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Excellent post. This is something constantly on my mind as I knit or spin.

I envy people who work closely with the animals their fibers come sweet it must be, and makes the finished item that much more a treasure. It's like a recording of a memory.

Before I started getting into fiber-related crafts, I thought angora came from rabbits that were killed for their fur. I was so glad to know that isn't the case!


Julia, thank you. I wondered, when I posted that article from the Portsmouth Herald yesterday, who would pick up this topic in a forum where I could explore my feelings. I have to admit that I did watch the video clip -- or I started to -- and that I was so disturbed that I shut it off.
I am alarmed. I want to go through my stash and de-Ozzie it. But I want to be effective and that probably wouldn't be.


It is difficult to find out where the truth is on this issue. I can't imagine my knitting life without wool. Using yarns made by spinners, dyers and growers you know is a good way and I like the uniqueness of the yarns. The PETA site was disturbing but are their accusations really the truth about what is happening? It's hard to know why a farmer would put his animals at risk when they are his lively hood or why someone would nearly skin a rabbit for its fur. Call me a little skeptical.


There's a very good article about mulesing and the PETA campaign from a shepherd/farmer perspective in the Winter '05 issue of Wild Fibers. I hope that Linda will be at Maryland, but I assume she'll be at NH (she was at NETA). PETA can be quite inflammatory, and she takes a more serious look at the issue. PETA pretty much wants everyone to be vegan. I'm a meat-eater, and I do believe there is a way to raise livestock that is humane, if not warm and fuzzy. I do my best to eat grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, etc., and most importantly, support family farms, and I particularly want to do that with yarn. It's hard to do with millspun yarn, but as a spinner it's ridiculously easy to get wool from a sheep whose name you know. I love well-prepared merino top, but I also know that it's probably from australia. :( All the more reason to drop a wad of cash at the upcoming festivals! :)


Like Margene, I was a bit skeptical, so I did a google search and found this explanation of "mulesing" -- seemed like a much more balanced view of it, though it didn't address whether or not the lambs are anaesthetized during the procedure.


This is a great post. If I could, I would get all of my fleece from local farmers who use cruelty-free methods, spin it myself, etc.

Here's my concern, though. It seems like a slippery slope. If we give up wool and switch over to cotton, what do we know about the production conditions of the cotton? Are the cotton fibers bleached before processing? What kind of harm is the environment enduring due to production farming of cotton.

Are synthetics the alternative? How are the synthetic materials derived? Do they create by-products that are harmful to the environment? Do the garments created with synthetics decompose naturally or last forever in the environment like many plastics?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I don't think that it's a black and white issue. With wool being bad and non-wool being okay.

I happen to think that the vegan lifestyle is a choice that we can make because we live in an affluent society. A more natural lifestyle that is in touch with the environment historically has involved using livestock as a food source as well as a source for other natural materials.

The book, "The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It" by John Seymour, really opened my eyes as to what it's like to really get back in touch with the world that we live in. Not in a pie-in-the-sky idealistic way, but in a realistic, living in harmony with the world kind of way:

It's a gorgeous and interesting book and fuels my dreams of living on a small family run farm.

Teresa C

Great post Julia. You forgot to mention the point made the other night that without the care and raising of sheep for wool that many breeds may actually become extinct. Truly I don't know much about that at all. My guess is there is a fine balance and each of us needs to find it in ourselves. To be honest, I have never given a whole lot of thought to where my wool comes from, only that I love the feel and beauty of it. Something to read up on, that is for sure.


So interesting. I'm a mostly vegan, but I am a glutton for wool. I'm gonig to check out some of your links. I guess for me, there is occasionally a conflict between being "natural" and being vegan. I like to try to live a low-impact, natural kind of life, and I think wool is a gift from Mother Nature, really.


I love getting my wool as close to the farm as possible. However, I also buy quite freely of "the other stuff," the stuff we have no idea from where it comes.

You know my philosophies about nature and the environment pretty well by now, I think, and I was a vegan for six years. It was not good for my health (I ended up quite seriously ill following that diet), so I switched back to eating meat, but my personal philosophies lean very heavily toward WANTING to be and wishing I could be, a vegetarian.

However, a sad thing is I came to realize how inflammatory and militant PETA's practices were and I take whatever they say with a grain of salt now. That's too bad, because their mission would be a good one if it weren't suspect and over the top. And what Margene says hits the nail on the head: why would farmers harm the very animals from which they draw their livelihoods?

PETA's philosophy is akin to saying, "never cut your hair or your nails, because it is causing trauma to you." I'm remembering many little "procedures" that I undergo that aren't that pleasant, such as a PAP smear or once having to have an infected finger cauterized, or a cut stitched up. Yup. Hurts like hell, even with anesthesia, once it wears off - for a few minutes, or even a day or two. I might even bleed. But it's for my own good.

