Review: Ann Budd, Knitting Green: Conversations and Planet-Friendly Projects. Loveland: Interweave, 2010.
No, this is not the newest book on the shelf of my local library, but it chimed with concerns I’m having over my various craft hobbies: how to indulge my hobby while still remaining at least somewhat ethical and environmentally conscious. I grabbed it and headed home with it.
The book was published in America (a point to note when looking at the sizes of the various garments in the book), and it consists of 22 projects and 9 essays written by knitwear designers, knit-magazine editors and, in one case, the owner of a sheep farm, who is also a knitwear designer.
I think I enjoyed the essays most. They address (but, for obvious reasons fail to find easy answers for) the central conundrums of modern crafting: how to avoid making purchasing decisions that are damaging to the environment. This includes the carbon footprint of the wool, the treatment of the animal, how many litres of water and how much pesticide is used for treating plants like cotton, how many resources are used up to get plants like bamboo to become soft, the kinds of dyes that are used, etc. etc. The list is seemingly endless. Add to that the virtual impossibility of following up supply routes (Can I really be sure that the merino wool I’m buying from a reputable, large company has not been sourced from Australia, where welfare standards are often dubious and sheep are routinely treated against flystrike by mulesing, which seems an abominably cruel practice to me?) and the task of making an ethical decision while stood surrounded by woolly temptation in my local yarn shop becomes really quite difficult.
The safest route is of course: go by (globally recognised) labels. Buy certified organic. Get wool that is dyed using natural colours. Work by the rule of thumb that the more treated a product is, the less ethical it is likely to be. The corollary is: be prepared to have deep pockets. Getting nice wool, which wears well, is not horribly scratchy, and has deep, lovely colours is not going to be cheap.
I was less convinced by the projects. I think I liked about three out of the twenty-two. This may say more about me and my taste: I really can’t see myself knitting a skirt or make a lacy shawl. Ugh. The hoodie jumper, big afghan throw and bike basket (all using rather lovely materials) were quite nice. But then there were projects like the knitted knapsack. Why? Who actually knits a knapsack? How long is such an item expected to last?
Which brings me to the elephant in the room, which the last essay (“Too much of a good thing?” by Amy R. Singer) is beginning to address, but ultimately shies away from. Isn’t the most ethical thing to do sometimes – sometimes – not to make an item? Isn’t the point of ethical consumption that we need to make decisions based on whether we actually need an item or not, not if we merely want an item? Compare the bike basket (made from jute and oilcloth with sturdy handles) with that knapsack (made with a light-weight yarn in a lacy leaf pattern). They’re both pretty. You can bet your bottom dollar, though, that the knapsack won’t last five seconds. Quite apart from the sheer impracticality of a backpack that can’t withstand any environmental impact (rain anyone?). What is the point of making such an item unless it’s mainly about the pleasure of making it, and one’s pride in showing it off? Wouldn’t it be much better to sometimes say no, maybe I won’t make this item as I don’t actually have a use for it?
This goes for the above-mentioned essay, too. It mentions creative ways of getting rid of your stash (yarn swap parties, etc.). But maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t really aim to accumulate a stash in the first place. Ouch. Harsh but true. Maybe our intentions for the new year should include finishing our projects and not buying new stuff until we’re ready to make something new, and only to begin make something new if we have a definite use in mind.