It’s still not easy being green


Llamas For Green Knitting

Welcome! Today, I am honoured to be included as your penultimate stop on the Knitting Green Blog Tour. Grab some llama fluff and make yourself comfortable.

In case the coffee has not hit yet and you don’t know what you’ve clicked into: I’m Sandi Wiseheart, and a while back, Ann Budd asked me if I would be interested in writing an essay for a book on knitting with organic yarns. She wanted something light-hearted, something from a personal perspective; a bit of musing on what “knitting green” meant to me, as an ordinary knitter with a stash to rival the stockrooms of most yarn shops.

I thought it was going to be easy: Sit down and clickity-clack out a few hundred words on my love for organic yarns, my preference for a minimum of toxic-noxic fumes coming from the loops on my knitting needles, and so on. It would be easy because everyone knows that organic is Good and chemicals are Bad and that we all are honour-bound to Save the Whales, the Pelicans, the Striated Grey Owl, and not-to-mention the Fairy Moth, by making wise choices at our local yarn shop.

Except it isn’t that easy, nor that simple. I discovered that becoming a Green Knitter was going to be more difficult than I thought.

In my essay for Knitting Green, I wrote about the tough balancing act we face if we are committed to greening our knitting. There’s the limited-but-growing selection of organic yarns which are available, versus the selection of non-organic yarns which are more plentiful, more familiar, and easier to find. There’s the struggle between buying local (“Support your LYS”) and buying (“cheaper/easier/more selection!”) online. Even more fundamentally, there’s the confusion over what the words “organic” and “green” really mean in a modern world where so many of us don’t even know where our food comes from, let alone our knitting yarn.

In the two years since I wrote that essay, I have learned so much about what it takes to live what I call “the compassionate life”: A life where one chooses, consciously and as wisely as possible, how to walk the road we’re born to.

I learned that if I wanted to Live Green, then I needed to ask a great many questions…and to make a great many concessions to the realities of modern life. I cannot give up airplane travel completely, for example, even though I know that a single flight is a disproportionately enormous drain on the planet’s resources. However, I can choose to drive as many places as possible, rather than fly. I’ve driven three trips to the United States in the past six months, trips where previously I would have taken a plane. I won’t give up my dream of seeing my friend Sarah in Britain, however. That flight will be a compromise for me, where I choose the goods of friendship and international travel over the good of leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

So what AM I doing in my quest for greener knitting?

“Small steps, Ellie…small steps.” (from Contact, by Carl Sagan)

Today, my decision-making vis-a-vis my purchases is different–and I think this makes all the difference in the world. It used to be that my buying decisions were based on What Sandi Wanted, and that was pretty much it. Who had what I wanted at the cheapest price, in the right colours, and the Ooo Shiniest presentation–these things informed my decisions prior to my realizing that every single one of those choices had a consequence…and it wasn’t always a Nice Consequence.

Now, I look at money, and at my part in the knitting economy, quite differently. Money doesn’t just doesn’t get me more stash, money is now also a way to use the green in my  pocket to change the world: To encourage small artisans, to keep local businesses afloat, to send messages that I want companies to use a little more green, and a little less oil, in their diet. Money decisions have become a way to support my community and my values, in addition to building my stash!

Now I choose carefully who I buy yarn from. Never again for me the yarn from A Certain Huge Box Store That Shall Not Be Named, because the company that owns that store is more interested in putting green into their wallets than implementing green policies in the workplace. Now, I buy from companies who are part of the knitting community, and thus part of our ongoing shared dialogue about being responsible yarn consumers. If at all possible, I buy from a local shop; if that is not possible, then I buy from an online shop–a part of my virtual knitting community–whom I know to be green at heart.

I support local fiber artists

I try to shift away from buying mass-produced goods to paying for goods produced in small quantities by makers I know and trust. If I need a knitting bag, I won’t go buy something made overseas and sold in stores from coast to coast. Instead, I will buy from a responsible (and talented) bag artisan within our community such as Lexie Barnes, JessaLu, or Namasté. My most treasured DPNs were hand-carved out of rosewood; my stitchmarkers were made by a friend with an Etsy shop.

And now I ask a LOT more questions. Where does the yarn come from? What sort of dyes are used? How are those circular needles made, and what is the impact on the environment of making them in large quantities? You’ll frequently find me at fairs and shows deep in conversation with vendors, gently investigating the “green quotient” of their wares. I try not to be contentious–there is so much to learn, and making a living is so hard for all of us–but I find that more and more businesses within our community are not only open to discussing the “green-ness” of their products, they are enthusiastically searching out new ideas on how to Be Green and stay profitable.

We told you it wasn't easy being green...

