Being kind to the animals

A member of a local knitting group posted this announcement on their Facebook page:

Asos plans to ban mohair, cashmere and silk from next year

and noted in the comments that they hadn’t known that there were any animal welfare issues related to mohair.

The question is not if animal welfare issues do exist. They do. We all know that PETA has lots of horrible images about animal abuse that nobody really wants to see. At the same time these images are part of a campaign strategy, and the individual cases shouldn’t be generalized to a whole industry. We might not all know farmers, but those who do, know that they care about their animals.

As one member of the group mentions: the people at Asos talk about these plans most probably because they’re directing their marketing efforts at a growing group of vegans and vegetarians and in doing so get the full support of a number of vegan organisations. Asos in any case mostly sells synthetic fibres, which brings about a whole different series of issues with the plastic pollution of our world and the use of non-renewable sources.

So what can you do? The ideal world does not exist. Making ethical and sustainable choices always requires some kind of trade-off. When buying yarn there are basically two options: going certified organic or going small and local.

Certified Organic

No specific label exists for organic yarn, but generic textile labels apply to yarn as to any other piece of textile.


Most probably you’ve already seen the Oekotex “Confidence in textiles” Standard 100 label. This is an organic nor a fair trade label. It doesn’t say anything about animal welfare. It only says that there aren’t enough harmful chemicals left in the garment to – well – do you any harm.

fair_wearIf you usually buy organic or fair trade, you might also have found the Fair Wear Foundation logo in your clothes or on a cotton bag. This label doesn’t say anything about animal welfare either. It only says that no humans have been harmed in the production process, that their working conditions are acceptable and that they’ve got proper payment for their work.


The only standard that covers about everything is GOTS – the Global Organic Textile Standard. Yarn, tissue or garments carrying this label have been produced with fibre issued from certified organic agriculture. If animal fibre is involved, the land on which the animals live has to be certified for organic agriculture as well. All parties involved in the production process up to the wholesaler have to be certified for the final product to be allowed to carry the logo. None of the production plants can use harmful chemicals, water has to be cleaned, recycled and used sparingly. The label also requires social responsibility: fair trade, proper payment and proper working conditions are all part of the standard.

It’s not perfect: this standard has been issued by the textile industry and hasn’t been defined by an independent authority, unlike the European bio label for food, where it is the European Commission that laid out the rules.

For certified yarn I’ve already listed in a previous post about the big trade fair in Cologne what is available on the market (or will be after summer).

Small and local


Knitting yarn with a GOTS label comes only in two types of fibre: there’s wool and there’s cotton. No alpaca, silk, mohair, angora, … That’s not because the standard doesn’t allow for it. There’s probably just not enough demand for these types of fancy yarn. So if you’re looking for these types of yarn, you have to look for your own alternatives. In which case going small and local is an option. If you know the person that takes good care of her goats, brings the fibre to the local cooperative of goat farmers the have it spun in a local spinning mill and the sells the yarn through her own online shop, why wouldn’t you buy her mohair? I’ve already mentioned Florence and her goat farm annex bed and breakfast La ferme sous les Hiez in a previous post.

If you’re looking for angora, you might want to have a look at Seidenhase.

Alpaca is easy to find with a fair trade logo and it can be found locally.

Silk is quite a different story. I do not have the feeling that I’m already to the end of the story there, so I’m not going to make any suggestion. Lots of animals have to die for silk and in most cases they’re indeed boiled alive.


Even if organic certified wool exists, you might be bothered by the fact that it almost always comes from South-America and has to travel quite a distance to reach us: grown in Patagonia, processed in the UK, shipped to the brand owner in Germany, shipped to the retailer in Belgium and the shipped to final customer in Japan, it’s quite a distance for a skein of yarn but nothing exceptional. With the exception of the Mérino d’Arles from Rosy Green Wool none of the local yarns has a certification, but there are a lot of small brands out there! Very often you can only buy directly from them, or in just a couple of local stores. One of my favourites in this range is De Rerum Natura: beautiful yarn, beautiful patterns, superb colours, and local. Our own Mergelland is obviously in this category as well.

Still questions? Get in touch!


Mergelland, Edition 2017

Last Tuesday they arrived, after nine long months of waiting: 12 cardboard boxes, each containing a series of sealed plastic bags, each of the bags containing 12 balls of Mergelland yarn.


We did hope to get them a few days earlier, right on time for the Slow Fashion Market at Tour & Taxis, but they got stuck in transport. No harm done, there’s still plenty of time to start knitting for the next winter season.

