Figuring Out My Place in the Knitting World

When my son was a year old, I finally stopped working my Job. I worked from home, and with a medical resident for a husband, nursing, unsteady and pricey childcare (which sometimes did not stop virtual meeting attendees from hearing baby screams) and just general burn-burn-burnout, I decided enough was enough. After I stopped working my capital J Job to stay home full time with my son, it became pretty clear that I wasn’t planning on looking for a Real Job again. But now that he’s 2, I’m not so up to my eyeballs in life. I’m actually considering doing something MORE with my time and it’s really exciting to feel that way again – because let me tell you, I thought the feeling of barely treading water successfully wasn’t going to end.

I’ve said before that the knitting and fiber community is one of the most inclusive and encouraging that I know of. In it, I’ve found something that is entirely my own. It wasn’t thrust upon me and I’m not doing it for anyone but myself. At this point in my knitting journey, I’m considering where to go from here. I’d like to take this passionate hobby of mine and go more in a more career-oriented direction. I have more aspirations and ideas than fingers and toes, so it’s proving difficult to focus on one thing or even decide what I could focus on.

Pattern Designing – I’ve already dipped my toe into the pattern designing waters with a free little baby hat pattern that details how to achieve jogless stripes and a Game of Thrones-inspired shawl pattern. Patterns are really time-consuming to write (for me), but they are a really great way to express an idea that I need to get out of my head. And it’s nice passive income, should I be lucky enough to sell some copies! Designing is one thing I can do right now that doesn’t really cost me money. The cost of yarn to knit a sample is minimal (plus I either keep it or gift it), the time it takes to write and perfect a pattern doesn’t actively cost money, and it’s done during times when I couldn’t really be doing anything productive anyway. Waiting for inspiration to strike and getting in a fist-fight with impostor syndrome make it a bit of a slow process, but it at least feels like I’m doing something and contributing (since my kiddo is currently playing with buttons and in no way wants my interference).

Photography – There are definitely some skills I need to learn to up my game. I do like to do things properly and to seem professional. A lot of people in the knitting community communicate their ideas and designs through photography on Instagram. It’s a bit disheartening to lose followers because you’re pretty sure your pictures aren’t fancy enough. So I probably need to learn about photography, especially as I design more patterns.

Natural Dyeing – My ultimate goal is to have sheep raised by myself & my bff Renee whose wool we’ll have milled into yarn which we will then dye with plants we grew ourselves… but holy guacamole are there a lot of steps and dollars between here and there, so I’m not thinking about that just yet. What I am going to work on in the meantime is growing some dye plants in my yard to experiment with colors and techniques. Just for funsies.

Retailing Yarn – My big endeavor, possibly in a year or so, will be to start an online yarn retail shop. I know there are a lot of them, but I’m hoping mine will be unique in an inclusive way. There are a lot of people out there who, like me, are environmentally-conscious. Therefore, I’d like to carry many different types and brands of yarn all in one place that has an environmental advantage. Whether a patron is looking for non-superwash, local/domestic, plant-dyed, breed-specific yarn or wool from holistically managed sheep, I hope they’ll find what they want with me. This won’t be able to get off the ground for a while since I’ll need a significant amount of capital to get started, but I’m very much looking forward to this. I’m collecting a long list of brands to reach out to in the future, and I hope I get moral support from the fiber community :).

I have a lot on my mind about how I can make my hobby into a business, as you can see. For now, I’ll be working a little bit every day – selfish-knitting, writing patterns, playing with dye, figuring out What Is A Photography. And living. I’ll be doing that too.

[GUEST POST] – Regenerative Agriculture and the Role of Fiber-Producing Animals

I know you know, dear reader, that I’m a hippy and I prefer non-superwash yarn from sheep raised in the US. Being a knitter means a lot of things to me like creating art, taking my support away from fast-trash-fashion, and keeping my mind busy with calculating angles and counting stitches. But mostly, I see an opportunity for the knitting community to make the world better. Yes, better through seeing more technicolor sweaters around, but most impactfully, through the way the fiber animals are raised.

My BFF Renee has written all about going beyond expecting the animals to be treated humanely – about what we should know to be the gold standard and express that we support the efforts of the shepherds and farmers who raise the animals in this manner.

