By Larraine Roulston:
In the textile industry, wool is a natural alternative to harmful chemicals used on other fibers. Wool from sheep and goats is used as a base material in clothes and is an integral part of many household products. Wool breathes and draws moisture into the core of its fibers. Before the invention of plastic pants, knitted wool soakers were placed over cotton diapers to help keep babies dry.
Wool is entirely natural as long as no chemicals are added in its coloring or preservation. Due to growing concerns regarding toxins used to construct traditional mattresses and bedding, many items – including organic crib mattresses, mattress toppers, sheets, mattress pads, pillows and even pet beds — are now being created with wool. It has a natural fire retardant property, and its natural lanolin repels dust mites and bed bugs, which is especially beneficial for children suffering from eczema and asthma.
Sadly, though, while wool is becoming one of the trendiest eco-friendly textiles on the market, I’ve discovered that, in some locations, shearing animals is extremely harsh. A PETA investigation of more than 30 shearing sheds in the U.S. and Australia reported animal abuse. PETA states, “Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without any regard to the welfare of sheep. This hasty and careless shearing leads to frequent injuries.”
Recently in New Zealand, a sustainable fabric called WoJo® has been created by blending wool with jute that has been recycled from Starbucks’ coffee sacks. Starbucks plans to use this material to upholster seats in their coffee houses around the world. Starbucks’ CEO Burnadette Casey informed me that their wool is ethically sourced in New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand farmers have access to specialized agricultural education and cutting-edge research, ensuring continuous improvement in environmental management and animal care.
At Rancho Tranquilo’s Farm Market In Marmora, Ontario, environmental advocate Linda Kemilainen cares for and shears her own 24 alpacas. In turn, her farm-gate shop offers alpaca fleece, hand knitted winter wear and large lightweight duvets that are extremely warm. Linda states, “You will find that small scale farmers and fiber enthusiasts are much more mindful of how they shear their fiber producing animals. The wool or fleece is an anticipated yearly harvest. Keeping livestock and fleece in good condition is of great importance.”
The best option for casual knitters is to shop at thrift stores where one can purchase not only balls of wool for reuse but also shawls and sweaters that can be unraveled. For the simple joy of knitting without a personal pattern in mind, you can make socks, hats, scarves and mitts for homeless shelters; blankets for Project Linus; jumpers for small penguins to wear in case of an oil spill; and toys to accompany paramedics to comfort injured children.
Many amazing shearers who work quickly and carefully take pride in demonstrating their skill. You also can look for farms, such as tamariskfarm.co.uk, producing ethical yarns. As the world seems to be rediscovering the forever-stylish wool, our power of purchase will help this natural product to be produced and processed humanely.
To read more about wool as a sustainable textile check out these links:
Larraine authors the Pee Wee at Castle Compost series www.castlecompost.com