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.
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
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