Category Archives: History

The Ravellenic Games rise from the ashes of Ravelympics

Phoenix Teapot

And so the tempest in an (online) teapot has officially come to an end. Ravelry voted, and the new name for Ravelympics is the Ravellenic Games. No, it doesn’t have quite as much of a ring to it, but there is already a strong community of Ravelry members playing games in a group called the Ravelry Games, so it wouldn’t be kind to kick them to the curbside just because more people are involved with the Game-Formerly-Known-As-Ravelrympics. And, after all, while the Ravelympics has become a huge, community-wide event, it did originate as just one small group.

Ironically, the Panhellenic Games, which the Ravellenic Games are being named after, were the big cojones of their day – the Olympic Games were just one of four separate events under the Panhellenic umbrella. More importantly, however, the Panhellenic Games still accurately reflect one of the major aspects of Ravelry’s games – the concept of the reward of completion being satisfaction enough. Unlike other Ancient Greek athletic or artistic contests of the era, winners received only a garland of  pine, laurel, bay leaves, or even dried celery leaves for victory (the Olympic Games were an olive garland).

And while the Games did briefly allow women in during the later (and assumedly more liberal) reign of Emperor Nero, during the original Olympic Games women were not only unable to participate, but they were not even allowed to attend. Ah well, that’s what you get when you try to name a modern event after an ancient custom that holds little relation to modern times.

Anyways, the 24-hour news cycle as moved on, Ravelympics has a new name, and hopefully someone at the USOC’s attorney’s firm is reworking their blasted “form letter” to be more civil.

Want to see the story from start to finish (or rather, finish to start as you scroll) in pictorial form? Follow me to the Ravelympics Pinterest board.

Getting “Huffy” Over Milk Fiber: German Designer Claims She Invented It

Anke Domaske, image courtesy QMilk

My ears have been burning all day over the latest drama in the fashion world. The Huffington Post reported today that a German fashion designer, Anke Domaske, is claiming to have invented milk fiber. Luckily, they had my heavily researched blog post to take down the ludicrous claims of Mademoiselle Chi-Chi.

Now, to give Anke Domaske some credit here, she does have a background in biology as well as fashion design. Her milk fiber is being created in a factory right in Germany and she says that her and her team worked for years on the formula perfecting how to turn sour milk into fabric.

So the way her company processes and makes fabric out of milk could slightly differ from the processes outlined in all of the public scientific articles I’ve read. Or perhaps she just wanted to reinvent the wheel, so she created the exact same product from scratch, instead of getting the recipe from one of the many mills in China I referenced in my last article.

But to claim that you invented milk fiber in the last five years or so and to boost that your product is brand new and innovative is just absurd, especially considering humans have had the ability to make products from the proteins in milk since the Ancient Egyptians. And as for fabric made from milk itself? Well, maybe the fashion world considers off-the-rack, mass-produced clothing déclassé, but really, all of those vintage dresses from the 1930s and 40s is all the proof you need that milk fiber has been around long before Anke came on the scene, and the many websites selling milk fiber and fabric products takes us right up to the present.

Anke apparently told the BBC in a radio interview that her product was all-natural and eco-friendly because she doesn’t use chemicals to make it, blend it with AN, and she only uses milk that is being “thrown away,” as opposed to owning her own herd of dairy cows. I’m not sure how she can get away with not using any chemicals at all, since she is turning a liquid into a solid, nor do I understand how she could make her products strong enough without introducing a blend, since this was the problem with milk clothing in the first place, but then, I’m not a chemist.

As for Anke? She says that she wants to make clothing out of milk fiber the next big thing, and thinks everyone should be wearing milk fabrics in the future. Nice dream, Anke. I really doubt that she is going to find enough sour milk just being “tossed out” to make her fabric. The reason milk fiber isn’t widespread? Because it takes take about 100 pounds of skim milk to make 3 pounds of milk fiber.  Chew on that cud.

What is Milk Fiber?

Milk Fiber from China

Good question. What is milk fiber? And what do we know about it? Well, people like to spin it into yarn and made fabric from it. And it’s soft and silky. And it’s looks pretty. According to the fiber people over in China, it also is beneficial to human health, is anti-bacterial, and “has the functions of nourishing and taking care of skin.” Riiight. Now we are getting into some fantasy land spin-doctor stuff. That sounds like a marketing ploy. So let’s go digging and find out exactly what milk fiber is, and why it’s so darn special.

Ok, to start this journey, it’s important to know where milk fiber came from. According to Euroflax Industries, milk fiber was invented in 1930’s in both Italy and America and was called “milk casein.” Huh. Who knew? And here I thought it was some newfangled invention. But apparently it’s been around for a while. For a long while, actually. Crazily enough, casein was invented way before the 1930s – apparently they’ve discovered that many churches from the 14th and 15th centuries were painted with casein-based paints – the colors are still bright and unfaded even to this day! Well, apparently this milk casein stuff is great for paint. But how does that connect with milk fiber?

bhgreenjerkin21

From the National Bellas Hess F/W 1946-47 Catalog of “Ara-Fab Fashions”: a 2-piece Aralac/rayon blend jerkin set embellished with felt motifs in kelly, blouse not included; $4.98; misses 12-22

Apparently “milk casein” fiber was used in many clothing and household items in America and Europe during the 1930s and ’40s, says Joan Kiplinger of Fabrics.net. It was a substitute for wool, which was needed by men on the front lines. However, it fell out of use after WWII ended and newer, cheaper synthetics such as nylon grew in popularity. The fiber was blended with other natural fibers and known under the brand names of Aralac, Lanatil and Merinova, for those of you checking your vintage clothing labels. While these brands’ fabrics were very similar to wool and could be dyed by the same processes, apparently there were some flaws with the milk casein fiber – namely, that it was not as strong and firm, nor as elastic as wool, and the fibers “mildewed easily” when they got damp.

However helpful this information is, we still don’t know how milk fiber, or milk casein, is made, and therefore what exactly it is. The websites selling milk fiber aren’t particularly helpful, as they simply talk about dewatering and skimming milk to make the fiber, like it’s some sort of cheese. Which it is not. Cyarn is particularly vague about this, saying simply that they:

“…manufacture the protein spinning fluid suitable for wet spinning process by means of new bio-engineering technique…

Hm, that sounds mysterious. So now it’s a protein? Ok, let’s back up a bit and find out what “casein” is. Maybe that will help us out. According to Wikipedia

Casein (from Latin caseus, “cheese”) is the name for a family of related Phosphoprotein proteins. These proteins are commonly found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow milk and between 20% to 45% of the proteins in human milk. Casein has a wide variety of uses, from being a major component of cheese, to use as a food additive, to a binder for safety matches. As a food source, casein supplies essential amino acids as well as some carbohydrates and the inorganic elements calcium and phosphorus.

Ok, so now we know that “casein”, which is the protein in milk, is what is used to make the fiber. So then, is milk fiber edible? Is it just like making or eating cheese? Here’s another clue: the Wiki article mentions that fiber is made from “extruded casein.” This article from the Science in Farming website, says:

The conversion of the casein of skim milk into textile fiber is not a process that can be carried out on the farm. The casein must be made by a controlled procedure possible only in a dairy plant or a plant making casein exclusively. The conversion of casein into fiber requires the knowledge and experience of textile engineers and equipment similar to that of plants producing viscose rayon. The casein is dissolved in alkali, various other substances are added, and the solution is extruded through the fine apertures of a spinneret into a bath containing acid and dehydrating and hardening agents.

