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- Fun Fiber Facts

Just a few words about fibers, where they come from and other interesting tidbits for the fiber obsessed.

Wool of course comes from sheep. Wool is sorted by fineness of fiber, crimp, length of staple and felting characteristics. There are many types ranging from rug wool quality to fine knitting wool. Merino is the finest, so soft. Merino sheep originate in Spain but have been transported everywhere. They are often bred with other types of sheep. Leicester, Rambouillets, Corriedale are other types of sheep that produce good wool for wearing. Wool from Churro, Karakul, and Jacob sheep is traditionally used in rugs. Churro and Jacob sheep were becoming rare but have made a comeback. They are raised in the southwest and are the source of the wonderful wool in many Navajo rugs. Karakul are from Asia Minor - Turkey, Armenia, etc.

Mohair and Cashmere both come from goats. Cashmere goats may take up to four years to grow enough hair to make a cashmere sweater. It is combed from the bellies of Kasmir goats. Much of the cashmere we have now days is grown in China and Mongolia. Mohair comes from Angora goats, also a native of Asia/Turkey. Angora goats came to this country originally as a gift from a Turkish sultan to an American ambassador. An angora goat can produce 10 -16 lbs of fiber a year and they are shorn twice a year.

Angora comes from Angora Rabbits. It is warmer and fuzzier than wool. Rabbits are combed to get the fur and sometimes even spun directly from the bunny. Angora sheds a LOT and so is most often combined with other fibers.

Alpacas, Llamas and Camels are all in the same family (Camelids) and have luscious fiber that resists pilling. Llamas are larger and their fleece is coarser than alpaca's. Alpacas come in two types - huacaya and suri. Huacaya have loftier fleece with more crimp. Suri fleece tends to have a longer staple and grows in long curls. Most of the alpaca yarn in the store comes from South America but we do have some from locally grown stock. Camel hair or down is very fine and incredibly soft and a dream to spin. Also in this family is the Vicuna whose fiber was reserved for royalty in ancient times. Vicuna still cannot be exported from South America and the fiber is rare.

Yak are those huge ox like creatures from Asia. Their wool is often felted and is used by nomadic peoples for tents and garments. Yaks also provide food - yak milk and cheese. Yak fiber is the fine undercoat combed out in the spring. Yaks can live to be 25 years old. The yak fiber we have is for spinning and is best combined with wool as in the yarn we also have - Super Yak by Karabella and some pure yak from Mango Moon.

Quiviut (Pronouced kiv - ee-ute) is the undercoat of the Arctic musk ox. They shed from 5 - 7 lbs of the stuff every year, though commercially it is combed out yearly. See why it is so expensive?

Cotton comes in various forms and the organic cotton is even grown in different colors. Cotton as a crop is a grown mostly outside the U.S. due to the need for MANY pesticides, some of which are banned here. Mercerized cotton refers to the process of washing the cotton in caustic soda and stretching it to increase its shine and smoothness. The process is named after John Mercer, the Scotsman who invented it. The finest grade of cotton is Egyptian. Blue sky Organic Cotton is grown in four colors which tend to deepen with washing. Patagonia cotton yarn is minimally processed and spun and hand dyed by a women's collective in Chile.

Linen is one of the oldest fibers. Fragments of Linen have been found in Mesopotamia, Syria and Persia dating back to 6000 - 8000 BC. In Egypt ancient linen was found that was so finely spun that even with our current technology we cannot duplicate it. Only priests and nobles were allowed to wear it. Linen comes from the flax plant which grows 3 to 4 feet high and has bright blue flowers. Fiber is made from the stems and the seeds are used for oil.

Bamboo of course is made from the bamboo plant, of which there are hundreds of varieties and sizes. Bamboo has some antibacterial properties which stay in the fiber through many washings. Bamboo is also edible and is even used to make a wine (Ulanzi). Bamboo takes dye wonderfully and the colors are rich. The yarn is strong and soft and cool to the touch, great for summer projects.

Soysilk and soy yarn is made from the byproducts of tofu manufacturing. Early protoypes were around as early as the 1940's. It is an environmentally friendly and renewable product. Did you know the US is the largest exporter of soybeans? It can be machine washed and air dried. oh boy, knitting with tofu.

Tussah Silk is made from silkworm cocoons - but AFTER the moth has left it. They are gathered from the wild and the silk has a bit darker color. Regular silk is often gathered before the moth has matured. A single silk filament from one cocoon can be up to 1600 yards long.

Tencel is made from wood pulp using an eco-friendly process that dissolves the wood with nontoxic solvents, then extrudes it in a fiber that is strong, soft and very absorbent. Being made of cellulose, it is biodegradable.

Rayon is not a synthetic fiber. It is made from cotton lint and wood chips and comes in two forms - Viscose and Cuprammonium most often referred to simply as rayon.

Ingeo or Corn Fiber is produced from the poly lactic acid in corn. It can be machine washed and dried.

Other fibers are making their way into the market too. Hemp, Jute, Banana, Pineapple and even paper yarn.