According to Google, the definition of fiber is ‘a thread or filament from which a vegetable tissue, mineral substance, or textile is formed.’ I will be focusing on the fibers from sheep, goats, alpaca, rabbits, and silkworms in this article. This does not exclude exotic animals such as camel, yak, llama, and so on and so forth. Fur and Leather are a whole different topic, of which I am not educated, nor experienced enough to comment on here.
Sheep, Goats, and Alpaca:
A common misconception about these animals is that shearing hurts them. In fact, the opposite is true. If a sheep, goat, or alpaca is not sheared, serious medical conditions can develop, which can progress to be fatal.
Of course, any of these animals can be treated cruelly or even killed during shearing due to human greed. Most in largescale wool production are a victim of atrocities committed by money hungry corporations.
How do you avoid supporting cruel treatment of sheep, goats, and alpaca? Avoid big brand wool sourced from the Middle East and Australia due to Live Export. Another thing to avoid is yarn or fabric from craft store chains. These materials are usually low quality and have a hard to track supply chain.
What you CAN do is buy yarn from local farms, support local mills, or buy brands that source from Central America and Northern Europe. These options are more likely to have a traceable supply chain, or even let you visit so you can see the animals for yourselves!
Even though Rabbits are another fiber producing mammal, I decided they needed their own section in this article due to the difference in their fiber, care, and some cruelty issues that have been brought to light in recent years.
Angora is said to be the finest fiber on Earth, its softer and warmer than wool, and has a beautiful halo. There are two main angora types used for fiber, German and English. German require a full shearing, while English require their fiber to be plucked. As with any other fiber producing animal, it is very cruel to ignore shearing or plucking your angora.
When a video surfaced of inhumane angora treatment a few years ago, many people and corporations boycotted the fiber altogether. There is no question the rabbit was enduring inhumane torture. Once again, these animals are victims of moneymaking schemes and factory farming.
In all the same ways stated for sheep, goats, and alpaca, you can ethically use angora in your spinning and knitting.
Silk is not my greatest area of expertise, but I have done my research to make sure I am using it in a sustainable way. If you don’t know yet, all silkworms are boiled to death in the traditional silk-making process.
Don’t freak out yet! The type of worms used for this are domesticated and couldn’t survive on their own in the wild. This still does not make it ethical, but for traditional silk, these are not wild worms.
Silk may be the easiest fiber on this list to use sustainably. There are methods of ethically obtaining silkworm silk that have come into use. There is also an abundance of high-quality plant silks, which I have personally decided to switch over to in my fiber collection. Also, if I buy silk fabric, I always buy secondhand.
This is only the first in a two part article, in the next one I will be covering the Environmental aspects, Labor Issues, and Economics of animal fibers. Until then, don’t let these kinds of issues get you down. Any statements made in this article that were not directly backed up by sources were made from my personal experience with processing wool, visiting farms, and talking with mill owners/operators and farmers. Stay educated and enjoy your making!
-Angora Cruelty Video (Warning|GRAPHIC and possibly triggering)