Spinneret In Action

Ok, there sounds like there are a lot of chemicals involved in manufacturing milk fiber. So definitely not like making or eating cheese, then.  Another article, Some Fibers From the Proteins, gets a little more in-depth in its explanation:

The casein is dissolved in water that contains about 2 percent by weight of alkali to make a viscous solution with 20 to 25 percent protein. The next step is to pump the filtered casein solution by a metering pump through a platinum-gold alloy disc, or spinneret, which has thousands of fine, accurately placed, and uniform holes. The solution, streaming from the holes of the spinneret, is immersed in water that contains an acid. The acid neutralizes the alkali used to dissolve the casein. The small, continuous fibers are then stretched, treated in various solutions, and collected by the spinning machinery. The tensile strength of the yarn is enhanced by stretching the fiber while it is being tanned with aluminum salts and formaldehyde. The action of the hardening baths can be accelerated by heating, and the fiber can then be stretched much more than at low temperatures. A further treatment is needed in order to make the fiber resist the boiling bath commonly used in dyeing wool.

In case your eyes just glazed over, what that brain melting paragraph just said was that the proteins from milk have to be dissolved in water and then processed through various chemicals in order to try and make them solid again. Now, there are some chemicals in there that I’m not wild about, as they sound dangerous, but according to some of the websites selling milk fiber commercially, the milk fiber industry was granted the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 green certification for international textiles in 2004. So, I wonder, how different is the manufacturing process today?

milk_fiber3

Production process of milk fiber

I found a clue at the Doshi Group website, which mentions that milk fiber is a “graft copolymer of casein and AN.” They even provided this cute little chart showing how they make milk fiber. As you can see, the process is very similar to what was described in that 1940s article above. There’s the dehydrating of the milk to get to the protein, dissolving it in alkali, and the spinning and drying to turn it into fiber. But interestingly enough, there’s a little stop before spinning called “graft copolymerization.” I think this is a big clue. Let’s go find out what that mysterious “AN” is.

Ah ha! I searched for a long time to find this, because nowhere on the Internet could I find the words “AN” and “milk fiber” comingling together. But finally, I hit pay dirt. An obscure Chinese science article from Dong Hua University, Shanghai in 2000 did a study of the effects of acrylonitrile (AN) being grafted onto casein. They concluded that “AN-g-casein fiber is a new type modified ‘silk-like’ fiber for wide application.” According to The Textile School, to manufacturer milk fiber, casein and acrylonitrile are grafted together chemically. They dilute alkali and forcing these solutions through a spinneret into a coagulating bath:

A fiber consisting of a copolymer of casein protein (25%-60%) grafted with 40%-75% acrylic monomers, of which at least half is acrylonitrile, has been developed in Japan under the tradename Chinon. The casein dissolved in aqueous zinc chloride and grafted with acrylonitrile is wet or dry spun into fibers. It dyes readily with acid dyes, but basic and reactive dyes can be used also. The fiber is marketed as a substitute for silk.

Ding ding ding! So what do we know now? Modern milk fiber is a blend of casein protein and acrylonitrile, most likely to strengthen it and prevent some of the problems that the original casein fiber had. But I still have questions. Like, what’s acrylonitrile? According to Wikipedia it’s a chemical compound that’s an important monomer, or binder, for the manufacture of useful plastics. This website does a great job of demonstrating how it’s made. However, they also mention it as being a pollutant, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the German MAK commission have classified acrylonitrile as a human carcinogen. Whoa, scary! But the American Chemistry Society clarifies things a bit:

Chances are that acrylonitrile touches everyone in some way every day. Acrylonitrile is the key ingredient in the acrylic fiber used to make clothing and carpeting…telephone and computer casings and sports equipment; and in nitrile rubber, which is used in the manufacture of hoses for pumping fuel. Acrylonitrile is used to produce plastics that are impermeable to gases and are ideal for shatterproof bottles that hold chemicals and cosmetics, clear “blister packs” that keep meats fresh and medical supplies sterile, and packaging for many other products. It is also a component in plastic resins, paints, adhesives, and coatings.

Ok, so not that scary. You don’t want to try eating acrylonitrile or being near it when it’s burning, but touching things made from it won’t immediately hurt you either. But we have learned a very important fact: acrylonitrile is a “key ingredient” in making acrylic fiber, and is the raw material in making acrylic yarn as well.

So the answer to our question, “what is milk fiber” has been answered. Milk fiber is a blend of casein protein and the chemical acrylonitrile, which is used to make acrylic. It’s made using a process that is similar to rayon/viscose, but because it’s a regenerated protein fiber and not a regenerated cellulose fiber, it reacts like wool. That means that it dyes like wool and even smells like wool when burned, according to Kiplinger.

Interestingly enough, while slogging through all of this research in an effort to discover everything I could about milk fiber, I discovered that it does in fact have antibacterial properties. While the “milk slurry” is being chemically mixed and spun together, micro-zinc ions are added. This creates zinc oxide while the product dries, making it bacteriostatic. Also, according to Doshi, they do not use formaldehyde as one of the drying agents anymore. Though I do doubt their claims that fabric made from this fiber is good for the body and can “nourish skin.” Since it’s made in a way that is similar to rayon and acrylic yarns, it does nothing more to your skin than any other fiber. If you want your skin to be nourished, I recommend using some lotion instead.

UPDATE: July 27, 2011

Since writing this blog post, the conversation about milk fiber and its relationship with AN (acrylonitrile) has exploded, even being featured on major news sites such as HuffingtonPost. Thanks so much for your interest, everyone, and I always appreciate links back to my research.

I’ve come across a couple of extra pieces of information I think are really important to know about milk fiber. The reason that milk fiber hasn’t become a huge phenomenon is because of an issue of supply and demand. Apparently it takes about 100 pounds of skim milk to make 3 pounds of milk fiber. Now, my relatives are dairy farmers, and they have one barn full of dairy cows, so I have trouble fathoming the idea of enough cows to make just one roll of milk fabric. So face it, milk fiber is always going to remain sort of exotic and harder to get.

Also, milk fiber isn’t as eco-friendly as we all first were told. According to Finn + Emma, an organic children’s clothing company that actually practices what it preaches, traditional dairy farming has a big negative impact on the environment. Combine that with the inhumane way some dairy animals are treated at mass-production farms and the eco-friendliness aspect goes out the window. Ouch. Granted, I use lots of yarns that aren’t eco-friendly, but it just goes to show that you can’t always trust the hype.

“What About The Sheep?!” A Guide To Ethical Yarns

As a whole, I like to think that the Western world is becoming more self-aware, of both themselves, their neighbors, and their environment. I’m not sure where it began. Did the seed get planted one sunny day in the 1970s when a public school teacher first taught a group of 5-year-olds about Earth Day? Maybe, like all fads, it’s simply a reflection of the “cool” reusable grocery bags we’ve started carting around. Whatever the cause, phrases like ‘fair trade” and “carbon footprint” are the latest, greatest buzzwords in a culture that is attempting to shed the pronoun “disposable.”

The yarn industry has jumped wholeheartedly into this natural movement; an understandable leap, since knitting and crocheting are all about making your own products, after all. There are those who specialize only in vegan- and vegetarian-friendly yarns, companies touting that they sell “wildcrafted” silk (in other words, they don’t boil the silkworms alive), and fair trade companies promoting the hand dyed yarns of “disadvantaged artisans” from around the world.