As with the previous clip, we sorted the fleece ourselves, put everything in bags and transported the whole lot to the mill in Cornwall. It’s quite a drive and this year there wasn’t that much time for sightseeing. What’s more, on the ride back home it did rain hard from the moment we left the mill until we got the car on the Shuttle!

This time we chose to use all of the black fleece for adding a darker shade to the series of natural colours we had from the 2016 clip and the remaining white for a first batch of dye colours. Choosing colours for the first time was rather stressy: how do you decide, not only on colours that you like, but also on colours that go nicely together and that will appeal to your customers? And once you’ve decided, how do you convey your wishes to the people at the mill and how can you be sure that the colours you will receive several months later are the ones you’ve requested? It’s actually almost as complex as running an IT project!


Obviously there was no reason to worry, I could have trusted the expert knowledge of the people at The Natural Fibre Company! The colours turned out really well!

We try to stick to hard materials when choosing names for the colours, so in order of appearance you’re looking at Dark Slate (okay, I didn’t do a lot of effort there), Rust, Gold, Emerald, Navy (sorry, there is no stone or metal in this colour) and Shingle. They’re all in the shop now.

Slow Fashion Market

Last Saturday was Oxfam Day here in Brussels in one of those splendid buildings at Tour & Taxis. The theme of the day was fair fashion and on the program there were a Fashion Show, a Slow Fashion Market and a series of Do It Yourself Workshops.

We decided that we had to be there with Greener Wool. Tour & Taxis is just around the corner and there is no slower fashion than garments you’ve knit with your own hands using organic certified yarn, unless you spin the yarn yourself!

It was a bit of a rush to get everything together – including three shopping trips to get all the furniture and a timed tryout in our living room to check if I could build the stand all by myself within the given timeslot!

In the end it all went smoothly thanks to the many friends that spontaneously proposed to help!

Getting some of the new yarns in the shop by Saturday was quite a challenge … We succeeded in having the super soft Bio-Logic cotton from Plassard. The slightly felted Bio Merinos from Schoppel – which didn’t arrive sooner than Friday evening! – had a lot of success. The new Mergelland got stuck in transport and arrived only yesterday – we’ll tell more about it next week.

The Meet up and knit or crochet! Brussels group exceptionally moved their knitting meet up from the city centre to Tour & Taxis, there were the friends from La Filière Laine and La laine des coccinelles and at a different organic fair in the next part of the building we met the people from Heid de Frenay with their fantastic yoga mats from locally produced felt. Quite a few people dropped by at the stand. There’s so much to tell about organic wool, GOTS certificates and local yarn that I didn’t even have the time to visit the other stands at the Slow Fashion Market! Then there were the people that wanted to know more about the double-knit scarf I’m making. It seems that I’ll have to organize double knit classes soon!

H+H Goes Green

Last Friday I travelled to Cologne for H+H, the international trade fair for creative handicraft and hobby supplies. It’s the largest trade fair for textile hobby supplies in Europe, the place to be for discovering new trends and finding new suppliers. I’ve been looking specifically for new certified organic yarns. In the next few lines I’ll tell you what I’ve learned this year.

Let’s list what existed so far with a GOTS certificate.

BC Garn has Bio Shetland, Bio Balance and Semilla Melange.
Rosy Green Wool has Cheeky Merino Joy, Big Merino Hug and Manx Merino Fine.
Lane Mondial has Bio Lana, Cotton Soft Bio and Bio Soft.
And there’s Garthenor, since the beginning of times.

Over the last year quite a few new yarns have been added to the range, some by suppliers extending their current range, other by suppliers entering the certified organic market.

Lane Mondial has added two new sizes to the Bio Lana range: Bio Lana Fine (last summer) and Bio Lana Big (new at the trade fair and not online yet).

Bio Lana Fine is a classic knitting yarn for needle size 3,5 – 4,5 mm. A ball of 50 g has a length of 175 m. There are 20 colours.


Bio Lana Big is a 100% organic wool roving yarn, but I forgot to write down the details and there’s no web page!


Rosy Green Wool found a source for merino wool in Europe and added Merino d’Arles in 11 colours to their range. It’s a fine knitting yarn for needle size 2,5 – 3 mm composed of 100% organic French Merino d’Arles wool and you get 200 m on a hank of 50 g.


Rosários4, a Portuguese spinning mill and yarn brand with a range of eco-friendly yarns now has a GOTS certificate for some of their existing yarns.

Belmonte is a mix of 50% organic cotton and 50% organic wool. As opposed to other cotton-wool combinations Rosarios4 have obtained the mix by plying a cotton and a wool strand before dyeing, resulting in a two-tone marl of the same colour. Nice! Belmonte is designed for needle size 3,5 – 4,5 mm and comes in 11 different colours. A ball of 50 g measures 125 m.


