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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 CatInfo.org and CatNutrition.org. 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.

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My Current Concessions

As I’ve noted in a previous post, I try to make informed decisions when choosing yarn to buy. The broad categories are fiber type, treatment of the fibers (and everything surrounding their production), country of origin, and how it was dyed. In an ideal world, every strand of yarn would be made from the best quality natural materials, under the best circumstances by somebody I personally know, and dyed with plants/natural materials (and maybe some fairy dust).

Where I concede for whether the materials are natural plant or animal usually falls under the category of performance. At the moment, I’m letting myself buy whatever sock yarn I want, which is a good example of where a synthetic fiber (Nylon) is used to increase the strength and durability of the sock. Nobody wants to spend weeks (or days, idk how fast you knit, ya speed demon) knitting socks only to have holes in them after only a few hours of wear. If you want a certain property in your yarn, but don’t want to fork over a mortgage payment, synthetic fibers are going to make it less expensive and be a lot easier to find.

If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t like to buy superwash wool yarn. The fact that the process makes the wool less woolly bothers me a lot less than the means in which it gets to that state. Yes, the ability to throw your knits in the laundry with the rest of your clothes without the risk of ruining a hard-earned garment is very convenient. However, I’d much rather spend a few minutes a week handwashing my knits for the peace of mind that I didn’t contribute to the descaling and polymer coating process of superwash yarns that is not exactly environmentally friendly. The concession here is, again, the sock yarn. It is very hard to find non-superwash sock yarn, folks. And harder still to find non-superwash sock yarn that is dyed omg-so-cute-and-pretty-I-need-it. While I really like neutrals for my wardrobe garments, socks can be SO FUN. Also, when I’m knitting a garment for somebody who does not live in my house and over whose laundry I have no control (a sweater for my cousin’s 4 year old daughter for example!), I always use superwash yarn. There are yarn companies who have managed to find a means of procuring washable yarn that is processed in an environmentally friendly way (which is another post altogether) and this is always my choice if I can afford it.

The fact that I can drive 3 minutes to my local Target and buy literally anything I could need and a whole ton of crap I didn’t know I wanted is pretty awesome on the surface. But when you think all the way upstream of where the raw materials came from and whose hands made it, it can be a less romantic story and a lot less local. It’s a monumentally baby-step process, but I’m trying more and more to know who – the actual person – the items in my life came from. Not only has this ideal stocked my meat freezer with animals I’ve met, this has also led me to seek out yarn companies based in the USA and whose yarn materials originate domestically as well. For me, this is the easiest way to know whether the sheep have been raised and handled humanely, that the people who work for that company are compensated fairly, and that all of the business standards are at least up to whichever governing body controls them in the United States. It’s also important to mention that the more local you buy an item – and the more local its components – the less fuel is used to ship it to you, the presumed end user. But this is not to say that every US yarn company is infallible, so this is where my concession comes in. Maybe I’ll support a local indie dyer, my local yarn shop, or a US-based retailer, as well as international yarn suppliers who I know to be doing right by the process. I waver about whether it’s more important to support American people or good practices anywhere. I don’t know the answer to that question, which is why the baby steps may walk in circles sometimes.

The way yarn is dyed is kind of an anomaly to me. I tried to dye yarn once with things I found in my backyard. I kind of followed instructions, but my yarn just came out looking dirty. I have almost no constrictions on buying yarn based on the way it’s dyed. However, if a yarn is promoted to be dyed with plants or using non-toxic dye, I may see what I can do to prioritize it, but that’s almost a novelty reason at this point. From what measly research I’ve done, I know there are heavy metal-free versions of wool dye, which must mean that all of the other ones contain at least some amount of these compounds. I have no idea if huge companies dye their yarn with different materials than indie dyers. And I know that for most plant dyes to actually stick to the yarn, a mordant must be used, and I’m 100% unsure whether the mordant is environmentally friendly. It’s possible that there’s a dose-response curve leaning to safety or otherwise for all dyes. I don’t really know whether the manufacturing process of any kind of dyeing materials is toxic, and to what portion of the environment. What I do know is that I like undyed fibers, and the rest are a big hunko chunko research away from being understood by me.