At the helm of the fair trade movement there is Manos del Uruguay Yarns, whose 40-some years of fair trade practices to human, animal and environment alike have led to being admitted to the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) as a full member. Then there is the Mirasol Yarns, whose Mirasol Project has revolutionized the lives of the shepherds’ children in the Puno region of Peru. And of course there is Peace Fleece, who reaches out to impoverished farmers in wartorn countries like Russia and Palestine, brokering a sort of “peace” through the sharing of products.

Once we enter into the realm of any type of “friendly” yarns the issue gets a little shakier, though. What, after all, is a vegan-friendly yarn? Is it yarn that, like vegans’ food habits, doesn’t come from an animal? Or is it simply yarn that hasn’t required an animal being killed to get to the wool? What if the animal is killed for food after they use its fleece? And what if you want the yarn to be friendly to the environment, too? Should you only buy yarn that hasn’t been processed with toxic chemicals? And how do you know what chemicals it may or may not have touched? Then there are the “buy local” slogans on the rise. Should you buy only local yarns in an effort to keep from the expected harm that may come from shipping a box of yarn across the pond? I’m not even going to touch the dubious claims of the antibacterial and ultra-violet protective qualities of some yarns, even though they are manufactured synthetically.

So your head is spinning right now, I know. So let’s get back to to the point. What’s this all got to do with the sheep, anyways? Well, I thought that with all of the misinformation and random facts out there floating around it might be nice to have a good guide to ethical yarn companies, co-ops and farms that focus on animal welfare. Keep this list on hand when making your next yarn and fiber purchases.

First off, let me start by saying that a couple of great places where you can always find great yarns and fibers are local farmers’ markets and sheep and wool festivals. Small farms are more likely to provide great care for their animals, and they will sell locally, both at these venues and in their farm store. You can browse and talk to the farmer and judge for yourself. Don’t know where to look for these local places? Start with the website Local Harvest, which provides an awesome array of search options for organic living. I typed in the word yarn and my zip code and almost had a joyous heart attack from the local listings that popped up.

Want something a little more specific? Animal Welfare Approved says they have “the most rigorous standards for farm animal welfare currently in use by any United States organization.” Use this link to find farms near you that have been approved by them.

Seeking to branch out to areas outside your hometown? Knitter’s Review has a great yearly calendar that keeps track of all of the yarn events all over the world, from fiber festivals to yarn conventions. Look there for some sheep and wool festivals in your state, or in the next one over! You may be surprised by what you find.

Co-ops/Partnerships

The Farm Animal Sanctuary
This is Britain’s first farm animal sanctuary, and it recently celebrted its 25th year of rescuing animals from slaughter. They sell fleeces from their rescue sheep to help raise funds for their sanctuary, which is based in Worchestershire, England. If you live in the UK and have a bit of land you can also adopt anything from a donkey to a duck from them.

Green Mountain Spinnery
Uses only fibers raised in the United States, purchased directly from individual growers, and their team oversees each step in the process from beginning to end to help sustain regional sheep farming and to develop environmentally sound ways to process natural fibers. Wool Works is one of their partners in this process.

Manos del Uruguay
With 40-plus years of fair trade experience under their belts, this group of co-ops promises that no animals, workers, or socio-economic disadvantages were exploited in the processes that led to the creation of their yarns. They were recently made full members of the World Fair Trade Organization.

The New Lanark Organic Wool Spinners
This mill is Soil Association accredited and their specialist wool spinning production unit was the first in Scotland to achieve the Association’s organic certification in 2006. The Soil Association symbol is a guarantee to the consumer that textiles are produced to the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental protection, and all funds go to support the upkeep of their historic village.

Nude Ewe
Specializes in undyed, unbleached wool spun from the fleeces of Bedfordshire’s conservation grazing flocks. Proceeds from Nude Ewe sales are returned to the flock owners and the conservation grasslands, which need to be maintained to keep the environment healthy.

Snow Leopard Trust
The Snow Leopard Trust works to further the coexistence of Mongolian herding people with the endangered snow leopard. To this end, they set up cottage industries (including yarn) which allow the people to sell their crafts in exchange for peaceful coexistence with the leopards. More info here.

Indie Dyers

eXtreme Spinning
This small indie dyer makes organic and Sustainable fibers her goal, from natural and hand dyed wools to exotic silks, hand-combed batts and handspuns.

KarlaA
This German indie dyer uses only natural and mainly organic yarns and natural dyes. She uses plant dyes that she’s collected herself and other dyes that are organically grown and traded under fair trade conditions.

Luna Portenia Designs
Sells handspun hand dyed yarns and handwoven clothing and accessories, all 100% organic and dyed with vegetables, leaves and roots.

Mosaic Moon
Hand dyed organic wool yarns and roving from humanely raised sheep. This one-time indie dyer also makes handknit baby clothes and is branching out into wholesale ordering.

Riihivillla Aarni
From Iceland comes is fabulous indie dyer that not only dyes her own yarns using natural products like mushrooms, but buys from neighbors who raise organic Finnsheep and sorts through the fiber herself before sending it to a local mill.

Organic and Natural Farms

The Critter Ranch
Specializes in locally produced, humanely raised, hand processed fibers & hand spun yarns, including exotic llamas raised right on their farm.

Camelot Dyeworks (previously Tomorrow Farm)
This farm sells both fiber and hand-dyed yarns made out of the fleece of their alpacas, which are raised using earth friendly, natural and sustainable methods. Yarns and roving are dyed with environmentally friendly dyes.

Dream Come True Farm
This organic farm raises Olde English “Babydoll” Southdown sheep, as well as a few alpaca and llama to create natural handspun yarns and goatsmilk soap.

Ethical Wool Enterprise (EWE)
EWE is a small business based at Eastern Hill Organic Farm in central Victoria, Australia. They have a flock of rescue sheep and the fiber from their animals is ethically produced and organic. All profits from the sale of their wool is used for their animal rescue efforts.

Friggjasetr
This little farm sells all of its alpaca yarn and fiber undyed and strives to do everything in an environmentally safe and sustainable way, including having their fiber spun at a local mill that is part of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. This means using environmentally friendly, low impact, and organic detergents for scouring, organic processing oils, water soluble grease and oil to lubricate the machines, and using appropriate treatment of waste water.

The Sheep and I from Green Acre Farm
A cute organic farm that sells organic, hand dyed fiber and handspun. The dyer says it best, “My animals are family. They are not a commodity. They only know kindness and love and they will be with us for their entire lives.”

Homestead Wool & Gift Farm
Self-described as a small, family-owned, animal-friendly farm nestled in the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin, this rescue-driven farm sells fiber and handspun yarn from their sheep, which are never eaten, sold, traded, given away or bred. No harsh chemicals are used in the processing of any of their roving, batts, and yarns. 

Joybilee Farm
Calling themselves a “joyful communion of ethical husbandry and fiber artistry” this Canadian farm uses eco-friendly natural dyes and calls the animals they get their fiber from happy and “contented.”

Juniper Moon Farm (previously Martha’s Vineyard Fiber Farm)
Dedicated to giving their sheep and angora goats the best possible care, which includes a natural diet of pasture and hay, they also process their fleece locally at a small mill. Started the first Yarn and Fiber CSA, as featured in the Wall Street Journal.

Larkspur Funny Farm
Have been raising organically and humanely raising fiber animals since 1996, selling raw fibers, custom painted batts, hand painted handspun yarns and art yarns.

Knox Farm Fiber
Hand-spun and hand-dyed organic yarn, batts and roving from the well-fed, well-cared-for sheep in pesticide-free pastures. Their wools are cleaned with eco-detergent, dried in the fresh air, carded the old fashioned way, dyed by hand with low-impact environmentally friendly dyes, spun by hand, and labeled with a photo of the sheep who donated it.

