There are two types of natural fibers,
1. Natural Protein Fibers, obtained from animal sources
2. Natural Cellulose Fibers, obtained from plant sources
Both are quite fascinating, so I thought that we would first talk about natural protein fibers, what they are and their advantages. Today we'll concentrate on what so many sewists truly love, specialty fibers.
Mohair is obtained from the Angora goat and should not be confused with the angora rabbit. The hair from each is quite different. The Angora goat originates in Angora, Turkey but can now be found in Australia, South Africa and in the United States as well. The goats are typically sheared twice per year which renders fibers that are four to six inches in length. Occasionally, the goats are sheared only once a year which gives a much longer fiber, nine to twelve inches. Just remember, the longer the fiber, the more expensive the end product.
1. Remarkable resistance to wear and abrasion, this is why you can find mohair used in high end upholstery as well as carpets.
2. A high degree of luster
3. Excellent resiliency
4. Adapts well to complex weaves
Cashmere comes from the Kashmir goat and was traditionally raised in the high mountains of Mongolia and China. The fiber is combed rather than sheared from the animal. The reason for the high cost of good quality cashmere is that the yield per goat is only about four ounces. Because of the small yearly production, cashmere is considered a luxury item. The fiber is highly adaptable and can yield either fine or thick yarns which in turn can be constructed into thick, medium or lightweight fabrics, appropriate in both warm and cool climates.
4. Longevity if well cared for
The Bactrian, or two-humped camel is the source of camel-hair fiber. The breed serves as a means of transportation in the desert regions of China, Tibet and Mongolia. The animal sheds about five pounds of fiber each year, which is then used in textile products. Camel-hair fabrics have a distinctive golden brown color and a very pleasing luster. The short body hairs are made into fine yarns and textiles while the longer outer hair is used in industrial fabrics as well as artists brushes.
2. Excellent for warmth
4. Long wearing
5. Provide a beautiful drape
The Alpaca is a member of the camel family and thrives in the mountain regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina. Unlike it's cousin, the two-humped camel, the fiber is sheared from the animal and is only done once every two years. Because the fibers are long and glossy, alpaca can have an appearance that is similar to mohair.
1. Excellent warmth and insulation
2. The natural color ranges from white to brown and black which gives the advantage of fabrics being created without the use of additional dyes.
Also a member of the camel family, the llama produces fibers very similar to that of the alpaca. They are also found in the same geographical areas. One difference is that the fibers are sheared yearly rather than every two years like the alpaca. The disadvantage of their hair fiber is that it is weaker than alpaca or camel-hair.
Vicuna is the most prized and the most valuable of all the specialty fibers. The vicuna are found in the Andes Mountains at elevations of 16,000 feet. Although the animal is quite small, about the size of a large dog, it is a member of the camel family. The animals are extremely wild in nature and attempts to domesticate them have been relatively unsuccessful. At this point, the fiber can only be obtained by killing the animal. The Peruvian government limits the yearly kill. Since the total yearly production is very small, garments and fabrics of vicuna compare in price with high end fur coats.
1. A very strong fiber that is also fine and lustrous.
2. Very lightweight and very warm
3. The natural color is a lovely cinnamon brown so the fiber requires no dye.
I have only had the opportunity to touch a piece of vicuna once in my life. It is incredibly luxurious.
The study of fibers and where they come from is quite an interesting topic. I think that the more we know, the more we truly appreciate fine fabrics.