You’ll notice a common motif here: Community. I can try to Knit Green all day long, and if I don’t have a Green-Hearted community surrounding me, my efforts will fail. Ann Budd could have tried to write Knitting Green thirty years ago (when she was a mere sprog of five, of course), and she would have failed due to the lack of a publisher willing to explore Things Green with her. She could have wanted, back then, to fill her book with lovely garments designed in scrumptious organic yarns–except thirty years ago, such things were virtually unavailable.

It took many, many talented, visionary, passionate GreenHearts–a whole community of them, in fact, from yarn companies to designers to photographers to layout people to editors–just to get Knitting Green into our hands. Becoming Green isn’t something we can do alone. And thank goodness, we don’t have to.

Speaking of which…I believe it is now Katie’s turn to share her experience working on the book Knitting Green.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Don’t forget to pet the llamas on your way out…and I’d love to hear what you think, so please consider leaving a comment below.

– Sandi


Join Katie Himmelberg, a former co-worker of mine at Interweave Press and now a freelance knitwear designer, tomorrow for the final stop on the Knitting Green Blog Tour.

I would recommend it even if I wasn't in it...yup.


June 5:
Ann Budd

June 6: Kristeen Griffin Grimes

June 7: Kristen TenDyke

June 8: Mags Kandis

June 9: Cecily Glowik MacDonald

June 10: Veronik Avery

June 11: Kimberly Hansen

June 12: Carmen Hall, Q&A with Ann Budd

June 13: Sandi Wiseheart

June 14: Katie Himmelberg

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About sandi

Knitter. Spinner. Quilter. UFO Wrangler. Sometime bead artist and weaver. Almost 2-yr-old kittens, 1 permakitten, 2 grownup cats, 1 beloved dog angel, 1 spouse, 1 crazy life. I suppose that the 5 cats make me 1 crazy cat lady; OTOH, apparently, yes, I do need that much feline supervision.
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12 Responses to It’s still not easy being green

  1. Amy says:

    What an interesting collection of thoughts. I haven’t done much in the way of changing my knitting life, a contrast to the rest of my choices. You’ve made me re-think that, a bit.

    I’m most struck by the similarities between the thought processes (make each purchase count) and decisions (support small, local, businesses that make choices you believe in) made in your fiber pursuits and those made as I’ve changed the way I eat over the past two years. Challenging choices, to be sure, but very rewarding ones.

  2. JessaLu says:

    What a great article! It has definitely made me think about my yarn purchases a bit more. I do try to buy from the multitude of friends who dye yarn and wool more than a large company. I can’t remember the last time I bought yarn at Jo*nns or W*lM*rt. I have three sweaters worth of yarn from purchases at Rhinebeck – I annually fall down at a certain booth that shall remain nameless because I like to play my cards close to my chest. ;o) Suffice to say it’s local so I’m purchasing within my 100 mile radius, but I’ve never consciously made a yarn decision based on ‘green’ness. Maybe I should!

  3. georg says:

    The other thing about green yarns is the chemicals used in the production of the fiber. I prefer to avoid bamboo, soy, milk, corn, and tencel fibers, even though they are from easily renewed resources, because of the chemicals used in the process to make them. But I’m still a sucker for nylon in my sock yarn, and I can stare down my inner hypocrite in the mirror every day.

  4. Mireille says:

    An often overlooked option is simply making sure to make the best use of what you have. There are times, unfortunately, when mass produced man made fibers fit the bill for what you need. Is it better to use acrylic and produce something that will be loved and used for years, or to buy organic “insert animal/plant fiber here” and wind up with something that isn’t cared for properly and quickly becomes garbage?

    I also don’t keep a “stash” or yarn with no determined purpose. Perhaps that’s where MY best contribution lies, in careful consumption.

  5. Bootsie says:

    Guess I’ve been knitting green all along. I only learned to knit after I had learned to spin, and I only use the fiber from our animals, and alpaca from friends.

  6. This is good to start on my collection of yarns..
    What’s good with it that makes me interested is that it is eco fabric yarn and the benefits such as deodorizing and wicking comes from a way this sustainable fiber is processed.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  7. Jesus Shultz says:

    If I had a nickel for every time I came to sandiwiseheart.wordpress.com! Great post!

  8. Pat says:

    Appreciate your post and am glad to have found your blog. I struggle with “finding the best deal” and supporting local shops. It really does help when the local shops/venders have a “face”: the mother of a student who raises alpaca and spins yarn; the Birkenstock shoe store in town owned by a friendly family: these help me with my commitment.

    A speaker, at a college in-service, shared that instead of “the bottom line” we should consider the Triple Bottom Line: economic, environmental, relationship/sociological.

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