Morning Bright Farm
This small family farm nestled in the foothills of western Maine offers carefully selected organic yarns from humanely raised sheep. They also produce luxurious angora handspun yarns from their adorable colony of beloved rabbits.

Rosewood Farms
I found this little jewel buried deep in the search pages – they specialize in raising Kerry Hill sheep, a distinct and tiny breed from Wales that was just removed from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist in 2006. Rosewood Farms was the first to register this breed to have its fleece turned into wool. Their sheep live entirely pesticide free without synthetic pesticides or human intervention.

Shadyside Farm Studio
Small farm that sells high quality, naturally and hand dyed yarns and specializes in natural, organic farming practices.

Sunshine Daydream Farm
A small organic farm with hand dyed yarns and rovings, all by natural color or plant dyes. This dyer and farmer considers her sheep not only an integral part of their working farm, but pets as well.

Thistle Cove Farm
Thistle Cove Farm is a no kill, low stress farm whose fleeces have received the Virginia’s Finest seal of approval by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Thistle Cove Farm is only the third farm in the Commonwealth to receive this designation.

Toft Alpacas
Focuses on natural UK processing with minimal chemicals, local yarn production, fair trade Peruvian products, and doesn’t support alpacas being killed for their skins. All of their yarns and products are ecologically and ethically sound.

White Gum Wool
White Gum Wool sheep are raised on a single farm, in the high midlands of Tasmania.  They graze in mostly diverse native pastures with no fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides used in growing White Gum Wool. The yarn is spun by Design Spun Ltd in New Zealand, having first been scoured by Canterbury Wool Scourers with a NewMerino® Chain of Custody that certifies the sustainability and traceability. White Gum Wool sheep have never been mulesed, and they also wag their “undocked” tails behind them.

Wild Wool Farm
Wild Wool Farm sells handspun, handdyed yarns and fibers from the endangered sheep breeds they’ve been raising for 20 years. The spinner says she knows all of her sheep not just by name but by “Baa.”

Yarn & Fiber Companies

Alchemy Yarns of Transformation
This company believes in social and global consciousness and as such does not support mills or practices that condone human or animal suffering. They focus on not harming the environment by using natural dyes and little chemicals.

Australian Organic Wool
A family-run yarn company from Australia specializing in yarn made from 100% certified organic Australian merino wool. Processed under the Global Organic Trade Standard, the yarn is spun at a mill certified to handle organic fibers and dyed using low-impact, metal-free dyes. They only use wool which has come from properties where mulesing is not practiced.

Cornish Wools
This company started producing locally and naturally processed yarns in an effort to expand on Cornwall’s woolly heritage. Their local and natural process is all about not harming the environment and caring properly for their animals, some of which are at-risk breeds.

Ethical Twist
Specializes in organic yarns that place their importance on caring for the animals and minimizing the impact on the environment. Located in the Falkland Isles, even their packaging is biodegradable.

Insouciant Fibers
This Bainbridge Island-based company is focused on “reconnecting fiber artists” with the natural aspects of the craft and the animals that make it possible. To that end they produce minimally processed artisan yarns and source their raw materials from local farms in the Pacific Northwest, where they are located. None of their small-batch yarns are dyed, to let the natural beauty of the fiber shine through, and their yarn labels highlight the small farms and animals the fiber originally came from.

Mountain Meadow Wool
This company specializes in locally produced Wyoming fiber from ranches that practice sound animal husbandry and sustainable agricultural practices, and whose animals meet natural standards. Wool is processed using revolutionary mill processes that don’t harm the environment and everything is cleaned using 100% natural, using bio-degradable soaps and non-petroleum spinning oil. Also has an eco-friendly home line of cleaning products made from wool

O-Wool
The Vermont Organic Fiber Company is a leading wholesale supplier of yarns and fabrics made with certified organic wool. They have more information than you can shake a stick at about the organic care and treatment of animals.

Rosy Green Wool
This is a 100% guaranteed organic German yarn company that is a member of the Global Organic Textile Standard. Their strict certification and wool from happy sheep in Patagonia makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Swans Island Yarns
This company sells certified organic merino yarns dyed with all natural dyes in a 1790’s farmhouse from sheep raised on an island off the coast of Maine. Sounds idyllic, right?

TONOFWOOL
TONOFWOOL specializes in hand-dyed cormo wool yarns and fibres from the ecologically-conscious Tasmanian farm that first created the breed over 50 years ago. The company considers itself a social enterprise, getting their yarn milled locally, using wool that only comes from unmulesed sheep, keeping their process sustainable, and promoting a rare sheep breed.

Treliske Yarns
They specialize in organic yarns where the animals have not been given chemical treatments (such as drenching or dipping for parasites, fly dressings, antibiotics, growth promotants, vaccines) nor do they graze on pastures that have been sprayed with herbicides. Genetically engineered or modified feed is prohibited, and mulesing is not practiced.

What Yarns/Fibers To Avoid:

New Zealand Possum
The NZ possum, unlike the American kind, is a hairy pest that escaped from Australia and is routinely culled to keep its population numbers at a level that the government finds acceptable. Not only do they spread bovine tuberculosis among dairy herds, because they are not natural to the environment they also are responsible for stripping new growth from the unique flora and fauna in New Zealand. However, if you have problems using fiber from an animal that has been killed, no matter how destructive it is, I’d stay away from this fiber.

Peace Silk
When it comes to silk, you may not be able to get away from the killing of silkworms to knit with it. Because the alternatives are sort of…fatal as well. And sometimes aren’t nice to small children, either. This website, Wormspit, boils down the myths of “peace silk.” Err…maybe that was a bad choice of words.

Animals Yarns From China
China currently lacks a comprehensive basic law on animal protection. In 2009 they first proposed one, and that law is slowly going through the approval system in their government. The law is supposed to make animal owners more responsible by preventing the pollution of livestock breeding and encouraging proper care for animals. At this point, however, sourcing yarn from China is largely hit or miss, especially if you are concerned about animal welfare.

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Remember, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know the difference between a yarn that has been cared for in an ethical manner from the moment it grew on a sheep’s back to yarn that is just being dyed in an “environmentally friendly” way. It’s one thing to have a large yarn company that makes one tiny little yarn line that is organic, and quite another to have an entire business based on ethical, natural practices and beliefs. This is the distinction I’m trying to make with my list.

I am sure there are many more farms and co-ops and companies than what I have mentioned, but I wanted to give you a place to start and some more information on organic and ethical yarns. Please feel free to add to my list by commenting below. I’d love to know about other yarn companies out there that are treating animals in an ethical manner.

