Friday, May 07, 2004

Because I am procrastinating on something else I need to do, and one reader of this blog expressed an interest in voluntary simplicity, and Wendy is getting grief over her penchant for luxury yarn, it seems an appropriate time to address the role of money in knitting and in life.

This issue goes much deeper than the usual "yarn snob" flap over acrylic vs. natural fibers, but let's get that out of the way first. I will confess to being a yarn snob, although it's partially by default. I have never knit with Red Heart or Lion Brand, primarily because I have three excellent yarn shops within walking distance of my house so I've had no need to look for yarn in discount stores. I did not even know Red Heart existed until I subscribed to knitting lists! But now that I know, I still have no interest in it. Even though my family income is very modest, I don't mind buying the "expensive" yarns because:

* I value my local yarn shops for their expertise, excellent customer service and commitment to my community. For yarn or anything else, I patronize locally-owned businesses whenever possible.

* I don't knit because it is a thrifty way to get clothes (does anybody?) If I just wanted a sweater at the lowest possible cost, I would go to Goodwill. And actually, that's where I get most of the clothes I don't knit myself, which is a big reason I can afford the luxury yarns.

* I don't waste money on stuff that isn't important to me. A major savings in my family is transportation. We have one small car (a Ford Escort wagon) that we use primarily for out-of-town trips. Otherwise, we walk or bike. We spend several thousand less a year on transportation than most of our neighbors. I've always wondered why people feel a need to get a minivan or SUV when they have a baby. We took the Great American Road Trip last year -- coast-to-coast twice, 31 states, 5 provinces, a dip into Mexico -- with two kids and a large dog and all our camping gear in the Escort! I won't say it wasn't cramped, but if we had purchased the large vehicle that most people claim you need to do this, we couldn't have afforded to make the trip! There are many families who spend more on car payments than on rent or mortgage payments. If anyone would like guidance on how to reduce this huge expense, I recommend Divorce Your Car! by Katie Alvord. Or let me know and I'll point the way to more resources.

But there is another ethical dimension to this. Is it right to indulge in Rowan when people are going hungry? Probably not, I say as I eye the 8 skeins of Calmer I purchased 3 days ago. I don't have an easy answer, but I turn to environmental writer Stephanie Mills for an elegant wording of this dilemma. From her book Epicurean Simplicity:

"A source of bad conscience, however, is the knowledge that my way of life, austere though it may appear to the richer folk, is still ruinously exploitive of nature -- not in my backyard, where I practice harmlessness toward even the wasps, but in the atmosphere, where my fossil fuel combustion's carbon dioxide is helping change the climate; in all those mountainous places where the metals and minerals that structure and drive my American life are torn from the earth; and in the flesh of fish and birds, mammals, and reptiles, where the chemicals that made the paper and plastic I use bioaccumulate, deforming reproduction.

"That guilty knowledge is another argument for material simplicity. The less I consume, the less harm I do to that which I love. In a consumer society, harmless living may be simple, but it is not easy. I make no claim to exemplary harmlessness or simplicity."

When it comes to knitting, the most ethical approach would probably be to purchase all fibers directly from local organic sources, handspin the yarn, and give the resulting knitted items to those in need. I am far short of this ideal! But I suspect this is not the model that most of Wendy's critics had in mind. I do not wish to judge anyone who truly struggles to afford yarn from discount stores; I know that many people must carefully track every penny and have no room in their lives for even slight luxuries. But I also do not think those who have some financial flexibility should be criticized if they opt to skip the discount stores and support the merchants and artisans who are contributing knowledge and beauty to our world.

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