SHEEP AND LAMBS
Yarns and guidelines
Spinning plant fibres
note on acrylics
I decided to put all this online, I didn't really want to do blogging so I bought some sound webspace and built
this site from scratch. The knitting
similar to a blog and is regularly updated.
There's no sponsorship or advertising, and nothing is for sale! Specific yarns are mentioned, not always favourably. Unless
noted, all the images used are either from Wikimedia Commons or are
taken by me.
I am not an expert. I'm more of a Jill of all trades and my knitting is of less than professional standard. You may have guessed that I'm a vegan and I'm also a mother and grandmother, campaigner of sorts and spender of too much time in front of this screen. I have lots of interests and I knit and crochet sometimes. Like many women, I learned to knit as a child, got the hang of it properly as a young teenager but only flew with it when I had my own children. Soon after, I taught myself crochet.
What triggered me to make this website was
the willfully blind crazy fantasy island experience of Yarndale
My purpose is to raise awareness about the countryside environment
and to lessen the exploitation and suffering of animals,
which harms us in more ways than we realise.
Here is a little about my veganism. I am not saying that readers 'should' change to a plant based diet. That's up to you. Veganism is not a rule book but an easy and effective way of putting values into action.
Please don't think that there is anything sentimental about my veganism, such as not acknowledging the violence that exists in parts of the natural world, or not being able to cope with death, nor to see that 'nature' is 'red in tooth and claw' (Tennyson). Not at all. Of course many animals are carnivores and that's part of the natural order. I have no problem with the hunting and killing that carnivores need to do. But the whole of the animal kingdom is not red in tooth and claw, and there are many more herbivorous animals than there are carnivores – how could it be otherwise when, if it were not so, the herbivores would very soon become extinct. Co-operation, not killing, is what has built civilisations. Not to mention that humans are basically primates and it seems to me that when early humans turned to eating meat, way back in prehistory, that was the first step in a very long story which now sees us living in a violent society and riddled with degenerative lifestyle diseases.
Vegans have many other solid reasons for their choice of diet. It's not just a lifestyle choice. For a start, there's the fact that many more people can be fed from the same amount of land using plant protein, than can be fed with meat from the same land. That's the reason I became a vegetarian almost as soon as I became responsible for buying and preparing my own food. Veganism came a few years later. It is not a restriction - it is a liberation! It's not a question of what I can't eat, but what I choose not to eat.
There's also the issue of pollution and the carbon footprint of animal products.
A fundamental reason for being vegan, speaking just for myself, is that the whole of society is affected by diet, and the social framework of meat leads to violence as well as to illness. An army marches on meat (and alcohol). This is mentioned occasionally in vegetarian literature and you may have seen quoted 'as long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields' (attributed to Leo Tolstoy). We also know in our hearts that vegetarians and vegetarian populations are the least violent, and indeed that meat is often avoided by monastics and holy men and women in all the religious traditions.
We know all this in our hearts, but recently we are beginning to have proof! In the USA, many slaughterhouses were located in the city of Chicago. The cattle were fattened on corn in stockyards around the city and 'corned beef' was the product. Chicago was a slaughter city and was also noted for its high crime rate and 'gangster' culture. The two went together. However in more recent years the American meat industry has intensified and the process has now been taken away from the cities and concentrated in huge units that have been placed outside small towns near to where the animals are fattened up, and miles from the city. Many hundreds of animals can now be slaughtered and turned into shrink wrapped pieces in one building in one day.
and others have been able to investigate crime rates in those small
towns and it seems that the incidence
of violent crime is higher in
towns where a slaughter and meat processing plant is situated
similar small towns in the same region, where equally large new
industries other than meat packaging have been relocated and where a
similar increase in crime might be expected.