A Compendium of Steampunk Quotations

I have been frustrated by the lack of steampunk quotes on the Internet. That’s not to say that there aren’t good quotes about steampunk out there, but the fact is, they are scattered willy-nilly on various obscure boards and forums and are hard to find. I’ve been collecting my favorites for a while now and decided it was high time I share them with everyone so others could be spared my pain. I tried to stick with those that directly related in some manner to the higher echelons of steampunk mentality, through either referencing the humanity in technology and culture or the basics of steam and machines. Some are amusing, some are serious, and some are about the rise of steampunk in and of itself. I’ve even included those that reference steampunk genre writings and film. If you’d like to add to my collection, shoot me a message through WordPress and if I like it I’ll add it!
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“The game is afoot.” – Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

“I just think we’re living in a time of massive, amazing change, like the Industrial Revolution on acid.” – Kelly Lynch

“She has halls and she has castles, and the resonant Steam-Eagles, Follow far on the directing of her floating dove-like hand, With a thunderous vapour trailing, underneath the starry vigils, So to mark upon the blasted heaven, the measure of her land.” – Edgar Allan Poe

“Lulled in the countless chambers of the brain, our thoughts are linked by many a hidden chain; awake but one, and in, what myriads rise!” – Alexander Pope

“…for no man lives in the external truth among salts and acids, but in the warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the painted windows and the storied wall.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“In a properly automated and educated world, then, machines may prove to be the true humanizing influence. It may be that machines will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile ” – Isaac Asimov, Robot Visions

“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” – Donna J. Haraway

“Historical fact: people stopped being human in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line. At first, workers rebelled. They quit in droves, unable to accustom their bodies to the new pace of the age. Since then, however, the adaptation has been passed down: we’ve all inherited it to some degree, so that we plug right into joysticks and remotes, to repetitive motions of a hundred kinds. But in 1922 it was still a new thing to be a machine.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” – G.I. Gurdjieff

“People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.” – River Tam, Serenity

“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have a huge variety of needs and dangers.” – H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

“There is an electric fire in human nature tending to purify – so that among these human creatures there is continually some birth of new heroism. The pity is that we must wonder at it, as we should at finding a pearl in rubbish.” – John Keats

“In this world, which is so plainly the antechamber of another, there are no happy men. The true division of humanity is between those who live in light and those who live in darkness. Our aim must be to diminish the number of the latter and increase the number of the former. That is why we demand education and knowledge.” – Victor Hugo

“To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catchall term, a concept in search of a visual identity. To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance. – Jake von Slatt

“There are now no more horizons. And with the dissolution of horizons we have experienced and are experiencing collisions, terrific collisions, not only of peoples but also of their mythologies. It is as when dividing panels are withdrawn from between chambers of very hot and very cold airs: there is a rush of these forces together. ” – Joseph Campbell

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“Although he was considered insane by his peers, Bernoulli’s theory states that the air flowing over a bird’s wing is at a lower pressure than the air flowing under the wing. That’s called “lift,” and that is what we’re now going to… attempt. Of course, it’s only a theory, it’s never been tested…” – Artemus Gordon, Wild, Wild West

“The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“It lay heavily in her hands, the crystal face gleaming, the golden body exquisitely machined. It was very like a clock, or a compass, for there were hands pointing to places around the dial, but instead of the hours or the points of the compass there were several little pictures, each of them painted with extraordinary precision, as if on ivory with the finest and slenderest sable brush.” – Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.” – Ernst Fischer

“If I could create an ideal world, it would be an England with the fire of the Elizabethans, the correct taste of the Georgians, and the refinement and pure ideals of the Victorians.” – H. P. Lovecraft

“It was a sombre snowy afternoon, and the gas-lamps were lit in the big reverberating station. As he paced the platform, waiting for the Washington express, he remembered that there were people who thought there would one day be a tunnel under the Hudson through which the trains of the Pennsylvania railway would run straight into New York. They were of the brotherhood of visionaries who likewise predicted the building of ships that would cross the Atlantic in five days, the invention of a flying machine, lighting by electricity, telephonic communication without wires, and other Arabian Nights marvels.” – Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

“Filled with dreams I begin to wander/through this maze of alien wonders/Into glades with ponds of starlight/ethereal beauty beyond human might.” – Crystal Eyes, World of Black and Silver

“Today satellite photos make the planet seem so small. Where is the adventure it that? [Steampunk is] sort of a dream, the way we used to daydream. It’s like part of your childhood’s just bursting forward again.” – Robert Brown, Abney Park

“Come a day there won’t be room for naughty men like us to slip about at all. This job goes south, there well may not be another. So here is us, on the raggedy edge. Don’t push me, and I won’t push you. Dong le ma?” – Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity

“Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one.” – Lord Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” – James Taylor

“Science is a match that man has just got alight. He thought he was in a room – in moments of devotion, a temple – and that his light would be reflected from and display walls inscribed with wonderful secrets and pillars carved with philosophical systems wrought into harmony. It is a curious sensation, now that the preliminary splutter is over and the flame burns up clear, to see his hands lit and just a glimpse of himself and the patch he stands on visible, and around him, in place of all that human comfort and beauty he anticipated – darkness still. – H.G. Wells, ‘The Rediscovery of the Unique’ Fortnightly Review, 1891

“I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker.” – Voltaire

“We may have lost the war, but we haven’t lost our sense of humor. Even when we lose a lung, a spleen, a bladder, thirty-five feet of small intestine, two legs, and our ability to reproduce all in the name of the south, do we EVER LOSE OUR SENSE OF HUMOR?” – Dr. Arliss Loveless, Wild, Wild West

“There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of The Street.” – H. P. Lovecraft

“If you want something you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and the despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.” – Philip Pullman, Clockwork

“Ships and sails proper for the heavenly air should be fashioned. Then there will also be people, who do not shrink from the vastness of space. ” – Johannes Kepler, letter to Galileo Galilei, 1609

“But it ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flyin’ is? Well I suppose you do, since you already know what I’m about to say. Love. You can know all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as a turn in the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.” – Capt. Malcolm Reynolds

“The mind has an amazing ability to continue worrying away at a problem all on its own, so that when the “Eureka!” comes it is as mysterious as if it were God speaking. The words given voice inside the mind are not always clear, however; they can be gentle and elliptical, what the prophets called the bat qol, the daughter of the voice of God, she who speaks in whispers and half-seen images. Holmes had cultivated the ability to still the noise of the mind, by smoking his pipe or playing nontunes on the violin. He once compared this mental state with the sort of passive seeing that enables the eye, in a dim light or at a great distance, to grasp details with greater clarity by focusing slightly to one side of the object of interest. When active, strained vision only obscures and frustrates, looking away often permits the eyes to see and interpret the shapes of what it sees. Thus does inattention allow the mind to register the still, small whisper of the daughter of the voice.” – Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

“Isolate her, and however abundant the food or favourable the temperature, she will expire in a few days not of hunger or cold, but of loneliness.” – Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee, On the Segregation of the Queen

“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangibles, ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.” – Chuck Palahniuk

“To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth.” – H. P. Lovecraft

“That’s the duty of the old,’ said the Librarian, ‘to be anxious on the behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.’ They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious.” – Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“Arithmatic, arithmatock/turn the hands back on the clock/How does the ocean rock the boat/how did the razor find my throat….?” – Tom Waits, Alice

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe

“We are all subject to the fates. But we must all act as if we are not, or die of despair…death will sweep through all the worlds; it will be the triumph of despair, forever. The universes will all become nothing more than interlocking machines, blind and empty of thought, feeling, life…” — Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds, because it has more to prove.” – Terry Pratchett

“We often mingle with the world, but our discovery is hidden away, as it can be in a small compass, and no one suspects who or what we are. We pass as tourists among our fellow-men.” – Mystery Airship Pilot 1858-1898

“Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. It has arrested ten thousand lightning flashes of genius, which, unless thus fixed and arrested, might have been as bright, but would have also been as quickly passing and perishing, as the lightning.” – Richard Chevenix Trench

“All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity.” – Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

“A clockwork heart can’t replace the real thing.” – Dru Pagliassotti, Clockwork Heart

“How ghastly for her, people actually thinking, with their brains, and right next door. Oh, the travesty of it all.” – Gail Carriger, Soulless: The Parasol Protectorate, #1

