Frequently Asked Questions
Is O-Wool certified organic?
Buckle up - this will be a bumpy ride.
The O-Wash line of yarns were certified 'organic' by the Global Organic Textile Standard as of 9/11/17! This included O-Wash Chunky, O-Wash Fingering, O-Wash Sport, and O-Wash Worsted.
HOWEVER: In April 2019 a key supplier in our GOTS-certified supply chain (skeining, dying, twisting, tagging) went bankrupt and closed. There was only ONE supply chain through which GOTS handknitting yarns could be produced in the USA. And now it's gone. And because that supplier closed, our spinning mill dropped the expense of GOTS certification. So our yarn is the same up through the spinning onto cones process. But we've had to move production to our "regular" supply chain here in Philadelphia, so our skein winder and dyehouse are not certified, and we're doing all twisting and tagging in house.
For the other yarn lines, I work with processors who follow organic processing guidelines but are not certified. I am their only organic customer and it is not worth the investment for them to become certified. This includes Balance, Chunky Merino, Classic Worsted, and Local.
So some of my inventory that's been in stock since before April 2019 bears the GOTS logo. Some of my inventory that's been in stock before September 2017 doesn't bear the logo but WAS back-dated certified by GOTS (yes sometimes we carry inventory for a couple of years - in order to produce on a commercial scale as a small business we have to stock large quantities). And anything that was produced after April 2019 is not certified. O-Wool and my LLC Tunney Wool Company *are* still GOTS-certified companies. We have to continue to pay our fees, follow the rules, and get inspected yearly in order to continue selling inventory that bears the GOTS label.
What is certified organic wool?
The USDA National Organic Program certifies livestock, and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certifies wool and the subsequent textiles produced from it. The feed and forage of the sheep must be certified organic. The land they graze on (which undergoes a 3 year transition process) and any supplemental feed they consume must be certified. Use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering is prohibited. Internal, external and pasture synthetic pesticides are prohibited. Sheep cannot be dipped in insecticides to control external parasites such as ticks and lice, and organic livestock producers are required to ensure they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which their animals graze. Organic is priced higher as more labor is required to manage problems that chemicals can quickly manage in conventional farming. In addition to the important environmental regulations, there are also regulations regarding animal welfare and working conditions for farmers and textile mill workers. This is a very simplified summary of the detailed requirements involved in certification - please read the USDA NOP and GOTS websites for more information, or contact me and I will point you in the right direction.
Where does O-Wool’s merino wool come from?
I source USDA/GOTS certified organic merino from farms in South America. There are many excellent yarn companies who focus on wool grown in the USA. O-Wool has always focused on certified organic fibers and will continue to do so. Wool production in the USA is a small industry, and even smaller is the certified organic wool industry. However, with a recent renewed interest in consuming items grown and produced in the USA, this market is growing. Maybe someday I will be able to source certified organic wool from the USA!
Where do O-Wool’s other fibers come from?
The certified organic cotton is grown in Texas. The alpaca fiber comes from small family farms within an hour radius of Philadelphia. I have personally met the majority of the alpacas and they are extremely well cared for, and quite adorable.
What information can you share on the welfare of the sheep?
Purchasing wool from animals that are treated respectfully is very important to me. The sheep are free-range and non-mulesed. Mulesing is a cruel practice performed on Merino sheep that involves cutting strips of flesh off their hindquarters without anesthesia, in a barbaric attempt to control “fly strike”.
However, I will not call O-Wool "cruelty-free" simply because the animals are not "mulesed" - I think other considerations should factor in to this very meaningful phrase, like how the animals live and how the animals die. Very few yarns should even use the term "cruelty-free", as the majority of sheep in the wool industry (small and commercial farms) eventually go to slaughter. Making Stories has an excellent blog post
about the complexities of the "cruelty free" term in the wool yarn industry.
