Monday, March 27, 2006

Some thoughts on buying cheaply produced wool

As a knitter on a budget, I was green with envy when I first heard about Knitpicks. Quality natural yarns at a fraction of the price they were sold for at the local yarn store. But only available to residents of America and Candada.

The free market, however, abhors a vacuum and Spotlight has recently brought out a 'Basics'range. This yarn is described as 100 percent Australian wool, made in China. It costs less than AUD$4.80 for 100 grams. And I'm sure it is only a matter of time before the choice of colours expands and we get the Basics alpaca, and the other natural yarn blends being sold by the likes of KnitPicks.

But just how good is this Basics yarn anyway, and should we be using it?

The Dr Who scarf is an eclectic collection of yarn brands, chosen for colour. For some reason the limited Basics colour section was the only brand to feature the exact shade of light tan I needed for the scarf.

While I am not sure how well it wears, Spotlight's 'Basic' wool is extremely soft and it certainly does not seem to be any worse quality than any other very soft wools I've used (soft yarns in general don't wear as well as the firmer yarns and don't retain garment shape/patterns as well but they do feel better next to the skin and that is why we sometimes use them) ; there is minimal shedding and if anything far fewer flaws/knots than I find in other yarns.

But I wonder about the ethics of using it. The only way that we can buy 100 percent Australian wool for such a good price is if the inputs are very cheap. How much did the farmers get for this wool and did it cover the cost of raising the sheep? And I wonder under just what conditions the yarn was spun in China, what the workers at the mill were paid and how they were treated, that meant I could buy 8ply Basics wool cheaply in Australia.

Just some thoughts.


Lynne said...

Good thought, Maggie. How ethical is it to buy cheap yarn? Is it worthwhile? Some people don't have much choice - it is cheap yarn or no yarn. Are the people in the mills looked after and paid decently? We can't expect them to get Australian levels of wages in a country where a lesser wage is adequate. Is the wool scoured and the dyes used with care for the environment?
What do I end up doing? Buying what I like. I prefer to buy Australian (or kiwi) yarn but I still airmail stuff in despite the environmental cost.

OzKnitter said...

I was seriously contemplating ordering some of that KnitPicks yarn (was going to have it shipped to a friend in the US, who'd then post it on to me - free shipping in the US from KnitPicks) but then I read some reports about the quality of the yarn from some of the ladies on the socknitters loop (I think it was). I quickly realised that the price really was too good to be true. I mean, why spend hours knitting something if it just turns out to be crap?

On the otherhand, I went to Marta's Yarns today (the one in East Malvern) and purchased some sock yarn (yes, I couldn't resist). It was 100% Aussie Merino and it was cheaper than a ball of Opal for the same amount.

I've also knitted with Bendigo Woollen Mills wool, which is also Australian and that's great. I think it's reasonably priced and their postage cost is great too.

ferg said...

I tried Spotlight, Geelong yesterday and there was nothing even remotely like sock wool and I couldn't ask because the assistant was up a ladder and chatting on the phone about her dogs.
I'm going to stick to real wool shops. If anyone is in Bacchus Marsh, Lois has a lovely shop just behind Arbee Real Estate off Main Street, not tons of stuff but she knows what she has and what it's good for. Bendigo is definitely the other way to go.
It worries me that so much stuff comes from unknown conditions.
It relieves me that my Patonyle was made in Brunswick.
Cheers Gillian