with growth in meat packing also experienced faster growth in violent
crime rates over the decade relative to counties without packing
plants” (Artz, Orazem, and Otto 2007)
Full citations for these and other interesting findings may be found online in an article A social history of the slaughterhouse: from inception to contemporary implicaitons in the Human Ecology Review Vol 17 no 1, 2010
Just one more thing. I've heard it said that 'veganism can't be natural because there's one essential vitamin that's not provided in a plant diet, therefore vegans have to take supplements, so how can it be a natural diet?' This is a reference to vitamin B12 which has to be supplemented except for people who are able to eat a diet of fresh, organic, poorly washed fruit and veg. This vitamin comes from metabolic processes of animals, but not plants. It is needed only in tiny tiny amounts – 0.0015mg per day (NHS) – and that's because in the diet of our ancestors it came from unwashed plant foods, from the accidental swallowing of insects and from the general lack of 'hygiene' surrounding eating. I've even read that in the traditional diet of the poor in India, the source of B12 was rat droppings in the rice. That does not appeal, and so many but not all vegans take the vitamin as a supplement, or they make sure they eat fortified foods such as yeast extract and some cereals etc.
our prehistoric ancestors we are still basically primates and
our digestion closely resembles theirs.
relatives are chimps and gorillas (with whom we are 99.4%
identical in functionally important DNA). I hear you say that chimps
are known to hunt and eat meat and I too have seen that on film. It
happens when territory is threatened, and possibly in other stressful
situations (such as nearby film crews). Sadly, then, chimps may be
going the way of early humans. But all the other primates are still
'vegan' and a diet of roots, shoots, leaves, nuts and fruits is what we
basically 'designed' for. (Oh and perhaps I should mention - in case you were going to
mention it - that
nearly all mammals have canine teeth, including the strict herbivores
like the gorilla,the hippopotamus and the camel!)
This was the experience that inspired me to make this website. Yarndale is a yarn festival held in Skipton, North Yorkshire. The first one was held in September 2013 and I was there. I had been tempted to go because the knitting and crochet blogs had been buzzing about it for ages, and makers from near and far had sent crochet bunting and other items to decorate the venue. The weekend was a huge success and no wonder because every yarn festival I have attended (er, just two now, actually) has been bursting at the seams with visitors, past the point of discomfort, so there's obviously room for more events of this kind (but why does everything have to be so big? I would be happy with a church hall size event with a couple of dozen makers and sellers and somewhere to sit for a while with tea and cake. Now there's an idea.)
The Saturday of the weekend was a glorious day and I enjoyed my bus-train-train journey. In keeping with the theme, I took some knitting to do on the train, which was a first for me. I felt a bit self conscious at first, but really it was no big deal. It helped to get me in the mood for Yarndale.
other ladies got off the train at the same time as me in Skipton and
we hung together for a while as we set off to walk to the venue. The
walk from the station crosses the Leeds and Liverpool canal and then
proceeds along a very nice
public park. This was a pleasant walk in
itself on a crisp sunny morning but after the park had been yarnbombed with crochet
knitted bunting, blankets, scarves and other colourful works of art
it was a real treat. At the end of the path there's an incline from
where you start to get the feel of the stockmart. Now this is partly
what had intrigued me. A yarn festival in a stockmart?
Surely it would be held in an adjacent conference centre, or similar.
Think what a stock market really is. You've seen the TV footage of
hundreds of animals being herded into pens whenever farming is in the
news, or maybe in 'countryside' programmes. Would you really want to
hang out in a place like that, let alone buy some yarn there? As the
stockmart hoved into view with its vast acreage of sheds and yards, a fellow
traveller asked me the way to the stockmart. Evidently
the penny hadn't dropped for her, for there it was in clear sight (in
my photo, the rooves of the sheds, with trees around, actually look a
bit like fields.)
By now lots of people were heading the same way, many from the direction of the shuttle bus or car park. We funnelled into the building past an ominous sign on the door which greeted us at eye level:
After being herded into the small entrance (modern security!) there came an immediate shocking reminder of its purpose – this was the smell. I am not exaggerating, and I know this venue is also used for other exhibitions not related to farming. But there was an all pervading unmistakable and rather strong stink of animal excrement. No getting away from it. It would take weeks to properly flush out and freshen the air in the place. I am not squeamish. I have changed many thousands of nappies (not disposables) and cleaned up quite a bit of vomit in my time. I like all animals and I have done my share of cleaning up after them too.