“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.” – Theodore Roethke

“The Internet is global and seemingly omniscient, while iPods and phones are all microscopic workings encased in plastic blobjects. Compare that to a steam engine, where you can watch the pistons move and feel the heat of its boilers. I think we miss that visceral appeal of the machine.” – Scott Westerfeld

“You speak of destiny as if it was fixed.” – Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.” – Robert Frost

“Invention, my dear friends, is 93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation, and 2 percent butterscotch ripple.” – Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

“Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.” – William Blake

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” – Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they wont’ just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight…” – Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

“The oxygen and hydrogen will now have the honor of combining before Your Majesty.” – Professor John Henry Pepper

“But I was sure of something, too: it’s a lot easier to be lost than found. It’s the reason we’re always searching, and rarely discovered — so many locks, not enough keys.” – Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key

“He was so very large and so very gruff that he rather terrified her, but he always behaved correctly in public, and there was a lot to be said for a man who sported such well-tailored jackets—even if he did change into a ferocious beast once a month.” – Gail Carriger: Soulless, The Parasol Protectorate, #1

“Heart of steel with a central nervous system. Oh, but look! The emotional inhibitor. Stops them feeling anything. It still has a human brain. Imagine its reaction if it could see itself, realize itself, inside this thing. It would go insane.” – The Doctor in Doctor Who, The Age of Steel

“Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal – as we are!” – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“There is a toxin, refined from the nectar of the rhododendron ponticus, infamous in the region of Turkey bordering the Black Sea for its ability to induce an apparently mortal paralysis. Enough to deceive even a medical mind as tenacious and well-trained as yours. It’s known locally as…mad honey disease. What’s wrong with Gladstone? Oh, he’s just demonstrating the very effect I just described. He doesn’t mind.” – Holmes in Sherlock Holmes, the movie

“The real end of the world is the destruction of the human spirit; the other kind depends on the insignificant attempt to see whether after such a destruction the world can go on.” – Karl Kraus

“Excuse me, I have to recharge my flamethrower.” – Spaceballs

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes

“The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated — is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambigous or even contradictory situations – in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” – Neal Stephenson

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey

“Victor Vigny: It is like the old fairy tale. The boy saves the princess; they fall in love. He invents a flying machine – along with his dashing teacher, of course. They get married and name their firstborn after the aforementioned dashing teacher.
Conor: I don’t recall that fairy tale from the nursery.
Victor Vigny: Trust me, It’s a classic.”
– Eoin Colfer, Airman

“Anyone who knew Violet well could tell she was thinking hard, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet had a real knack for inventing and building strange devices, so her brain was often filled with images of pulleys, levers, and gears, and she never wanted to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair.” – Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

“More varied than any landscape was the landscape in the sky, with islands of gold and silver, peninsulas of apricot and rose against a background of many shades of turquoise and azure.” – Cecil Beaton

“Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“The clock indicates the moment-but what does eternity indicate?” – Paul Di Filippo, The Steampunk Trilogy

“I figured “free will” meant chemicals in your brain telling you what to do, the molecules bouncing around in a way that felt like choosing but was actually the dance of little gears – neurons and hormones bubbling up into decisions like clockwork. You don’t use your body; it uses you.” – Scott Westerfeld, Peeps

“I am the twentieth century. I am the ragtime and the tango; sans-serif, clean geometry. I am the virgin’s-hair whip and the cunningly detailed shackles of decadent passion. I am every lonely railway station in every capital of Europe. I am the Street, the fanciless buildings of government. the cafe-dansant, the clockwork figure, the jazz saxophone, the tourist-lady’s hairpiece, the fairy’s rubber breasts, the travelling clock which always tells the wrong time and chimes in different keys. I am the dead palm tree, the Negro’s dancing pumps, the dried fountain after tourist season. I am all the appurtenances of night.” – Thomas Pynchon, V

“You are so young, Lyra, too young to understand this, but I shall tell you anyway and you’ll understand it later: men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies, creatures of a brief season. We love them; they are brave, proud, beautiful, clever; and they die almost at once.” – Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“As the clockwork of the millennia moved a notch in front of their eyes, it had taken their thoughts from small things and reminded them of how vulnerable they were to time.” – Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale

“We can control the future, my boy, just as we wind up the mechanism in a clock. Say to yourself: I will win that race–I will come first–and you wind up the future like clockwork. The world has no choice but to obey! Can the hands of that old clock in the corner decide to stop? Can the spring in your watch decide to wind itself up and run backward? No! They have no choice. And nor has the future, once you have wound it up.” – Philip Pullman, Clockwork

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” – Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

“When I grow up I want to be an inventor. First I will invent a time machine. Then I’ll come back to yesterday and take myself to tomorrow and skip this dumb assignment.” – Calvin in Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson

“The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Panic bells, it’s red alert/There’s something here/From somewhere else/The war machine springs to life/Opens up one eager eye/Focusing it on the sky/Where 99 red balloons go by.” – Nena, 99 Red Balloons

“1941. Right now, not very far from here, the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it, nothing. Until one tiny, damp little island says, ‘No. No, not here.’ A mouse in front of a lion. You’re amazing, the lot of you. I don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me.” – The Doctor in Doctor Who, The Empty Child

“My mind, I know, I can prove, hovers on hummingbird wings. It hovers and it churns. And when it’s operating at full thrust, the churning does not stop. The machines do not rest, the systems rarely cool. And while I can forget anything of any importance–this is why people tell me secrets–my mind has an uncanny knack for organization when it comes to pain. Nothing tormenting is ever lost, never even diminished in color or intensity or quality of sound.” – Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity!

“[What art] seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.” – Oscar Wilde

“Not thou alone, but all humanity doth in its progress fable emulate. Whence came thy rocket-ships and submarine if not from Nautilus, from Cavorite? Your trustiest companions since the cave, we apparitions guided mankind’s tread, our planet, unseen counterpart to thine, as permanent, as ven’rable, as true. On dream’s foundation matter’s mudyards rest. Two sketching hands, each one the other draws: the fantasies thou’ve fashioned fashion thee.” – Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

“All morning, Spence has been a well-oiled machine of activity. Everyone doing her bit, quietly and efficiently. It’s strange how deliberate people are after a death. All the indecision suddenly vanishes into clear, defined moments–changing the linens, choosing a dress or a hymn, the washing up, the muttering of prayers. All the small, simple, conscious acts of living a sudden defense against the dying we do every day.” – Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty

“Answer me, you who believe that animals are only machines. Has nature arranged for this animal to have all the machinery of feelings only in order for it not to have any at all?” – Voltaire

“With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

“I am a believer in free will. If my dog chooses to hate the whole human race except myself, it must be free to do so.”
– Diana Wynne Jones, Castle in the Air

“I am unarmed. But Butler here, my…ah…butler, has a Sig Saucer in his shoulder holster, two shrike-throwing knives in his boots, a derringer two-shot up his sleeve, garrote wire in his watch, and three stun grenades concealed in various pockets. “Butler could kill you a hundred different ways without the use of his weapons. Though I’m sure one would be quite sufficient.” – Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl

“Jem seemed to look through her then, as if he were seeing something beyond her, beyond the corridor, beyond the Institute itself. ‘Whatever you are physically,’ he said, ‘male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy – all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.'” – Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel: The Infernal Devices, #1

“I dwell in Possibility
A fairer House than Prose
More numerous of Windows
Superior–for Doors
Of Chambers as the Cedars
Impregnable of Eye
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky
Of Visitors–the fairest
For Occupation–This
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise”
– Emily Dickinson

“All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.” – G.K. Chesterton

Behind the Brand: Manos vs. Malabrigo

A friend recently contacted me and asked me to weigh in on the similarities and differences between Manos and Malabrigo yarns. As a connoisseur of Manos who has come to learn far too much about the two brands just so I can yak about them intelligently, I began a short reply, and found myself with a 1,000 word treatise deserving of a blog post. So I give you my take on the Manos and Malabrigo debate, complete with a history of the yarns and their creators.