Bear in mind that certified organic wool is a byproduct of certified organic meat production. This means that the farmers' primary focus is on certified organic meat production. Certified organic wool is a secondary income source for the farmers. This is true for the majority of commercially-viable sheep farms, whether conventional or certified organic. The low price of wool and the high cost of labor in shearing makes fiber-only farming realistic for "hobby" farms that can invest the time in marketing to the fiber festival market, but rarely for commercial farms. That being said, USDA/GOTS organic certification has strong animal welfare components built in to its certification in addition to its environmental components. Regulations address a wide variety of animal welfare issues. Accommodation is required for their health and natural behavior in regards to shade, shelter, direct sunlight, clean water, fresh air, and room for exercise which greatly reduces stress and illness. They must also have continuous access to outdoor pasture during grazing season (the duration of which is determined by the climate and geography). Additionally, these sheep are not live-exported which is a serious animal welfare concern. Live-export is not a part of controlled organic husbandry.
Where is O-Wool produced?
The USA! My yarn is spun in either Massachusetts, Wisconsin, or Maine, and skeined and dyed in Philadelphia, PA, an approx. 30-40 min drive from my home. I am extremely happy to support what is left of the once thriving Philadelphia textile industry. I am also able to minimize O-Wool’s carbon footprint by simply driving to get my product instead of shipping freight across a long distance.
How is O-Wool cleaned?
My scourer/comber is GOTS accredited, and processes O-Wool according to the GOTS standards. It is scoured with biodegradable soaps and combed to remove vegetable matter - conventional wool is “carbonized” where vegetable matter is burned out in an acid bath. Because our wool is combed, short fibers are removed which dramatically reduces the amount of pilling in your finished handmade item.
How is O-Wool spun?
O-Wool is spun according to the GOTS standards - these standards include using vegetable based spinning oils (biodegradable) as opposed to synthetic, and clearing all conventional wool from machines before processing to prevent contamination.
How is O-Wool dyed?
My dyehouse partner uses low-impact dyes on all of the yarns, with the exception of a selection of colors in the Balance yarn line. Low-impact dyes do not contain heavy metals and have a high absorption rate. Less water is required to rinse out these dyes, and less dyestuff is left in what wastewater is produced. The wastewater at the dye house is tested regularly to ensure minimal environmental impact. Additionally, it is common practice to bleach yarn before dyeing. We do not use bleach.
A selection of colors in the Balance yarn line use a mix of conventional and low-impact dyes. This is done to offer a wider range of colors to the consumer - typically darker or more saturated colors - while continuing to support my local Philadelphia dyehouse. The consumer can make an educated choice about which colors to purchasing depending on their personal values - organic and locally produced, or just locally produced. If you have questions or concerns, please email me at email@example.com. Transparency is very important to me.
O-Wool is Merino wool - why don't some of the yarns feel softer?
Our yarns are spun two different ways. Our super-soft O-Wash yarns are spun on the worsted spinning system which creates a yarn very sleek to the touch. Our more "rustic"-feeling yarns are spun on the woolen spinning system which gives them more of a "woolly" feeling. Additionally, many commercial hand knitting yarn producers chemically soften their yarn. That plush, buttery, amazingly soft feeling is often Siloxane. Siloxane forms the chemical backbone structure of Silicone (think grease for your car brakes or bike chain). I think wool should speak for itself and not be coated in chemicals to alter the hand. O-Wool does not contain softeners, and the wollen-spun yarns likely won’t feel as soft as the Merino you’re used to. While knitting with these yarns, the warmth, touch, and oils from your hands will begin to subtly soften the wool. When you are finished knitting, wash your masterpiece by hand in a gentle detergent like Soak (http://www.soakwash.com
- biodegradable, non-toxic, and has eco-friendly packaging).
What makes O-Wash machine washable?
O-Wash uses a GOTS certified organic compound to create machine-washability. The compound holds the fibers still during washing so the scales cannot interlock and felt. Conventional “superwash” processes burn the scales off the fiber with an acid bath, or coat the fiber in a resin, or both. O-Wash both has its scales and uses a certified organic compound! The washability process is most similar to Schoeller's EXP treatment.
My wool supplier has their own name for it and the details are proprietary, but from my understanding it's the same as the EXP. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org - if it's information I have I'm glad to share it!