My dog hates having his toenails clipped or the hair shaved out of his ears, and you'd think I was torturing him, but it's a grooming procedure that needs to be done for good animal husbandry, and no one can allege that I don't love my baby dog to death. I don't profess to be an expert on mulesing, but from what I understand, it's a practice that is necessary for the greater health of the animals and the herd.

You know, at some point a balance has to be struck. I love my bees, but I don't consider it anti-loving them to eat honey. Next we won't be able to walk on the grass because we're hurting it -- and aren't we traumatizing that turnip when we pull it forcefully from the ground, chop it up, cook it, and eat it?! And how about that lettuce that we cut and it oozes what I call "lettuce milk"? How do we know that doesn't hurt?

Ok, I'm stealing your bandwidth and storage capacity. I'll stop now. Who knew Norma had so much to say? Hee. ;-)


The practice that PETA dispises is absolutely necessary to the health of those sheep. The alternative to mulesing, which is a relatively harmless procedure (I think of it along the same lines as having an animal spayed or neutered), is to let them die a slow and agonizing death from the maggots that take over their LIVING body. There's been lots and lots of discussion about it at

That's the problem with PETA, and so many other similar organizations. They can't see the big picture.


very interesting, i read that PETa article last year. it made me stop and think: like others have said, intensive animal farming, whether for meat or for fiber, is not friendly to the animals, in most cases is cruel. but there are humane ways to raise livestock, and i will try to but wool with the same criteria i buy meat: small farms, free range, grain fed.
as for cotton, organic cotton is cool, but otherwise, cotton is the most pesticide-intensive culture there is.
and artificial fiber comes from petroleum, generally. it is a slippery slope indeed!
hemp claims to be an earth friendly fiber, if that is any help.


bamboo! some of them are very, very soft:

classic elite bamboo:

southwest trading co. bamboo:

i saw some at purl the other day, it might have been the classic elite, that was uber soft, and i have a top made out of bamboo that is also very soft.


correction! it was habu textiles white bamboo:,28


A first venture into blog comments from a keen Australian knitter - and sheep farmer.
Please, everyone, take the time to do a little more research on mulesing. I've seen the PETA website and what they describe bears absolutely no relation to anything I've ever seen (and I grew up on a sheep farm and have been married to a sheep farmer for 16 years). Huge chunks of flesh are not hacked off lamb's bottoms - it's a much smaller, much lesser proceedure than that, designed to remove only the top layer of skin with the wool follicles immediately around the sheep's anus. This forms a bald patch that prevents flies laying eggs in the faeces that are trapped in the wool - and prevents really agonising flystrike (basically the sheep is eaten alive by maggots, which really is terribly cruel and distressing).
The proceedure PETA describes would kill a large number of lambs from shock and blood loss - hardly a viable economic or humane proposition. The notion that sheep regularly die of heat exhaustion is really and truly ridiculous - my 50 year old husband has farmed all his life and never known it to happen. Mulesing is not a nice proceedure and there is a lot of effort and research going into ways to make it more humane - an effective anaesthetic shot is likely very very soon. The barbaric proceedures shown on PETA's site are extremely bad farming practise.
We run about 6000 sheep and believe me, there are many far more pressing animal welfare issues. Sheep spend easily 90 percent of their lives grazing free range. They are not typically kept in intensive feedlots, nor are they caged or shedded, unlike cows, pigs and chickens. They forage for grasses, birth naturally and suckle their young freely. Apart from shearing and drenching for intestinal parasites they are not yarded. They are not fed growth hormones and antibiotics and nor do they feed on offal and ground meat meal. Sheep farmers do not deluge their crops with pesticides or produce genetically modified fibres (unlike cotton). As an aside, many Australian towns now specifically forbid cotton growing within a 20 km radius of urban settlement given the extreme toxicity of the pesticides used.
Wool is not a petroleum by-product, and nor does it arise from habitat destroying broadscale agriculture. Wool growers do not pollute the water table and sheep do not destroy insect life or kill indigenous birds and mammals.
Merino sheep originate from the Spanish plains and they are bred for environmental hardiness in hot conditions - they don't carry heavy Shetland or Romney fleeces. In fact, Australian sheep don't do at all well in cool moist conditions - it rots their wool and gives them foot abscesses.
The PETA campaign is really distressing for Australian wool growers. We are in the fourth year of the most devastating drought in a century and many farmers are struggling to stay viable.
Concern about animal welfare is well placed but please, don't abandon the glorious soft Merino wool on your needles. It is a far more environmentally friendly, low impact fibre than almost anything else you are wearing or using in your home or feeding your family.


wow... great post! I am a HUGE animal lover, and I often think that PETA just goes too far.

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