Manos del Uruguay and Malabrigo Yarns, while often lumped together in one breath, are two utterly different yarns with only a tenuous connection based on region and ply. First, let me talk briefly about how they are alike. They are both single ply yarns. They are both kettle dyed by hand. And they are both imported from South America.

And that’s about where the similarities end. Seriously. That’s it.

Well, I should amend that. Because Manos and Malabrigo are often lumped together, even though they have striking differences, they’ve become each other’s competitors. It doesn’t help that they both were born in the same epicenter – Montevideo, Uruguay (to fiber enthusiasts it might just become the new mecca of yarn) and its surrounding countryside. It’s rather like they are cousins, of a sort. Consequently, the parallel paths these two companies follow means they often find themselves swaying toward each other to meet the needs of the consumer, like birch trees bending under force of the wind.

Manos del Uruguay Wool Clasica in Mulberry

Manos del Uruguay was formed by women for women. It began as a small, non-profit cooperative for poor, rural women in 1968, and was an early venture of what today is now called “fair trade” practices, like that other widely-known company, Ten Thousand Villages. They sold a wide variety of handcrafts and woven goods, including yarn, starting small at local art fairs and spreading out from there.

The one variety of yarn Manos originally sold, a single ply, handspun worsted “virgin wool,” was dipped by hand into small kettles over open flames to create the striated effect. At first available only in large cities like New York, it had a rough and unforgiving texture, and, like Noro, it proved it was the genuine article by the amount of straw and other vegetable matter you had to pull out of it as you were knitting. I cannot imagine it was that highly coveted in the 1970s, but it was! Perhaps I am spoiled by today’s uber-soft yarns.

Eventually, however, Manos grew more savvy to the needs of its knitting customers, who themselves were growing more picky as the luxurious ’80s rolled in. While they were determined to on one hand to eradicate poverty through sustainable economic development, on the other hand they found themselves shaping themselves to the tastes of their clientele. Though it is not well known about them in the knitting community, their cooperatives create fashions that are well-known on the runways and in famous designers’ closets, handcrafted pieces worthy of Fifth Ave art galleries and top-of-the-line yarns and fibers.

Their current classic sweater weight yarn, which all of their yarns spring forth from, has morphed into “Wool Clasica” and is spun out of Corriedale wool, a breed that was born over 100 years from a Merino-Lincoln cross. An aran weight single ply, Corriedale has the plushness you typically see in Merino breeds with the added strength of Lincoln wool, which gives it a bouncy appeal when knitting with it. It is a true aran weight – there is no doubt that it is thicker than worsted, and its handspun appeal makes it distinctive. Manos has the only mass-produced yarn on the market today that is spun by hand – others are spun by machine in a way that is designed to look handspun. This is a distinction that should be emphasized. Since handspun is so much more costly and time consuming to make, it makes Wool Clasica truly a unique product.

Manos is specifically designed to be thick and thin. While it knits up at an aran weight, probably the largest parts of a skein veer on the bulky side while the thinnest could almost be called a heavy fingering. It retains it’s kettle-dyed “stria” heritage with a wide range of colors that have no dyelots, though I doubt that native Uruguayan women still stoop over small black kettles and open fires to create its vivid colorways (in fact, they use lovely, bright stainless steel pots).

Most recently, Manos del Uruguay went through a long evaluation process and was admitted as a full member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which is the global Fair Trade representative body. This group of over 350 organizations is committed to 100 percent Fair Trade, and is the final stamp of approval backing up Manos’s mission to eradicate poverty through sustainable economic development, pioneering social and environmental policy and practice, and continual reinvestment in marginalized artisans, farmers and producer communities.

Malabrigo Merinoo Worsted in Forest

Malabrigo, by contrast, is a much, much younger yarn company. Family-owned, it is also located in Uruguay, and also uses local women to create its yarns for them. It started in 2004, when Antonio González-Arnao was dissatisfied with the hand-dyed yarns on the market and decided to dye his own in his kitchen. His wife, Carla, was bemused. By 2005, Antonio, along with his business partner Tobias Feder, began peddling their wares around the United States and Europe, finding it difficult to make headway in some places as they were told there wasn’t much of “a market” for hand-dyed yarns. Ha! As we all know, in just a few years they’ve successfully turned that idea on its head, as all anyone can do is when touching their showcase yarn, Malabrigo Worsted, is stutter and blather. The actual base that Malabrigo uses seems to have been around for a while in other forms, sold for lower prices with generic hand painted names on eBay and other websites. But what makes it stand out as Malabrigo is mostly likely due to Antonio’s eye for color and the company’s skillful marketing.

Malabrigo Merino Worsted is 100 percent Merino wool, and the short staple of the wool creates a softness so sweet that rabid, crazed fans have been known to faint at its touch. I exaggerate, of course, but Malabrigo does have a smooth, cushy feel to it that reminds me of falling into a feather down comforter. A single ply worsted weight, it has a mainly even texture, which creates stitches that are just slightly rustic in appearance.

It is a kettle-dyed yarn with a wide range of semi-solid and variegated colorways, and the company never stops adding new colors and texture to its line-up. There are downsides to that magical deliciousness, however, mainly in that Malabrigo, the single ply yarn is more prone to pilling. But overall, it’s brilliance cannot be denied.

The name Malabrigo, ironically, means “bad shelter” in Spanish. The company’s name came about because of a tiny town in San Jose known as “Mal Abrigo.” Apparently, this town was so named because it is extremely windy and long ago when travel didn’t involve warm, climate-controlled vehicles, those looking for shelter at night weren’t about to find it atop ol’ Mal Abrigo.  The founders of Malabrigo said they were inspired by the idea of a place so cold everyone cozied up inside their homes knitting warm, wooly sweaters together.

Recently, Malabrigo has been emphasizing its own distinctiveness by becoming environmentally friendly. They’ve been reducing their carbon footprint at places like their mill (where all that magical Malabrigo is spun), where they installed thermal heating systems for sustainable hot water.  Malabrigo only works with wool that comes from mulesing-free sheep, and the company employs environmentally safe practices for processing it as well. They believe in using as little water and as few chemicals as possible, and water, wool waste, and dye waste that cannot be re-used are transported to a detoxification plant to be cleaned and treated for re-use.

As for which is better, Manos or Malabrigo – well, that’s all in the eye of the beholder. For those who enjoy the rustic nature of an artisanal, handspun yarn with a cushy, sturdy texture, Manos’ Wool Clasica is the one to reach for. For those who want the luxury of babyfine wool slipping through their fingers in a cascade of colors, nab yourself some Malabrigo. Or have both! There are so many differences in the feel of the two yarns that there is plenty for everyone. Because they knit up at slightly different weights, and because each brand has colorways unique only to them, there isn’t much overlap. The biggest difference between them is one of price. Manos is priced at around $12-14 (semi-solid) and $16-18 (stria variegated or naturals) for their Wool Clasica and has 138 yards per skein, while Malabrigo’s Merino Worsted comes in at around $11-12 a skein. There is greater yardage in Malabrigo’s worsted yarn, meaning that at 210 yards a skein you can make yourself a sweater more economically. However, because Manos was founded primarily for the purpose of being a tool of social and economic change in people’s lives, their higher cost is finding its way back into the cooperatives’ pockets, and therefore the local women’s hardworking hands.

