Tag Archives: Yarn

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

Pitti Filati

Last week I traveled to Florence for Pitti Filati. That’s a bi-annual business fair where the Italian spinning mills present their products to the fashion business and more specifically to the buyers of the big fashion companies. They’re the people who buy what is needed to make next season’s garments, from tissue over yarn to buttons, clasps, ribbons and any other haberdashery item you can imagine.

In the fashion circus this business fair is actually preceded by another one, in Paris: Première Vision. That’s the place where the colours for the new season are shown for the first time to the fashion industry. Mind you, in September 2017 they presented the colours for spring-summer 2019 and it’s all very secret: visitors are not allowed to take pictures (which everyone sneakily does anyway) and if you want to take the colours home you have to buy a horribly expensive booklet.

At Pitti Filati, which is half a year later, there’s no secret. The news is out in the open anyway, so the entry price includes a sampler with yarn in the new colours, they have an extensive online media gallery and they have a place where you can take samples from big cones of yarn. It’s quite funny to see all the people wind small balls of yarn around their fingers …

It might look as if nobody knows where the colours come from, but that’s not entirely true. There are expensive fashion bureaus like WWD where hot shot consultants know all about it: they study trends, which enables them to predict the new trends, which they study of course. Obviously they’re always spot on.

For a small company such as Greener Wool there’s not much to find at such a gigantic industry fair. Real buyers are looking for tonnes of produce and kilometers of fabric. Once you mention sustainability and organic certification, most companies have nothing to offer. If they have, it’s almost never as a stock service (where they keep some stock in-house so that small companies can buy small quantities directly from them). So if I’d like to buy this marvellously soft yarn in these splendid colours that is entirely GOTS certified, then there’s the beige and the black in stock service. The other colours though have to be produced especially for me. That’s starting at 40 kg, per colour. Now that makes for quite a few skeins of yarn!