It's not that. It's what the smell represents for me – frightened and uncomprehending animals in cramped conditions, between nightmare lorry journeys, on their way to who knows what. That is the reality of wool. Didn't anyone else at Yarndale realise this?
effect was more horrible because the space was quite poorly lit, with
overhead windows only, and we were proceeding very slowly, part
crowd, part queue, shoulder to shoulder. Could they really be having
a yarn festival amongst this horrible stink? There certainly was no
adjacent 'conference centre'! (as if!) and there we were, in the
thick of it. I wondered why nobody said anything. We were obviously
too polite, being English knitting ladies (and some gents). And what
would have been the
point since there we were already? Also some of
us probably thought 'this is it, this is the authentic smell of the
countryside' (which it is, seeing as much of the countryside is given
over to animal concentration camps) and maybe those people
were glad to have
a taste of 'reality', assuming it was 'natural' and a
'countryside smell', perhaps even a privilege to be granted
this insider taste of Country File.... Also of course they probably
became inured to it, though I couldn't at the time see how. After
leaving the first area which was the cafe (above) I snuck around
an unoccupied section of animal pens (left) before facing the fray.
So once inside, there we were, edging shoulder to shoulder meekly up and down the railed pens where sheep and cattle are herded almost daily and where now the exhibitors had set up their stalls (interesting that the word 'stall' can mean a section of a stable or shed, as well as meaning a stand where merchandise is displayed – our vocabulary is our history). Because of the press of the crowd, it was quite difficult to get a look in at the stalls and much time was spent shuffling along the central isle.
Yes it was that
crowded! And of
course the noise was tumultuous, which meant that everyone needed to
Another feature of this spectacularly successful event was that at least three of the pens actually did contain animals. Heaven knows what the creatures felt in this concentration camp atmosphere, given their extra sensitivity in interpreting smells (e.g. the residual smell of fear) not to mention the overbearingly obvious residual smell of the day. A main attraction was the pen which contained three alpacas. How gentle and sweet they were. How we 'aaah'd. In another pen, several angora rabbits could be seen huddled together in a hutch and in yet another, a huge rabbit spent his or her day immobile in the hutch alongside the proud owner. Apparently the owner keeps 'over a hundred' more at home. All the rabbits looked just about catatonic, as rabbits do when they've had the joie de vivre stamped out of them, or when they are paralysed with fear. The alpacas on the other hand were at least moving about in their tiny pen, and drinking some of their water, whilst around them was the thrusting of small hands and the uproar of the multitude.
left the auction mart soon after 2pm, having bought the two small
items which in anticipation I had avoided buying previously (do you
do that?) and a pair of second hand bright yellow plastic knitting
needles. I found the ladies' loo but predictably there was a long
gridlocked queue outside it and possibly a minimal number of cubicles
inside, considering the normal usage of the building. The whole
event seemed not so much a festival but a massive queue – just as
on other days the animals have to huddle and queue for each section of
experience inside there. The
stockmart is after all a transit station
for animals on their way either to insemination or to fattening, or to
slaughter. Sheep can be transported several times throughout their
That's the reality of the thing, which for me contrasts so starkly with the cuddly, homely, cozy and comfortable world of knitting blogs which I used to enjoy dipping into. I chatted briefly with a few nice women during the day, and had a longer chat with a woman whilst eating our packed lunches (the first and last time I will sit in a farmers bidding area, I would think!) I knew it would spoil their fun if I told them what the place really meant to me.
What a relief it was to get out of the building and breathe the fresh air! The sun was shining its socks off for my walk back through the park, taking in the loos in the nearby municipal swimming pool (I have an eye for these things) and enjoying the yarn trail again. Instead of going straight back to the railway station I walked along the canal towpath into town. Skipton was packed with people, as befits a picturesque market town on the tourist trail, with a busy street market and lots of independent shops. Oxfam had a Yarndale window display as well as a stall at the event, and I heard in the shop that they'd had an outstandingly good day. The hospice shop too had a basket of yarn and a notice 'we support Yarndale' in the window.
It was quite hard to write about my reactions to Yarndale – a worthy event in a ghastly setting – a massive crowd of knitters, a whole representative bunch of humanity, and probably none of them concerned about the issues I'm concerned about. I felt the camaraderie of knitting and crochet at the same time as heavy alienation from the crowd. Apart from issues behind the wool industry, didn't anybody mind being shut up in this massive but crowded and cramped shed, with all its noise and repugnant smell, on such a beautiful day?
there it is. The day I decided to make this website. A 'reality check' and one small step
along the way, I hope.
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