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On Wool and the Future of Woolnimals

I love animals. The greatest moments in my life involve animals. In fact, there isn’t a fond memory that I have that doesn’t somehow include animals or the natural world.

It’s not surprising that my hobbies and artistic pursuits have always involved the animal world as well. Over time, my interests focused on needle felting and creating small friends that make me smile and bring joy to others. I’ve had my Woolnimals needle felting business for nearly a decade and it has been a huge source of happiness and relaxation for me.

Shortly before I left college, I changed my major from English to Eco-Psychology. I began studying the connections between humans and the natural world. My studies focused on the understanding that direct experiences with wilderness and the natural world foster compassion and a sense of place. In turn, this sense of belonging fosters stewardship for the natural world. When we feel that we’re an important part of something, we tend to take care of it. We come to respect our place in our ecosystem. That spark, that moment when the beauty and weight of the natural world touches something intrinsically wild within us, is truly magical. It changes lives.

These are simple truths.There’s no shortage of literature and film that illuminates the beautiful connection between man and nature. But there are other truths, too, that must be faced. The natural world is in peril and I believe humans should be called upon for better stewardship. 

With this in mind, over the last year my husband and I began decreasing the amount of meat we consume. We are very close to eliminating all animal protein from our diets – eating only fish and eggs at this time. The transition has been surprisingly easy – and the switch to a vegan lifestyle is very close. In looking at how animals are treated, however, I must also confront my impact in other ways besides my diet.

I turn now to my large collection of wool...in almost every color. Soft, warm, fluffy – waiting to be felted. I always imagined that the sheep who provide my wool reside on lush emerald landscapes – eating grass and waiting for their turn to be shorn. I imagined that once they were shorn, they went on their merry way – back to pasture, back to sunlight and happiness.



I’ve always bought the bulk of my wool from a retailer in New Hampshire, believing in the bucolic pictures on their brochures – believing that no harm came to the animals who provided this wool.

I was wrong.

Curious to know the truth, I called the supplier in New Hampshire. I learned that the wool they receive, process, dye and then sell comes from huge farms in New Zealand and Australia. When I asked, gently, if the animals were raised humanely, the reply was a terse “I don’t know.” I asked if I could have the name of the supplier so I can investigate further and the person would not give me this information. Small town New England charm this wasn't. 

I did some research – I learned that the business of wool isn't what it seems. Use of pesticides on animals, shearing practices and living conditions are often more horrific than I can describe here. There's no sunshine, no emerald fields. With this information, I realized, immediately, I have to stop. I have to stop supporting this. I've supported it for ten years. I've worn shearling boots and bought wool sweaters and felted happy little animals – all the while giving my money, my customers’ money, to supply chains that most certainly promote the suffering of sentient beings. 

I cannot, in good conscience, continue.

I’m at a crossroads. It’s painful to realize that the thing I love doing most is done at the expense of another soul. It’s easy to stop wearing wool, to stop buying shearling boots, but where do I turn with my art? What now?

I’ve made some tough decisions. I’m presently researching and seeking out organic farms across the US who practice humane rearing and shearing of sheep. I found an Etsy seller in the U.K. who sources batts of wool from a rescue farm with sheep who have names and are treated like pets. I’m seeking out rescue organizations to see if I can obtain fleece directly from animals that have been saved from slaughter or factory farms. I’m researching dyeing my own wool – small batches of wool that I know have a happy heart-line all the way back to animals who really do graze peacefully in the sun.

It’s expensive and time consuming to seek ethical, humane wool. In my heart I'm not confident it'll be sustainable long term. I am facing the likelihood of massively transforming my business. 

I have a lot of wool left and I’m going to use every bit of it. I’m going to make animals until I run out completely. The majority portion of every sale will go to environmental groups, rescue organizations, and animal welfare organizations until the inhumane wool supply is gone. It’s a small pittance to honor the animals who lost their well-being and lives for my art.

I cannot go forward knowing what I know. I made friends with a pig two years ago and haven’t eaten pork since. It’s just how I work.

The silver lining is that I have a kiln, 50 pounds of clay, and I’m resourceful. I’m talented and adaptable and I’ll find a way to continue making a difference and bringing myself joy in this life. It will not be through factory-farmed wool. It will be through clay, paint, natural elements, recycled cloth, bits of things – and through all of it some new path will present itself.

I wanted to share all of this with you – my customers, my friends, my family. Thank you for reading this far, and for your support. It means the world to me to be able to share my life and work with all of you. I hope that my art and my artistic process can be illuminating for others and bring a small sense of interconnection not only between us, but between you and the natural world. I also, ultimately, hope to continue making things that bring you joy.

Much love,

Abby 

Comments

  1. Good for you, for living your convictions!

    There are lots of people in the US whose sheep are beloved pets. Their sheep eat that emerald grass you talk about and are well taken care of all year round. (Eating local-to-them hay in winter.) @thecrazysheeplady on Instagram is one. She sells some of their wool....

    Given the relatively small amounts of wool you need (it might be different if you were making life-size tigers and llamas....), I think it would be easy to source responsibly grown wool.

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