❤ Larissa

What does it mean to be a conscious consumer of animal fiber?  It’s safe to say that the animals involved in production of fiber should be treated humanely, fed a biologically-appropriate & organic diet, and given plenty of green space to roam.  These factors add up to “happy fiber”, a product we consumers can feel good about.  However, given the current state of our planet due to the uprising of industrial farming, perhaps we must take our ethical sourcing one step further.

Through the practices of contained animal feedlots, unmanaged grazing of livestock, monocropping, and heavy fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide use, we find that our soil is depleted of nutrients, our water supply is dwindling, and atmospheric CO2 is climbing (a contributing factor to global warming).  This isn’t great news for the future of our fiber and food supply; successful agriculture requires nutrient-rich soil, water, and a steady climate.  It’s no surprise that the natural world is getting out of whack; we’ve done a pretty poor job of working within the natural laws.  We impose our own systems that fight natural processes rather than work with them.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let’s visit the upside; things don’t have to continue this way.  Through holistic management and rotational grazing of animals, we can undo many of these wrongs that industrial agriculture imposes on the earth.  Rotational grazing is the process of quickly moving large numbers and high densities of animals through many small pastures (rotations occur anywhere from a day to a week).  This practice is intense, but disperses nutrients over the land, improves overall soil fertility, controls unwanted plants, enhances water retention, sequesters carbon dioxide out of the air and into the soil, and decreases the spread of parasites among the herd.  The effects of managing animals in this way are the goals of regenerative agriculture. “Do no harm” is then advanced to “improve what we’ve got”.  While it’s obviously a good thing to support sustainable and organic producers, we’re at the point in which looking beyond sustainable is necessary to reverse the damage to our soil and our atmosphere.

To get an idea of how greater soil fertility is reached through rotational grazing, let’s first consider how the bodies of ruminant grazers work. Fiber animals such as goats and sheep are mobile fermentation machines. They eat plants (grasses, shrubs, trees) which get fermented during digestion by microbes in their gut. What comes out on the other end is nutrient-rich poop that gets deposited back into the soil.  Their hooves act as miniature tills, breaking apart the top layer of soil, allowing nutrients and water to disperse downwards.  The soil now has a greater richness in microbial life than before, which means greater fertility. Microbes work symbiotically with plant roots, feeding the plant and depositing the plant’s carbon into the soil. Grazers and grasslands are co-evolved, and they completely rely on one another to flourish.  The land needs grazers to move nutrients around.  For example, the top of a hill or mountain tends to be more nutrient-poor than the base, considering rain and erosion drives the nutrients downwards.  How else, than through animals moving up and down in elevation, could nutrients cycle back up, against gravity, to the top? Given enough time and proper management, nearly any piece of depleted land can get transformed to viable farmland with the help of grazers.

The physical act of grazing by fiber-producing animals on managed grasslands retains water and sequesters carbon. To get a full perspective, consider the average fiber pasture in which the animals are given a very large area to roam, and they are rotated rarely, if at all.  The grass, therefore, stays quite short (usually only a couple of inches tall) since the ground is rarely given a rest from constant grazing. The roots of these grasses are also very shallow, since roots only grow deep when grasses grow tall. Now consider a pasture that is managed within a regenerative practice; a large herd of animals is rotated intensively through a large number of small pastures. This allows most of the grass to be resting at any given time, so the grass has the opportunity to grow tall. Consequently, the roots grow deeper into the ground. This is of huge importance because plants have the ability to transfer carbon out of the atmosphere and into the ground through their roots. The deeper the roots, the more carbon pumping, the less carbon in our air, and the deeper water can trickle easily.  It’s no surprise that this latter practice of rotation is a good representation of how grazers move in the wild; almost always on the move due to predation and seeking areas with more abundant grass.  If every farm practiced rotational grazing of their fiber animals, imagine the potential to reverse global climate change! (Now imagine if there were tax incentives for carbon sequestration on your land … but I won’t get too political). Everyone imagines that the best way to reverse global warming is to plant hundreds of trees, but grasses actually have a stronger ability to sequester carbon, so why not start with the millions of acres of animal pasture that already exists in the US? After all, the majority of this land is unusable to grow plans on due to poor water availability, topography, altitude, and poor soil quality.