Ironically, while Malabrigo is driving the yarn market right now by constantly rolling out new, innovative bases – for example, creating a silk/merino DK weight that Manos has mimicked (though again, with minor texture differences) – without the Manos cooperatives, which currently employ roughly 800 women, Malabrigo would most likely not exist. It was because Manos spent 40-years building fine flocks of sheep and communities of women artisans that companies like Malabrigo were able to find themselves a niche market to grow and expand in. Today, Uruguay is an epicenter of amazing wool fiber and yarn production in vivid colors. Between the many yarn companies that have set up shop in Uruguay, the wool industry is blossoming there, making affordable, hand-dyed and handmade yarns available for everyone the world over. Viva la competencia!

To Defend Your Knit

So this weekend my church had a rummage sale, and I scored two fabulous WWII-era knitting booklets. While I don’t have much interest in most of the patterns inside of them, I do love anything to do with every day historical pieces such as this, so I read these front to back anyways. And I found some gems! I’ve decided to share a couple of the patterns with everyone.

The first book I came upon was called “Knit for Defense,” a title that makes me want to salute and say “aten-shun!” It’s a Coats and Clark book from 1941 that features Chadwick’s Red Heart Knitting Worsted yarn, which is, shockingly, a wool fiber (Yes, Red Heart did once upon a time sell wool, and only wool). There are a variety of ridiculous patterns and images in it, such as knit helmets and chest protectors and male models looking noble while they hold cigarettes and pipes, but towards the back I found two great sock patterns that got me slightly excited. They are very nice, very basic, and I actually want to knit one of them up as soon as I find some appropriate yarn for them. I’ve put a few notes in brackets to help modern day users make them more easily, though I tried to preserve the look of the original, which is why you’ll see some amusing abbreviations. I hope you enjoy them!

Plain Sock No. S-112
“Men never have enough socks. These comfortable and warm socks are absolutely tops for correctness in the Service.”

Materials:
Chadwick’s Red Heart Knitting Worsted, [or any dk to light worsted weight wool yarn that gives you gauge]. 3 skeins (2 oz. skeins) for each size).
4 double-pointed bone knitting needles No. 5, (4 mm.) size [size 6 US].
Gauge: 5 and 1/2 sts makes 1 inch, 7 rnds make 1 inch [22 stitches and 28 rows over 4 inches].
Sizes: Small (Medium, Large)

Cast on 50 sts loosely. Divide sts on 3 needles and join, being careful not to twist. Work around tightly in ribbing of k 1, p 1 for 4 inches, decreasing on last rnd of ribbing to 44 sts (46 sts, 48 sts).
Work around in stockinette stitch (k each rnd) for 2 1/2″ (3″, 3″).
Next rnd: *K 1, k 2 tog., k around to within last 3 sts of rnd. Then sl 1, k 1, p.s.s.o., k 1. Work 1 inches straight. Repeat from * once more. There are now on needles 40 sts (42 sts, 44 sts).
Work straight until piece measures, in all, 10 1/2″ (11″, 11 1/2″.)
With spare needle, knit from first needle 9 sts (10 sts, 11 sts).
Slip from 3rd needles onto other end of spare needle (for heel) 9 sts (10 sts, 11 sts).
Divide between 2nd and 3rd needles (for instep) the remaining 22 sts. Turn and work over the heel sts only, as follows: 1st row: * Sl 1, p 1. Repeat from * across. 2nd row: Sl 1, k to end. Repeat these 2 rows alternately for 20 rows (22 rows, 24 rows).
Next row: Right side facing, sl 1 st, knit 9 sts (10 sts, 11 sts).
K 2 tog., k 1, turn. Sl 1, p 3, p 2 tog., p 1, turn. Sl 1, k 4, k 2 tog., k 1, turn. Sl 1, p 5, p 2 tog., p 1, turn. Continue in this manner, always working 1 st more on each row before deceasing, until there remain 10 sts (12 sts, 12 sts).
K 1 row. Slip all instep sts onto 1 needle. With free needle, pick up along left side of heel 11 sts (12 sts, 13 sts).
With 2nd needle, k across the instep sts. With 3rd needle, pick up along other side of heel 11 sts (12 sts, 13 sts).
With same needle, k across half of the heel sts. Slip the remaining heel sts onto the first needle. There are now on each heel needle 16 sts (18 sts, 19 sts).
Dec. for instep as follows: 1st rnd: Knit around. 2nd rnd: On first needle k to 3 sts from end, then k 2 tog., k 1. 2nd needle: K across. On 3rd needle, k 1, sl 1, k 1, p.s.s.o., k to end of rnd. Repeat these 2 rnds alternately, until there remain 40 sts (42 sts, 44 sts).
Work straight, until piece measures (from back to heel) 8 1/2″ (9 1/2″, 10 1/2″). Or two inches less than desired length, when completed.
To shape toe: 1st rnd: K to within last 3 sts on 1st needle, k 2 tog., k 1. On 2nd needle, k 1, sl 1, k 1, p.s.s.o., k across to last 3 sts from end of needle, k 2 tog., k 1. On 3rd needle, k 1, sl 1, k 1, p.s.s.o., k to end of needle. 2nd rnd: K around. Repeat these 2 rnds alternately, until there remain 12 sts (14 sts, 16 sts). Weave these sts together; or bind off, fold and sew.
Press through damp cloth with hot iron.

Spiral Sock No. S-111
“These spirals are easy and so much fun to make. Besides, the absence of a definite heel makes them wear like iron.”

Materials:
Chadwick’s Red Heart Knitting Worsted, [or any dk to light worsted weight wool yarn that gives you gauge]. 3 skeins (2 oz. skeins) for each size).
4 double-pointed bone knitting needles No. 5, (4 mm.) size [size 6 US].
Gauge: 8 rnds make 1 inch [32 rows over 4 inches].
Sizes: Small (Medium, Large)

Cast on 48 sts loosely. Divide sts on 3 needles, join, being careful not to twist and work around in ribbing of k 2, p 2 for 3 inches. Work in patterns as follows: 1st to 4th rnds incl: * K 4, p 4. Repeat from * around. 5th to 8th rnds incl: K 3, * p 4, k 4. Repeat from * around, ending with k 1. 9th to 12th rnds incl: K 2, * p 4, k 4. Repeart from * around, ending with k 2. 13th to 16th rnds incl: K 1, * p 4, k 4. Repeat from * around, ending with k 3. 17th to 20th rnds incl: * P 4, k 4. Repeat from * around. 21th to 24th rnds incl: P 3, * k 4, p 4. Repeat from * around, ending with p 1. 25th to 28th rnds incl: P 2, * k 4, p 4. Repeat from * around, ending with p 2. 29th to 32th rnds incl: P 1, * k 4, p 4. Repeat from * around, this moving 1 st every 4th rnd to work Spiral Pattern. Work in pattern until piece measures, in all, 19 inches for small size, 20 inches for medium size, or 21 inches for large size. Work 1/2 inch straight in stockinette stitch (k each rnd).
To Shape Toe: 1st rnd: * K 6, k 2 tog. Repeat from * around. Work 2 rnds straight. 4th rnd: * K 5, k 2 tog. Repeat from * around. Work 2 rnds straight. Continue thus, knitting 2 rnds straight between each dec. rnd 3 more times. Work 1 rnd straight on remaining 18 sts. Weave sts together; or bind off, fold and sew.