May 27, 2015

Origin Stories

(sorry for the long delay in posts - was on holiday in Shetland, which I will post about soonish)

I’ve been listening to the KnitBritish podcast, which is absolutely delightful (and really REALLY enabley). The podcast grew out of a blog, whose basis is essentially knitting with British wool. Louise Scollay, the blogger/host, being British herself, took up a challenge to go a year knitting only with British wool. I am fully enamored with this challenge, as it hits on so many issues I hold near and dear: knowing the origin of your goods (yarn included), supporting local-to-you businesses and industries, making informed shopping decisions, and helping rescue rare and critical breeds. Added bonus is that I really like British yarns and sheep breeds, recent purchase history at Blacker Yarns bearing witness.

The thing is, though, I no longer live in GB. Much as I adore British yarns and makers, they are not, in fact, local to me. While I do place a greater value on them based on the above issues than commercially-produced yarn milled in big factories in China, the don’t actually help local-to-me businesses or industries.

I do my part to shop from farms and American yarn companies at fiber festivals (boy howdy do I!), but those make up a relatively small percentage of my yearly yarn/fiber purchases. The rest of the time, I am an online shopper, and sadly spend more money on European wool than anything else. (While I do try to support my LYS, I don’t buy much yarn from them – their stock is made up almost entirely of larger commercial yarn brands which don’t interest me).

I should clarify. When I say American yarn, I mean that the wool comes from American sheep and is then processed and spun in American mills. There are plentiful American yarn companies who use non-American wool, but I do not consider that yarn to actually be American. Kind of like a Ford that is made in Mexico. Sure, it’s a domestic brand, but not exactly “made in America.”

I must say that I do feel a little squinky about the whole “made in America” thing. The emphasis on buying American is too often associated with ├╝ber-“patriotic” asshats with Confederate flags adorning their pickup trucks buying items made in America from stores whose profit and continued existence are tied directly to cheap foreign labor and the destruction of small business here. Additionally, as a dual-citizen with a good deal of foreign-upbringing and a healthy fear of all things nationalistic, I don’t wish to associate with this brand of fervent nationalism. This is not the “made in America” I’m talking about.

Anywho, I started doing a little research. GB has quite a few online resources for buying British wool. From yarn companies with excellent online presences (Blacker Yarns, Jamieson & Smith, Jamieson’s, Baa Ram Ewe, to name but a few) to websites that compile and link to sources for British yarn, to organizations that make it their business to promote British wool. The US sadly is lacking on all fronts.

There are some hodgepodge lists and old blog posts here and there, but it requires some digging. Additionally, many brands of yarn that I am pretty sure are American (or show up on lists), do not mention the origin of their wool at all on their websites, but go into great detail about how it is all processed and spun in the good ol’ USofA (which really is great, but still only half of the puzzle). Most farms who have their wool spun into yarn to sell have little to no internet presence. While each state and breed of sheep has organizations to promote their farmers, they either focus more on meat or, well, don’t give you much information on how to get yarn.

Basically, if you want to knit with American yarn, you either stick solely with the couple of larger companies, buy all your yarn at festivals, or do a shit-ton of research. Doable, for sure, but really who has the time and energy?

Have I missed some big website/organization that would solve all these problems? If so, for fuck’s sake, make yourself more visible – if you don’t show up in my google searches, you’re not really much help, eh? 

As someone with oodles of time on her hands, I am thinking about creating a website to help people find American yarn. I would call it “Origin Stories” (resisting the urge to preempt it with “Woolverine”), and I would start with a list of companies, farmers, small business, what-have-you who deal in American yarn. I would also conduct interviews/questionnaires with owners/shepherds/farmers/etc. to offer background on said American yarn. Essentially, I would like to help people find local-to-US yarn with a story,  while also highlighting smaller farms and yarn makers who don’t do much online.  I go to several fiber festivals each year, and can picture grabbing ALL the business cards and having chats with as many farmers and yarn makers as possible to aid in this. Would be cool, right?

I’m thinking about it…