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Fibre Producing Animals other than Sheep

Fibre Producing Animals other than Sheep

Other animals besides sheep have coats which provide warmth and protection from the elements and which have been utilised by man from earliest times. Of interest to the handspinner and easily available are the fibres of other domestic animals such as goats, dogs, cats and rabbits. As with sheep, the coats of these animals consist of wool and hair fibres and kemp is found in some. The fibres are similar in nature to those of sheep and can be used by handspinners to make yarn in precisely the same way as sheep's wool with due regard to the length and type of the fibres.

Animals' coats are always appropriate to their various environments and the habitats of the goats and camelids include very high altitudes and extremes of heat and cold as well as rarified atmosphere where a heavy coat would be a great encumbrance. It is not surprising therefore that the wool from these families usually consists of extremely fine, light fibres. Some are lustrous and the colours of several are most attractive. Some have a lower felting factor than sheep's wool, perhaps due to the slightly different surface structure of the fibres. Some are almost slippery and tend to be unreliable spun on their own. The finest and softest fibres are less strong than sheep's wool and they are all more vulnerable than sheep's wool to chemical damage in processing, and bleaching or dyeing weakens them.

Often the hairs are relatively long and coarse in contrast to the very fine, soft down wool and the fleece must be dehaired before use which adds to the expense. While therefore, they can be used on their own for certain luxury garments not subject to too much abrasion, there are certain distinct advantages to their being blended with sheep's wool of similar staple and fineness and this assists the durability and strength of yarns made from them and allows more economical use of these sometimes scarce and expensive materials.

Mohair is the fleece of the Angora Goat. There are various grades depending on the staple length and age when shorn: 'Tight lock' (shorn 6 - 7 months old) -in the autumn or 'fall'-hence its other name-'Fall kid'; 'Spring kid' is that shorn the following spring; shearing at 18 months results in the grade 'Yearling mohair', while subsequent shearing is 'adult mohair'. Fleeces are packed separately, but usually available only as broken fleece (i.e. not sold entire). The microscopic fibre structure of mohair is extremely similar in appearance to that of Wensleydale sheep wool which is an excellent wool to use for blending with it and yarn from 100% Wensleydale or other fine lustre wool is very similar to Mohair yarn, but the latter may be subject to less felting. Mohair from Lesotho in South Africa is somewhat coarser than other sources.

Fibre Producing Animals other than Sheep 2

Cashmere is the undercoat of the Kashmir Goat and other Central Asian 'down goats'. (It is not grown on the underbelly as suggested by some sources). The outer coat hair fibres are quite coarse and high quality cashmere is the result of ‘dehairing' by combing and is therefore expensive. Dehaired down is very easily damaged in chemical processing so the natural colours are likely to be more reliable. T'he best quality of cashmere comes from China.

Common Goat has a high proportion of coarse hair and supplies are mainly from countries producing cashmere as well as Greece and Argentina. It is used principally in the making of cheaper felts and in carpet making.

Camel wool is shed in springtime. The last man in the caravan has the task of collecting it up and selling it at the next market. The fleece, like that of the Kashmir goat has a soft, fine down undercoat and an overcoat of long coarse hair up to 15 inches long. This can be separated from the down by combing. There are, however, different grades of camel fibres, those with hair having uses for very strong industrial fabrics while the dehaired is used in high grade clothing for coats and rugs.

Llama. Like the camel, the llama is a burden carrier and is used also for milk, meat and the fleece which is a mixture of fine wool, coarse hair and kemp and since grading is not practised, quality is doubtless variable. Coarse fibres can be 20% of the fleece. The failure to utilise llama fibre for high quality garments resulted from the inability of the South American Indians to successfully de-hair the fleeces. Modern technology has enabled full use to be made of the llama fibre.

Alpaca is the major fibre from the Alpacas of South America and has been used as fleece since the Pre-Inca days. They are kept in large flocks especially for their fleece and shorn every two years. There are two different kinds: 'Huacayo', which has no lustre, a certain amount of crimp and some proneness to felting; and 'Suri', which has no crimp but a slight, broad wave and rather resembles kid mohair with its silky lustre. Since fibres have two years' growth, there is variation of fibre width along its length. Fleeces are graded, baled and exported from Peru. The fibres are weakened by bleaching.
Fibre Producing Animals other than Sheep 2
Fibre Producing Animals other than Sheep 3Vicunas and Guanacos are the smallest of these camelids and roam in small herds in the High Andes. They have been hunted for their extremely fine coats until nearly extinct. At one time domestication of the vicuna was attempted but was not successful. The fibres resemble Huacayo alpaca but are finer, being only about 15 microns diameter. At present there is a ban on exporting vicuna from Bolivia in an attempt to build up herds of this fast vanishing species.

Angora Rabbit. Fur from these rabbits is combed out at four moults per year. Stiff, long, guard hairs growing through the soft coat have to be removed before the fur is suitable for spinning and this is done using rubber rollers or by blowing. The fibres are very short and are usually blended with sheep's wool, silk or nylon so they can be more easily handled

Yak are related to the bison; they live in the high Tibetan Plateau where they are often domesticated and used as transport animals. Their coats are black and consist of long coarse hairs and an undercoat of quite soft, silky wool which is available in the form of dehaired combed tops.

Musk Oxen are similar to Yaks but live in the Arctic Tundra. Their thick coat with lengths of up to one metre make it the longest of any animal in the world. It is more commonly found and the fibre and products sold under the Eskimo name of Qiviut (pronounced kiv-ee-ute). Their coats naturally moult in the spring and the fibre is extraordinarily lightweight and eight times warmer than wool.

The fibres so far mentioned can all be obtained from specialist suppliers in various raw and prepared forms including, of course,
Scottish Fibres.

Source: The Essentials of Yarn Design for Handspinners

by (the late) Mabel Ross ISBN0 09507292