We have a dizzying number of fiber options online and in stores, and knowing which buzzwords to look for can be tough.  Choosing fiber from organically-raised animals is a great start, but we can challenge our producers to do more.  The best way to go about this ethical consumption, as with anything, is to know your farmer and know their practices.  You may not be able to meet them in-person, but a quick phone call or email with a short list of questions (How many pastures do you rotate your sheep through?  How quickly are your goats rotated?  Do you test your soil?) will let them know that there is a demand for animal fiber from regenerative practices.  If we are to continue using our land as a resource for creating goods, we must take steps to build its fertility and vitality.  As Bill Mollison famously says, “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  If we move our fiber animals through the land in a way they naturally move in the wild, the biology of the soil with thrive, the environment and climate will being to correct, and the knitting community will help drive the revitalization of the Earth.

Renee Harding

Hippy Nonsense

I’m going to reveal to you a totally-secret secret. Are you ready? It’s going to be a shocker. I’m a bit of a hippy. I’ll wait until you collect yourself. Good? Good.

The hippy nonsense runs deep in my blood, even if on the surface I look like a total normie. I don’t work on a farm like my BFF (hi Nae!), nor do I smell completely of patchouli (only a little, it’s in my soap, what do you want from me). However, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I’ve brought back to basics, removed technology from, or have a heightened sense of connection to. I live in the modern world, and I quite like living in a house and driving a car and using a smart phone, so I’m not trying to walk into the treeline and never look back. But for a while I haven’t been able to shake the sense that in some ways, technology has gone a wee bit too far and done us a disservice. In small ways through living my life I hope to make informed choices that don’t make the world worse, or maybe even make it better in the long run.

