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,
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.
Yakare 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.
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.
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.
Tencelis 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.