All of that being said, I’m looking forward to each new-to-me brand of yarn I try out in the future. It will be a learning experience as well as funsies knitting times.

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How I Choose Project Yarn

When I’m shopping for yarn, there is a lot that I consider. I attempt to identify the best choices, then be realistic from there based on what actually exists, is available, and is what I consider to be a reasonable investment. My process is ever-changing too. Sometimes I make more concessions, sometimes I want to be as strict as I can. I almost always start with a project in mind. I don’t think I’ve ever, for example, bought a sweater quantity of yarn then figured out how to use it later – that gives me the straight up willies, I can think of 10 “what if”s that could go wrong. Anywho, here’s a basic list and some information on my decision-making process.

    1. Fiber – After I’ve identified a pattern that I’d like to hitch my wagon to, I figure out what I’d like the fabric to be like. I’m pretty steadfast about using natural fibers – wool, cotton, linen, bamboo. However this is where the gray area creeps in. There are fibers made from natural things like Lyocell, which is a strong fiber made from recycled cellulose that adds sturdiness and shine to yarns, especially sock yarns. A totally natural fiber that I didn’t mention above is silk, but there are some moral/ethical concerns since most silk requires the silk worms to be culled in order to harvest the silk itself. There are companies now that do not need to sacrifice the silk worms in order to get the silk, which may play into my decision making process if possible. Then there are the entirely man-made polymers like nylon and acrylic. Nylon is often added to sock yarn to increase it’s strength and durability. Acrylic yarn is usually very soft and affordable – this is widely available in mainstream craft stores. I generally don’t use acrylic yarn because I don’t like the way it feels, if it gets exposed to flame it could melt (unlike wool which is flame resistant), and I’m not sure how it’s made. Some synthetic fibers are made from a large percentage of post-consumer recycled materials which is great, but it is still true that the raw materials needed to make synthetic fibers are petroleum-based non-renewable resources. Not only that, but any plastic manufacturing process is not a green one.
    2. Treatment – Once I’ve chosen which type of fiber I’m working with, I go a bit deeper into its story. Looking into its “treatment” can mean a lot of things, and I have a set of ideals that I’d like my selections to meet.
      1. For synthetic fibers, ideally they’d be 100% recycled materials
      2. For silk, ideally it would be ethically harvested without harming the silk worms
      3. For cotton & linen (and bamboo if applicable), ideally they would be organically grown
      4. For wool, ideally it would come from sheep who were raised as humanely as possible, in a carbon-sequestering farming method, and the fiber would not have the superwash treatment
      5. And it should go without saying, but unfortunately I know it doesn’t – ideally every person who handles the fibers from raw materials to the factory would be paid a fair wage and work in adequate conditions. This means ranchers shouldn’t have to cut corners with their flock because of external budget reasons, field workers should not be doused in pesticides and diesel fumes, factory workers should be safe and have reasonable hours – you get the picture.
    3. Country of Origin – Growing up in the United States, it was normal for pretty much everything in our house to have a “Made in _____” label on it, the country in question almost never being the United States. Sometimes this can be a good thing when another country’s business is properly supported by international trade, but other times this can be a supernotgood thing. American companies will often outsource parts of their business, especially manufacturing, abroad for mostly nefarious reasons. Other countries will often not have as strict of guidelines about building the factory itself and the treatment of workers (occupational health & safety, number of hours worked a day/week, living wages), and they can do it for less money since raw materials are cheaper and wages are lower. I waffle on the sourcing of my yarn a little bit, but I usually come back to supporting American businesses. The more local the better. If there is a yarn that would be perfect for a project that I just can’t find closer to home, or that is doing it right from an ethics & such perspective (like Pichinku whose Kickstarter I supported!), I’m happy to support their business. Living in the United States, though, I can find practically anything I need. When I am looking for a project’s yarn, I do like to go the extra step to investigate whether not just the retailer/dyer has their business in the US, I like to see where the sheep were raised or the crops were gown where they sourced the yarn base from. Sometimes this information isn’t easy to find, but often those who are committed to supporting or running a US-based yarn brand will say so proudly.
    4. Dye – Dye is arguably the most fun part of choosing which yarn you’ll use for a project. This is where the artist in you can come out if you yourself aren’t the pattern designer. And while choosing the color palette is extra funsies, there are still some things to take into account. Most yarn whether dyed commercially or by your favorite indie dyer is dyed using acid dyes. These are pigments that set into the fiber using acid, usually acetic acid (vinegar). There are also acid dyes that have a more environmentally friendly spin because they eschew heavy metals in their pigments. Then there are a plethora of plants and other natural items that can be found around your very own environment that give off a shocking amount of color. Often, many of these plant dyes won’t be as color or light fast without the use of a mordant (natural tannins in things like walnut husks or a compound called Alum for example). While the end product yarn dyed with any of the above won’t be toxic, the manufacturing of and disposal of some dyes and accouterments  may not be entirely Earth-friendly. Heavy metals are among the compounds that I wouldn’t want in my garden soil, yanno?

