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  • I think we do what we can….we research and buy products we believe in.

    There is a lot going on these days to be upset about…..wars, the resulting immigration wave and crisis, earthquakes (Japan, Nepal and now Ecuador).

    Child labour? Read this…. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/nepal-earthquake-anniversary-children-sasa-petricic-1.3548955

    It’s all rather overwhelming.

  • I totally agree–if you start looking it becomes overwhelming, even paralyzing. When I started looking into the chocolate industry, I discovered a massive amount of child labor. I made one small change, but it keeps me mindful. I started buying my chocolate chips from South and Central American sources rather than unnamed sources (usually African). These sources are far less likely to involve forced labor. Like I said, it’s small, but it’s a shift.

  • Almost 30 years sgo Sweet Honey in the Rock spoke of these issues in their song ‘Are My Hands Clean?’ There are some interesting and thoughtful discussions on line that are generated by the song. Living consciously and conscientiously takes effort, but may be the only why to keep from being overwhelmed.

  • So true, so many wrongs in the world. It can become paralyzing. I like Cheryl’s response about making small changes and staying mindful.

  • Ethical buying may bring up uncomfortable issues and feelings but with small changes there can be bigger impacts. I avoid fast fashion (Joe Fresh, Target -not that we have Target in Canada anymore, etc) but hadn’t thought a lot about yarn. Thanks for reminding me to expand ethical buying beyond clothes.

  • Good start – asking questions. I’m also reminded of the quote: “Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.” – Robert H. Schuller (not that I actually know who he is). I take action as best I can – I’ve been vegetarian for almost 30 years, I rarely buy anything new and yes, I often use my car for 5 minute trips when really, I could probably walk … There’s so much out there, it can be paralysing. I think that you’ve taken the first step in a great journey – asking the question.

    • Robert Schuller was the founder of the Chrystal Cathedral in Southern CA and the pastor on “Hour of Power” on TV. He died last year.

  • When you’re near the Chicagoland area, stop by String Theory Yarn Company. Janet goes to lengths to stock her shop with ethically sourced yarns or yarns that help support family owned businesses.

  • I think a lot about where and what I buy. Most of my yarn comes from local shepherds because I’m lucky to have an amazing sheep and wool festival in my backyard. Othe wise I steer clear of engineered fibers (mostly rayon and its relatives). These are often sold as vegetarian or sustainable but often involve very resource intensive processing to make them into spinnable fiber. Silk is my downfall. But a few years back I raised my own silkworms (following the silkworm blog). I’ll admit there was some involuntary child labor involved. its easier to build local fiber into your knitting if you’re a spinner.

  • Forgot to mention, she’s in Glen Ellyn, 30 miles west of Chicago on the Metra West Line, just a couple blocks from the train station on Main Street.

    • Thanks for the yarn store heads up! I like the idea of small steps. This is one I can take in my knitting life.

  • What I love about you guys, is I never know what topic I’m going to be touched by when I open up your blog each morning … Today it is: reminding me to be more mindful of where and how anything I buy gets to me. Thank You!

  • Thank you for your reminder to be mindful and ask questions. The world is full of complicated problems but the small steps we each take can add up to helpful change.

  • I’m not even super comfortable with wool products sometimes so I’m happy to be able to enjoy spinning, knitting and weaving with my own homegrown fleeces these days. Sheep living a ridiculously comfy life thinking not getting vanilla wafers EVERY day is something to complain about ;-).

  • Yep.

    I can’t wait to see what you & Kay are sourcing for us!

  • Honestly, I don’t really care about bugs being killed. I kill them all the time in my garden. I end the lives of slugs eating my hostas. I kill ants if they get in my kitchen. I bring in ladybugs to eat the aphids. I see no problem with silk worms dying so that I can have silk yarn.

    Production-wise, I avoid child labor products whenever I know about them. However, as you noticed, you could spend an 80 hour week researching every last thing and still not really feel great about the choices.

    One of the biggest problems is really population control. Honest to pete I wish our government would enlighten and help struggling countries regarding birth control (instead of our current policy of barring any info or methods being provided) so that families (especially women) have options. If people can’t feed their kids, then the kids have to work, beg or starve – and so you have child labor. That is no kind of choice.

    • I totally agree, PDXER (you must be from my city!). And if we can’t export good knowledge about birth control, maybe we could at least be generous about educating women in underdeveloped countries. Many studies have shown that women with more education have children later, have better health (and so do their families), and contribute in a meaningful way to the economy of their communities.