Bio Love is a fine 100% organic cotton yarn for needle size 3 – 3,5 mm. It comes in 16 different shades but it’s not online yet. A ball of 50 g measures 175 m.

Bio Wool is an aran weight knitting yarn for needle size 5,5 mm, 72 m for 50 g, 100% organic wool and available in 15 colours.


Ecocotton Ecologico in 100% organic cotton has been designed for needle size 5 mm. Balls of 50 g measure 95 m. Not online yet.

For Nature and For Nature Print are composed of 100% organic cotton and require needle size 3,5 – 4 mm. For Nature comes in 50 g balls, For Nature Print comes in 50 g hanks, both measuring 150 m. There are 28 colours of For Nature and 11 colour combinations of For Nature Print.

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Lalalã is a roving yarn for needle size 15 mm and up, available in 9 colours and composed of 100% organic wool. A ball of 200 g gets you 50 m of yarn.


The good news here is that Rosários4 has a slightly lower price setting than we’re used to for certified organic yarn. I didn’t do a price search on the internet, but based on the wholesales price I’d assume you would be able to find a ball of Bio Wool for less than 4,50 €.

Schoppel makes a first entry in the organic market with Bio Merinos, a mix of 95% felted organic merino wool and 5% linen from France, in a range of 9 bright colours. 150 m on balls of 50 g, needle size 2,5 – 3,5 mm.


Plassard launches Bio-Logic, an insanely soft cotton in 5 equally soft pastel colours, sourced in Greece and spun in Italy, aimed at the newborn market. A ball of 50 g measures 125 m. It’s supposed to be knit with 4 mm needles.


It looks somewhat as a trend. There’s more choice now than a year ago and well established brands enter the market. New yarn sizes and colour ranges open new options for us organic knitters. With the exception of the 5% linen in Shoppel’s Bio Merinos the fibre content stays limited to sheep wool and cotton because other fibres are difficult to get in a certified organic version.

I might have missed out on some products. If you know about new or existing GOTS certified yarns that I didn’t mention here, I’ll be glad to hear about it!

One more thing: the people from BC Garn will retire soon. They’ve sold the brand to their German distributor Schmeichel who will continue the existing range of yarns.

Jan’s Isometric Scarf

In January I wrote about Rib Magazine, a magazine specifically created for men who knit or those who wish to knit for them. When we received issues 2 and 3 we – my husband Jan and me – were very excited about a number of patterns in the magazines. Jan knit Cecelia Campochiaro’s Revolution Watch Cap in no time, with Rosy Green’s Cheeky Merino Joy in the colour Cornish Slate. For his next project he decided on making Alice Caetano’s Isometric Scarf, in Rosy Green’s Big Merino Hug in Garden Pond, a deep green blue colour.


The pattern comes in two versions, a smaller and a larger scarf. Jan opted for the smaller version and decided to execute the pattern as is, without swatching and using a needle size 4 mm. A bit daring, but hey, it’s only a scarf!

The i-cord cast on proved a bit difficult at first, but once that hurdle was taken the Isometric Scarf was an easy and straightforward knit. The pattern is well written. The sequence smartly applies to both sizes given (and could actually apply to any width once the set up has been done).

Mind you, not having made a swatch we’ve ended up with a somewhat larger and much much longer scarf, but a gorgeous scarf it is. What’s more, thanks to the yarn from Rosy Green Wool it’s incredibly soft and squishy, it has a well-defined drape and on top of that it’s GOTS certified organic and machine washable!


This pattern requires blocking. Usually I use the ironing board, but that wasn’t possible with this length of scarf. As we’ve never needed to block something this big, we don’t have blocking wires or blocking mats. Wires aren’t necessary, without wires you just need a lot of pins. Blocking mats are something else though. I had already been looking for them, but the only ones I could find were those giant puzzle pieces in horrible synthetic materials. That’s not in our book, blocking organic yarn on plastic mats made in China! We’ve ended up using our beautiful two-colour yoga mat. It’s made from felt and it has been produced in Germany from the wool from local, Belgian sheep. We’ve bought it last year from Heid de Frenay at Valériane in Namur and it was perfect for the job.

Isometric Scarf Blocking

Knitting with double yarn

There’s only a limited choice of GOTS-certified yarns on the market. Taking the yarn double increases the number of choices, but the label never mentions a needle size or a gauge for double yarn. I didn’t even start calculating, and I’m already feeling a headache coming up!

I wondered if there was some kind of simple rule, but Google couldn’t find it. Most probably that’s because I didn’t ask the right question, not because nobody ever wrote about it … Anyway, I set out to do my own tests and I started from the idea that doubling the yarn would require more or less 1,5 times the original needle size.

