to a document produced by a UN FAO study group that provides some interesting information about the impacts of livestock farming, including sheep:

Hope you go for it.

Amy Lane said...

Oh absolutely--I'm totally impressed with your background knowledge as it is--I would be VERY interested in reading an article in environmental impact. As a parent making the choice between cloth and plastic diapers during a drought, I came to the realization that PEOPLE AS A WHOLE ARE NOT ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY. We're not. Our existence (and the existence of every critter out there) is environmentally exploitive. The trick is to use our higher brain to avoid cruelty and to achieve balance. But that doesn't mean that critters aren't there to help us out--I'm an avid meat eater, and I, too, once had to eat my pet rabbit. It was the first protein I'd had in two months of top-ramen and it was delicious. If it's a choice between eating meat and suffering from malnutrition, I'm all for eating meat. If it's a choice between polluting the environment for the petroleum of acrylic yarn or giving a sheep a hair cut he's probably damned grateful for, I'll take the mutant sheep fur. We dock dogs ears so they don't get infected, (Goddess, if only we'd docked our dog's ears!) If I were a sheep, I'd think the muelsing thing sounds like a fine and dandy alternative to having flies eating my ass as I live. I would love to learn more about those alternatives.

Alwen said...

Okay, controversy. Having lost my pet rabbit to ignorance and fly strike at the age of 13, and having held my kid as a baby while he had shots, I do understand that sometimes you cause pain initially to avoid pain later.

But I have to be a spoiler and point out that a lot of the crunchy-granola, "Look, we're environmentally friendly!" fibers like bamboo and soy silk are made by dissolving the cellulose (bamboo) and protein (soy) in pretty heavy-duty acids and extruding them, just like any other synthetic fiber.

Hydrochloric acid, caustic soda -- neither of these things are environmentally friendly, no matter how many leafy tags they hang on the skein afterwards.

My own crunchy-granola credentials: organic gardener, composter, recycler, breastfed & cloth-diapered my kid, built a geodesic dome, yadda yadda. Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from on this.

And, I cried in the dark all through "Happy Feet" & often feel guilty about being a resource-hoggy human in the resource-hoggy US.

*sigh* Just got Peter Menzel's "Material World" from the library, too.

Brewgal said...

I'd read an article that presented the pros and cons of all fiber choices in a clear, unbiased way.

Helen said...

I'm sure a well researched balanced article covering all the pros and conds of fibre manufacture would enable knitters to make informed choices and be well received by Knitty.
I find it hard to believe that people use their popularity to try and get people to boycot certain products without presenting both sides of the agrument ie PINK.
Like quite a few of the previous comments I grew up on a merino sheep farm and used to help my father treat fly struck sheep and I can assure all these anti-muesling campaigners that there is nothing more cruel than seeing a sheep being eaten alive ie gapping holes in the the sheep's flesh with millions of magots festing away. If I were a sheep I know what I would prefer to happen to me. It's the old saying that you sometimes need to be cruel to be kind!
It's about time someone put everyone straight on environmental impacts of yarn production.
Look forward to seeing your article one day soon.
Good luck and Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

Go for it!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that these people don't seem to know what they are talking about. In my line of work I see this a lot unfortunately. I don't like animal testing for products that we don't need, and I am against animal cruelty. But I do accept controlled animal testing. My job is hard for me, and it always will be. currently I am evaluating the effect of strokes on behaviour recovery in mice. The work from my lab has helped people live better. But even as I write this I fear backlash for what I do. I'm not sure that people realize that life as it is now would not be what it is if it weren't for animal testing. That advil or tylenol you take was developed via animal testing. Your shampoo went through testing too, and needed to be tested so that you can be sure that it won't make your hair fall out for example.
I think that ethical and humane animal practices can be achieved and I would like your readers to know that scientists have a lot of regulations to follow. It isn't like we can do whatever we want. There are penalties.

David Austin Smith said...

PETA by day ALF by night. If PETA told me the sky was blue I'd have to go outside and look for myself...