  • I read the link re: Nepal, the stuff about the children is so disturbing and haunting. It got me to thinking about our own country, and what can be done in our own back yard. I don’t think we here are free and clear. I hear the things about being mindful of what we purchase. What else can we do? As knitters and crafters, we can make a difference with donations of garments that we make. So many of us do it already. There are the ladies that are working in the prisons to teach knitting, the designer in South America that has prisoners knitting (and crocheting?) her designs. I think they receive some amount of payment. You all got me to thinking. I don’t know what else to say.


  • My Husbeast is a Professor of Development Economics, and deals with issues of poverty. We have had many a conversation about the issue of “Fair Trade” around the dinner table. While there are appalling working conditions in many places, we in the West/America tend to look at these issues with our Western, developed eyes. Parents would rather have their children be educated. Children in these countries work out of necessity – either they work and contribute to the family or the family starves. The depth of poverty in many developing countries is of a scale that we in America do not see. To change this cycle, incomes need to be raised.

    In a way, how you deal with the issue is akin to Ann’s concern about the worms. I know that if this was Ravelry, there would be a lot of “disagrees.” But there are two sides to every story.

    • Well said, Gail. We have spent many scuba diving vacations on tiny Caribbean islands where families depend on fishing to feed themselves and sell to sustain the family but the fishermen catch flack from tourists (unbelievably wealthy tourists in the islanders’ eyes) for eating the reef fish. It never occurs to them that it’s a luxury to think that the ocean is an aquarium when your children are hungry. I once witnessed a woman castigate a man for catching a dolphinfish (a dorado, where mahi mahi comes from) thinking he’d caught Flipper. She finally ran down and left. He looked at me and I told him that at that time many Americans think meat comes laying on a tray and wrapped in plastic film, that they’re disconnected from where food comes from. This was long before any of the current food movements grew out of awareness of how things are grown but it points to the perspective you need to have when you judge the way a developing country manages. It’s hard to have high principles when you and your children are hungry.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am careful about where what I buy is produced and how it’s made, I just want to point out that there are two sides to this discussion, not start a fight.

      • I agree; there is certainly virtue in seeking local, sustainable, ethical products and putting money where values are, but not if we do nothing else to help the machinist who is out of work because we stopped buying the $5 T shirt, or the ethical farmer who can’t make slicing because he can’t afford organic certification. Our actions need to sync to serving others, rather than simply salving our consciences.

    • Hi Gail,
      I work at a very prestigious university on the east coast. We have people in this very high end university trying to get the university to work within the community that surrounds it. The community around us is undereducated, serious drug (heroin)bad to non existence housing, poverty, corrupt government, and murders everyday.

      While I understand the concern for overseas, and even worked at an NGO for a period of time, what I see happening in the cities right here is astonishing. We are going backwards, not forwards. Kids hustle by cleaning your windshield or operating part time businesses if they have connections. The poverty we see overseas is also right in our backyard.

      I came from that poverty. No food, no shoes, no electricity at one time, and nearly being homeless in the late 1970s. One thing both my sister and I agree on is that poverty breeds poverty. I see my sisters both living at times by the skin of their teeth. Neither can handle money, lack an education, jobs, standards of living, and good support system are in short supply.

      If you look at me you see a white woman, in her 50’s, at a university, who got her education, and in many ways broke out of poverty. but I know that wolf, we are on first name basis, and there isn’t a lot to keep him at bay for many folks.

    • and, as with those lovely, imported hand knotted rugs we love, it’s because a child’s hands are small.

    • If we go back in our own families two, three or four generations, we will find child laborers. It simply has not been possible for most of the world’s families to sustain themselves unless everyone works. It takes time for an economy to reach the point where everyone is educated and incomes go up enough that one or two members of the family can support everyone.

  • And even if you don’t start looking, the unsavoriness will find you! I happened to mention to a vegan that I knit. The horror! Who knew that it is terrible to remove a fleece from sheep? Vegans and PETA know, apparently. Moral of the story: bamboo yarn and possibly linen yarn are the only acceptable options to knit with, according to my vegan friend. ????

    • This reminded me of the Patagonia wool sourcing issue from last fall. They had a whole fancy ad campaign come out about this wool from south american and then PETA posted a video about how the sheep are treated during shearing and all of a sudden the reversed their position.


