2 +3: Animal Welfare + Our Planet:
A huge part of the way in which I concentrate on the ethics of my products is in the quality of my raw materials. This means that I take great care sourcing materials of the highest ethical standards when it comes to the animals or environments they come from, and these two issues come hand in hand.
Yarns I use have to match up to ethical criteria which includes:
Within the UK, I am delighted that from 2018 onwards, I have been able to trace back all of the yarns I use to individual herds of sheep or alpaca, depending on the yarn in question. This process is slow and long, due to the processing quantities required by most spinning mills, many small farms have to have their yarn blended with others in order to meet minimum order quantities and therefore have their wool processed and spun into yarn. Fortunately, there are now a couple of mills that are able to process fibre in small enough quantities that I'm able to keep track of. I have actually been able to go directly to individual farms which means that I can get to know the people and animals behind the cones of yarn sitting in my studio. All of my British yarns are from single farm, traceable, slaughter free smallholdings.
Country of origin:
UK Yarns: British Wool means that I avoid the numerous unethical practices associated with animal welfare overseas, whether this is live transportation, mulesing or the many issues that come with wools such as Australian or New Zealand merino. For this reason I do not work with Merino Wool. Merino sheep are not native to the UK, and therefore importing this yarn comes with a host of issues and it is not possible to trace this yarn or therefore, find out sufficient information about it. Currently, you could count the number of herds of merino sheep in the UK on the fingers of one hand and these herds are a bit busy with some larger ethical companies doing good stuff. This is why I have opted solely for other sheep breeds and alpaca yarns. This year I have continued to work with Wensleydale and Shetland, whose yarn has numerous overlooked qualities, such as a silky lustre, soft handle and durability . There is more information on this to come within my ‘Scarf Story’ project.
Peruvian Alpaca: As merino is to New Zealand, Alpaca is to Peru. These animals have buckets of personality, and come in their hundreds dotted across the Andes. Their fibre, 'La Lana De Los Dioses' (Fibre of the Gods) was considered more valuable than silver and gold in ancient Incan society, hypoallergenic, thermoregulating and as soft as cashmere, it's a superfibre that I was always drawn to. However, just as the numerous issues associated with mass produced yarns such as New Zealand merino, Alpaca falls prey to unethical practices over all 3 core areas, people, animals and planet. If you had a look at the project I'm a part of in Peru, you will know that I visited Peru in 2017 to get a look at this myself. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life and it felt many times that this problem would take a lifetime and an army of ethical fashion pioneers to solve. However, I am now the proud supporter of Awamaki in Ollantaytambo, a non-profit Fairtrade Federation Organisation who have connected a network of women's cooperatives who hand spin, knit and weave with Alpaca yarns from their local community. Awamaki was founded by the amazing Kennedy Leavens and now has a team working with 9 artisan cooperatives, working to empower women and girls with education and financial independence. It has been an honour to talk to Kennedy and to be working with their yarns since 2018. Click on the link above to find out more about their work.
As for standardised Peruvian Alpaca that is suitable for industrial machine knitting, we will have to wait and work and see. Watch this space for future trips to Peru to continue this journey.
British Alpaca: As I am in need of yarns suitable for machine knitting I also source British Alpaca. This is affected by the same issues as sheeps wool with spinning mill minimum quantities, but there are two mills that I have found within the UK who work with small producers and I will be sourcing directly from these again in the future. For my 2017 products I worked with an Alpaca smallholding in Devon whose fibre was spun into yarn that is 100% their own single farm alpaca yarn, using one of the aforementioned mills, Two Rivers. In 2018, I sourced alpaca wool from North Wales, where the owners of an alpaca smallholding and ‘mini mill’ have supplied me with their own charcoal and natural white alpaca yarns. This yarn is again, single farm, high welfare and slaughter free. This mini mill has unfortunately come to a close, but is being re-started under new care in Shropshire, and I hope to be working with their yarns for 2019.
Cruelty Free ‘Living Yarn’:
As a vegetarian since childhood, it became an issue to me personally that the welfare of many animals in the wool industry was a secondary concern to the quality of the fibre, and this has now become a huge ethical concern, with an increasing community rejecting wool altogether in the name of ethical fashion, and turning to synthetic fibres such as acrylic, whose microplastics are a major player in devastating environmental issues, shedding each time a fabric is washed. I think there's a way of doing wool without cruelty, slaughter and knock-on environmental effects, and I think the wool industry should be mended, not thrown away. This is why I personally, have chosen to source slaughter free ‘living yarn’ that comes from sheep or alpaca who are not affiliated with the meat industries and live our their natural lives, being sheared each year. These sources are hard to come by, as struggling farms sadly cannot survive on wool prices alone, but I am really happy to support those people who have been able to make the decision to make that happen. I understand not everybody can do that, but I really love to support those that do . My ‘living yarn’ sheeps wool comes from a single farm source in Yorkshire where Isobel Davies and Ernest, her shepherd, farm an eclectic mix of breeds including Wensleydale and Shetland sheep.
My yarns are dyed either organically or naturally, or used in their natural colour. I purchase all of my yarns in their undyed natural colours and work with organic or natural dye companies on my colours. In 2017, I worked with Paintbox Textiles in the textiles hub of Yorkshire who dyed my yarns organically to GOTS standards. In 2018, in order to achieve smaller quantities of yarn and work with natural dye, it was really exciting to work with Moel View Yarn in North Wales. Paula at Moel View is an incredibly talented natural dyer, she works with foraged and botanical extracts and we share our focus on ethics and sustainability. Paula sells her naturally dyed yarns in smaller quantities intended for hand knitting over on her website which you really should go and look at. It’s beautiful.