Most crafters who enjoy working with natural fibres have some idea of what a
sheep looks like before it is shorn, and what fleece is like after shearing and before processing. While I would not claim to have given it deep thought I used to think of an angora goat as a sort of woolly goat, growing mohair fleeces much as a sheep would. This might have been a cute goat, but it was a figment of my imagination! Angora goats grow their fleeces in what are called locks. Thanks to the goat’s natural curl the hair forms clumps. The goat excretes a grease that coats its “hair” making the curly clumps stick more firmly together. You can learn a lot about the quality of the fleece and (very important) the health of the goat by assessing the thickness and length of the fleece, and this coating of grease. a light coating of grease is desirable. It protects the locks from the weather and prevents the fibre felting; it preserves the natural lustre of the mohair and as mentioned, helps form locks. While a heavier coating of grease isn’t strictly “wrong” it does darken the coat, and will be more difficult to wash out. And how the fleece is washed is a concern since this fibre is especially absorbent (see more about its absorbency below) and if it is washed in harsh chemicals it may retain some of the wash which can cause problems in later processing. At Les Belles Bouclettes our fleeces are washed using an all natural plant based product designed specifically to clean (scour) animal fleece. It is called Kookaburra and we love how it washes, feels, and most of all the way it leaves our fibre; fresh and clean, soft, lustrous and chemical free.
An angora goat’s fleece grows quickly, usually averaging close to 1″ (2.5 cm) per month. Most goats are sheared twice a year so a good fleece from a healthy goat should have staples about 4 to 6″ (10 to 15 cm) in length. The younger the goat the softer and finer the hair. Kid mohair is clipped when the goat is approximately six and twelve months of age. The next two clips are also very soft and lovely to use in hand work. The second years clips are still soft but by now the goat is getting older so the fibre is thicker which makes it slightly coarser. Goats three years and older produce fibre that is very thick and stiff. This coarser fibre is often used in the production of rugs, blankets, upholstery and heavy outer wear. At Les Belles Bouclettes all our fibre is from kids, yearlings (one year olds) , second year (two year olds) and older clips. (We usually specify which in a product description, if the information isn’t shown it was omitted by accident, so if it or the exact grade of the fibre is important to your project please just drop us a line and ask.) This means that you are sure to have soft fine locks, rovings and beautiful yarn when you buy our products.
But aside from growing in locks how is the goat’s fibre different from the sheep’s?
In several ways! Although mohair is a protein fibre (as is wool) its structure and texture are very different. Its outer layer has fewer and smoother scales than wool, making it smooth to the touch, and comfortable to wear, even for those with sensitive skin. There are three types of hair in a goat fleece, but the one that is most desirable and is kept through processing has a hollow centre (called a medulla. It is this hollow structure that gives mohair many of its most prized characteristics. The empty space in the centre makes it an insolating fibre. It keeps heat in, wicks away moisture (keeping skin dry and making it a good choice in warm temperatures as well as cold) and retains heat even when it is wet. Thanks to its hollow medulla it is exceptionally absorbent allowing it to take and hold dyes with outstanding results. This is why mohair is well-known for its long lasting, vivid intense colours. These colours are further enhanced by the other notable effect the hollow centre gives the fibre, a translucency that causes it to reflect light making it appear lustrous and emphasizing its sheen.
You might think that with nothing in the middle mohair would have a weak structure, but on the contrary it is stronger than steel of the same diameter. It is very light so it can add its strength, lustre and insolating properties to fabric and still make a light garment that is comfortable to wear. It is all these qualities that have given it the nickname of the diamond fibre!
In Part II we will discuss methods of preparing mohair fibres, ways it is used in crafts such as spinning, and how artists are transforming creations by using mohair one strand at a time!
Have you ever used mohair in your crafts? Please tell us about your projects and share your experiences creating with mohair !