    • OK, that fleece/sheep/PETA thing really burns my cookies. We as humans have spent rather several thousand years with sheep. They are domesticated. There is such a thing as the ‘Domestication Contract”. Shepherds know it by heart. Sheep essentially agreed to provide meat and wool for us, and in return we protect them and care for them. Over several thousand years, the sheep have been changed through selective breeding – for good wool, for good meat, for multiple births, for good mothering, for flocking instinct. This helps people. In return we care for the sheep. We trim hooves, we medicate when needed, we help them give birth, and we shear them. Shearing is necessary. Their wool is much more developed now and does not shed itself like a bighorn sheep does. If they are not shorn, it overheats them in the summer and they can die. If they are not shorn, it grows over their faces and they cannot see to eat, walk or defend themselves, and they can die. Shearing is not torture. It is a necessary thing. We cannot wave a wand and go back over ten thousand years and pretend sheep are the same. They are not. So unless we eliminate all domesticated animals (PETA’s goal by the way), then we need to honor our Domestication Contract.

  • Dear Ann,

    Interestingly enough, although probably not entirely coincidentally, I was just talking about living the moral life with a friend. Cara is studying Plato and wrote a paper on the question – which life leads to more happiness – the just or unjust life?

    I don’t aspire to lead an entirely just or morally correct life, but I DO think that I can make many moral, just, correct, thoughtful, basically positive, decisions as I go. I admit to no longer being interested in changing the world or powerfully influencing others, but I am interested in doing right by the people, animals, earth involved in producing the things that I consume one way or the other. I let my daughters know how I feel about clothing that is so cheap they feel okay throwing it away and I let them know my reasons for feeling the way I do. I DO NOT give my throw away culture speech to a friend as we walk in the woods and she innocently mentions how much her daughter loves Forever 21.

    As for the materials we use to create. I take great pleasure in finding small batch productions of scrumptious fiber. I can’t say that I ever research how the goats, sheep, or alpaca are cared for. I suppose I have made an assumption that people who work so hard to produce small batches of beauty, must care deeply about the same things that I do.

  • other fun silk worm facts, I live in a little community called Silk Hope, NC. Based on the info on a local graveyard marker someone brought silk worms (or what they thought were silk worms here to grow a business) and then found out they were the wrong worms

  • The comments are all so thoughtful – what a wonderful group of people we have here! No strident shouting! I live in Thailand now (for 28 years) and actually grew up in Southeast Asia. Forced child labor does exist here in Thailand. At the same time, silk worm cultivation, though it does involve child labor, the children all all family members and they help out when they are not in school. So – buy silk from Thailand (I can help you source it!) Recently they have been working on developing the silk that is called “vegetarian”, i.e. does not involve killing the worms – allows them to hatch then the silk is unwound from the cocoon. However, it may interest readers who don’t like the death of the silkworms to note that none are wasted – they are eaten as protein. I have seen the ladies who are taking the silk off the boiling cocoons eat them as a snack while working but generally they are set aside and prepared as part of a meal.

    • Excellent information!

  • Honestly, worrying about how many more minutes a bug might have had in its life if we didn’t sacrifice it for silk? Not my thing. I totally respect those people who worry about that, and as the Episcopalian mother of a Buddhist I have also learned to appreciate the “from the little to the big” concept of do-no- harm. But I have actual people/teens/charismatic megafauna with so many mountains to climb, and I’d rather start with them, and hope it flows down.

  • I read all the comments and was so happy to see the thoughtful and knowledgable content. I learned something about the all or nothing thinking and the nuanced economic growth of the world. Thank you. Thailand sounds like a country that is evolving through the economic roller coaster.
    I try to do my small part by buying veg from local farmers and the small amount of meat we eat from as local as I can get and as sustainably. as some have said, there is a lot going on that has been caused by our industrialization. I guess we can’t turn back the clock to an agrarian culture but, oh my, I am concerned about our existence on this warming planet.

  • Ah, these vexed questions…they can be overwhelming, for sure!
    I think it’s always worthwhile to try to find the most believable information behind a topic/company/product (thank you so much for the link to Wormspit) before making a decision about where to spend my money or my time. It can certainly be tedious and frustrating at times, but worth the effort, I find.
    People will always “draw the line” at different points for their own moral/ethical/cultural/financial/personal reasons, but the more we can learn before making decisions, the more likely our own, personal line will mean what we think it means and want it to mean.
    Don’t you think?