  1. I met all my meat – I started trying to eat in a more ancestral manner years ago, and it’s taken a while to get into a groove with it. One of the aspects I’m most proud of is our meat sourcing. The meat that our family eats has all come from within an hour’s drive, I’ve met most of the animals and can vouch for the environment in which they were raised (grass-fed beef and pastured pork & chicken), and I know the people in the process of it all. Like many, I’m appalled by the factory farms in our country. But I can’t in good conscience eliminate meat from our diet for a few reasons. Meat is nutrient dense and healthy (read about the science & such here), and it’s not something that can be easily substituted. And possibly more importantly, opting out of the system IN NO WAY helps to fix it. For everything we buy, we are voting with our money. I choose to vote for local, ethically & sustainably raised meat by people I trust. And I only drove one county over to pick it up.
  2. I make my cats’ food – Before I even adopted our first cat Kelly, I was elbow deep in research about the proper diet for cats. Probably embarrassingly, I got the idea from hearing Rachel Ray talk about how she would cook her dog a side of food when she prepared dinner. Before then, I never gave a second thought to Dog Food or Cat Food. I learned a lot of information about the nature and diet of cats from and So, when Kelly came home with us in 2011, we slowly introduced the food I had cooked for her using the recipe I found. These days, she and the two other cats we’ve subsequently adopted Minka (whom we call Weena, don’t worry about it) and George are healthy, shiny, non-stinky, well-hydrated, great at calculus, do our taxes… jk. Anywho, I love them, they say hi.
  3. Skincare – Not long after I started removing trash from my food supply, I started examining my skincare product choices. I’ve had dry and crappy skin my entire life, and I definitely used to believe that I needed the power of chemists to cure my skin of its hydrocortisone or benzoyl peroxide deficiency. It’s become clear since then that my lifestyle was largely the culprit – I have an autoimmune skin condition called herpetiformis dertmatitis. Basically, I get rashy skin from gluten, so TAKE THAT FARTWADS, IT’S NOT A FAD. For a while, I largely used apple cider vinegar, baking soda and coconut oil for practically everything. While mostly effective for things like washing your hair, I’ve since upgraded to using more ingredients. I make my own face & body lotion, lotion for my son, and remineralizing tooth powder. I use shampoo and makeup from a company called 100% Pure. There are other great companies for non-straight-up-trash skincare like Beauty Counter, Primally Pure and Primal Life Organics (to name a few – there are many more!). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I haven’t been to a dermatologist since high school, and I don’t feel like I need to wear makeup to go to the grocery store. And put fat on your face. 🙂
  4. Cleaning products – While most people don’t generally worry about the ingredients in their cleaning products because it’s neither ingested nor applied topically to anyone, there are still a lot of concerns I have with common household cleaners. I don’t super duper want to poison my cats or kid, so I’ve been transitioning all of our products to things that would be non-lethal if any of the above licked them. This used to be another place where I used vinegar and baking soda for practically everything, but nature and technology working together have come a long way in the last 5 years. I use things for laundry ranging from natural to better-than-most. For a while I used Branch Basics until I ran out 😦 , then used BioKleen for a while. I needed something with a stronger detergent power for cloth diaper cleaning, so I opted to use Kirkland’s Environmentally Responsible detergent for those. And, yes, I do still use white vinegar as a fabric softener rinse thing. I don’t use dryer sheets, but rather opt for putting essential oils on wool balls. Smells nice, man. For general cleaning, I use a diluted liquid Dr. Bronner’s solution along with vinegar to clean glass – it works wonders with a squeegee, Windex is gross. I also have an enzyme cleaner called BacOut also by BioKleen which I add to laundry, especially cloth diapers. I have it in a spray bottle, too, for messes like food/drink spills in the carpet or stinky peepee from the aforementioned spoiled cats. I also buy nontoxic dish soap, dishwasher detergent and ant spray. It all counts.
  5. Cloth diapering – Since a few days after my kiddo was born, he’s been mostly in cloth diapers. I wasn’t keen to throw 10 stinky plastic and whatever else sacks into a landfill every day. I used to work from home and now I stay at home with him (he’s 2 now), so it’s not a big deal for me to do a load of diaper laundry every other day and to dispose of doodoos down the toilet. I use the laundry solutions mentioned above and it’s just part of our daily life. However, if I had to do it all over again, I’m not sure if I’d choose cloth diapers. There are a lot of brands that are better for the environment, like Seventh Generation. Cloth diapers may be a little too bulky and stiff for babies to get the best range of motion when they’re learning to move, and I honestly can’t say whether the manufacturing of and the daily maintenance of cloth diapers is more or less costly, both in money and to the environment – especially when compared to environmentally-friendly brands of disposables. That said, my 2 year old is in cloth diapers approximately 75% of the time and disposables the other 25%. He wears disposables when we’re on an outing, to his daycare 1 day a week, to his gym class once a week, and overnight. Whether this will prove to be the best choice in the long run remains to be seen, but I do still feel like it’s a bit of a hippy thing to do!
  6. Clothing – Buying clothing is a challenge for me. I never gave the clothing industry a second thought until being exposed to Katy Bowman’s work. There is a lot of unseen labor going into our clothes, and most of it is not something I would have endorsed had I known about it. Katy has written a wonderful post about eco-friendly clothes, and I promise it’s a great read dense with things that will enlighten you. So far what I’ve taken from this is to shop for clothes at thrift stores, online consignment websites, swap things with people in your community, source companies who have some set of morals and ethics that you agree with, and to make your own clothes. I’ve done some of these things, but I find it immeasurably difficult. For example, I just bought my 2 year old a winter coat from the store because I couldn’t find anything adequate in thrift stores. I’m happy with the coat, but I have no idea under what conditions it was made. Obviously, I’m knitting sweaters and socks and such, which I’ll talk about below. But I’d REALLY like to get into sewing clothes. And not just silly dresses that look like they’re from the 50s. I want to sew underpants and leggings and a zip up hoodie. But ohhhhh the fabric. This goes right back to the sourcing issue. Socially and environmentally friendly fabric is available, though scarce and HOLY EXPENSIVE. The clothing category is somewhere that I anticipate the most growth in my hippy nonsense success, but for now, it’s basically a list of things I need to figure out how to do.
  7. Knitting – I don’t think my purpose when I learned how to knit was to save the world, but my relaxing hobby and creative conquest is morphing into fixing global warming single-handedly. Well, probably more hands than mine will be needed, just let me be hyperbolic. I’ve outlined in two other posts how I choose yarn to work with and the concessions I’m currently making to make sure I don’t go bonkers restricting myself. Knitting is so damn fun with the colors and patterns and the kindest and most supportive community of any out there. I’m beyond thrilled to find a purpose tangential to the fun. Through knitting, and many of my other quests to bring things back to the Earth, I discovered that what I want to do is to support and add to the fiber animals being raised in a way that will regenerate the fertility of the soil, sequestering carbon. This plan will take a while to come to fruition (again hi Nae!!), but I don’t think I’ll be frustrated in the meantime in this knitting community <3.

This list may not be all-encompassing for the ways I’m trying to live the modern hippy lifestyle, but I for sure hope to extend the list as time goes on. Okay, that was a lot of typing, I’ve got a cardigan to knit! Ttyl.