There are definitely more things to consider like breed-specific wool, how the yarn is plied, whether to buy from your local yarn shop or online and more. I could likely come up with a longer list, but the gist is that I don’t walk into a chain craft store and buy whatever is cheap and a neat color.

TL;DR Version

  • Personally, I stick with almost exclusively wool with other natural fibers here and there. I do make a concession for nylon in sock yarn if I’m spellbound by how pretty it is :).
  • I try to buy yarn that is the least chemically adulterated and is produced using the most ethical means. Obviously, perfection is hard to come by, but I make sure at least a few boxes are checked.
  • I buy as local as I can as often as I can, but don’t beat myself up from supporting good businesses in other countries.
  • I enjoy the natural beauty and frankly genius of natural dyes, but I don’t let that hold me back from selections at the moment. That would SEVERELY limit the choices available to me.

Phew. Okay bye, love you.

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Superwash Wool and Me

One of the things about my knitting that is unique is my rule about superwash yarn – I choose not to use it when I can. Let me preface this by saying I do have a proficient understanding of chemistry – I was a biochem major in college, so the use of the word “chemicals” is probably not going to appear without a qualifier. I’m definitely not an expert on the subject of superwash wool, though. Ashley at Woolful has a wonderful blog post that goes much more into depth than I am going to here.

To sum it up, superwash wool is when wool is descaled and coated in a type of plastic so that the fibers don’t felt and shrink when agitated a lot, as in the washing machine and dryer. In general, when I’m concerned about the toxicity or processing of a product, I am not concerned about the end product being a dangerous substance. This used to be my main concern when being more careful about unnatural chemicals in my home, products and environment. Generally, the most damaging part of using man-made chemicals to create or adulterate an item is in the manufacturing process. And mostly I’m concerned about the environment – plastic taking the Earth’s lifetime to degrade, degrading plastics leeching substances into the soil, the chemicals being released into the environment polluting the soil and water harming flora and fauna from the microscopic level up to big-ass birds and trees, and the carbon emissions of powering the manufacturing. This probably isn’t an exhaustive list.

Anywho, what I’m trying to say is that when I can, I choose wool that has not had the mainstream superwash treatment. I don’t mind hand washing my hand-knits. It makes me nervous to even put superwash items in the washing machine. I do make some concessions so I don’t go crazy, though (like letting myself buy whatever sock yarn I want because FUN and using superwash for non-knitter gifts). There are definitely plenty of companies that offer yarn that is the least amount processed as possible, so I don’t struggle with locating yarn to knit with. That being said, there are tons of indie dyers who have amazingly beautiful handpainted yarn, which is hard to resist.

Although it’s a small part at the moment, I hope to affect the environment positively an eensy bit with my knitting!