I’ve tried a few swatches with BC Garn Bio Balance and Semilla Melange. Let’s start with Bio Balance.

Bio Balance

Bio Balance is a 3-ply yarn* composed of 55% organic wool and 45 % organic cotton. The label gives a gauge of 25 stitches by 35 rows for 10 by 10 cm with 3,5 mm needles. For a nice and regular fabric I knit Bio Balance with 3 mm needles. That results in a slightly different gauge: 26 stitches by 38 rows. Most probably on 3,5 mm needles the gauge would be as on the label but then the fabric would be a little bit loose to my taste.

When doubling the yarn I tried 4,5 mm needles and obtained a gauge of 19 stitches by 28 rows. That confirms the idea I had that doubling the yarn in general requires to multiply the needle size by 1,5.

But then I tried Semilla Melange …

Semilla Melange

Semilla Melange is a 2-ply yarn* composed of 100% organic wool. The label gives a gauge of 22 stitches by 28 rows for 10 by 10 cm with 4 mm needles. That’s surprising. With 4,5 mm needles I have a gauge of 25 stitches by 40 rows, with 5 mm needles I’m at 23 by 34. Larger needles wouldn’t make for a nice fabric. To get the gauge from the label with 4 mm needles I’d have to knit very loosely. When I knit the Murrayfield beanie I used 3 mm and 3,5 mm needles with Semilla Melange!

When doubling the yarn we had the nicest results with a 6 mm needle, resulting in a 16 by 26 gauge. That is quite far from multiplying the needle size by 1,5!

I’ve put all the figures together in a table. We’ll come back on this subject when we’ve tried other types of yarn and other needle sizes, because this is not enough to come to any kind of conclusion.

Gauge Table

All samples were knit with white brass circulars from addi.

* n-ply is about the number of strands the yarn is made of, not the confusing yarn size indication

Fluffy and organic

Yesterday a customer was looking for something fluffy and organic to knit together with Bio Shetland from BC Garn, something kid silk alike. Kid silk usually refers to a mix of 70% kid mohair and 30% silk. The silk is used to create the core of the yarn and to hold the mohair together. It’s the mohair that creates the fluff of the yarn. In cheaper alternatives the silk is replaced by a synthetic fibre type.


Mohair is spun from the hair of angora goats. The fibre gets thicker with the age of the goat, so kid mohair refers to the finest variety of mohair, from younger goats. Mohair is not to be confused with angora, which is made from the coat of the angora rabbit.

Silk is harvested from the silkworm. There are different varieties of silk, but by far and large the bigger part is mulberry silk, produced by the mulberry silkworm (Bombyx mori). This caterpillar forms a cocoon for its transformation into a moth. The cocoon is entirely made out of one single thread that can be as long as 2 km. In silk production the cocoons are boiled before the moth eats its way out of it. That kills the caterpillar and dissolves the glue that keeps the cocoon together. Then the cocoon is unrolled to harvest the thread.


Other types of silk exist. In some cases the silkworm is allowed to eat its way out of the cocoon. The cocoon can no longer be unrolled in one single thread and the shorter fibres are spun into a less smooth type of yarn. That’s called wild or Tussah silk, but my reading didn’t help me understand how exactly those two words match or overlap. Tussah silk is supposed to come from a “wild” silkworm of a different species than the mulberry silkworm. This silkworm doesn’t create its cocoon out of one single thread. That’s why the silkworm is allowed to come out of the cocoon. But I guess one could also use the term “wild” silk for mulberry silk if the silkworm was allowed to come out of the cocoon.

All of this doesn’t have anything to do with the end product being organic or not. For silk to get an organic certification, the silkworms have to be kept in organically certified agriculture. Then the complete post processing (washing, spinning, dyeing) has to be done according to a set of organic and fair trade standards.

Both mohair and silk exist with a GOTS certification, but so far no certified hand-knitting yarn has been created from these fibres.

Looking for alternatives I remembered Florence, a French lady whom I met at a training about wool from Last year she started her angora goat farm annex bed and breakfast in the Vosges: La ferme sous les Hiez. Twice a year she brings the clip from her goats to a cooperative that spins the fibre into yarn, then she sells the yarn and knitwear in her online shop. There’s no guarantee for its organic status, because a certification would be too complex and costly for this type of operation. It’s a business model that does not allow for wholesale, so even if I would want to, I couldn’t offer this type of yarn in my shop. But it’s as local as it gets and there are no big corporations involved, so if you’re looking for something fluffy, this is what I’d recommend.