Archive for category Fiber Facts

Quality Mohair Lifts Tajikistan Income to a Higher Level


Angora goats in Tajikistan

Mohair is the fiber or product made from the hair of Angora goats.  Mohair is shorn from the goat twice a year. One goat will produce 11 to 17 pounds (5–8 kg) of mohair a year. Fibers from young goats are softest and are used to manufacture yarn for clothing. Fibers from mature goats are used to produce such things as rugs and carpets.

Mohair is approximately 25–45 microns in diameter.  It is one of the oldest textile fibers in use and is considered to be a luxury fiber, like cashmere, angora and silk.  Mohair is not a soft yarn, when compared with alpaca or cashmere, or synthetic fibers or wools that have been treated and blended with other fibers to enhance softness. On the other hand, mohair is valued for certain unique characteristics: it is warmer than other fibers, have a distinctive luster and does not felt.  These qualities guarantee that there will always be a lucrative market for mohair.


Tajik women shearing Angora goats

Enter, the poor Asht region of northern Tajikistan which rely on Angora goat production and mohair sales which bring them an annual income of US $1.5 M of which 70% of the revenue originates from Russia for the purchase of mohair from adult goats.  Tajikistan sells coarse mohair knitting yarns to Russia for US $10/kg, while fine kid mohair yarns from other countries sell for as much as US $580/kg in stores in the U.S. and Europe.  While Russia has supported Tajikistan with Angora goat breeding in the past, it has no capacity for marketing kid mohair which is highly prized in the world market.

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has taken an interest in helping to dramatically increase income of Tajikistan women by producing high quality luxury yarns and textiles.  ICARDA is teaching rural women how to spin high-value, high-quality kid mohair yarns for sale in the United States. Spinners are also learning to use wooden spinning wheels that increase their productivity and make their work easier than it is with the traditional spindles. This means that a spinner could earn US$240–360 a month, that’s 4–6 times the average per capita income.

Working with farmers to improve breeding and animal maintenance is also essential in producing international-quality mohair fibers for spinning.  Angora goat breeding experts, local and international, are setting up breeding nuclei on selected farms to produce high-quality bucks.  These animals will then be sold or lent to other farmers.

ICARDA’s goal is to develop a cottage industry which will be providing new earning opportunities for Tajik women, improving their families’ living standards, and increasing their status within the household.

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Knitted Animal Pelts as Fine Art









What took 3 to 4 months for each pelt to be made with a size 2 or 6 circular knitting needle, Lion Brand Alpine 100 percent wool yarn, and Lion Brand 100 percent cotton yarn is currently on display at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.  This exhibit, called “Vanished into Stitches,” is the work of New York resident, Ruth Marshall.  It features 14 life-sized, accurately replicated striped or spotted pelts of ocelots, tigers, leopards and other big felines which are each tied to a frame of willow or bamboo.  The pieces are based on a research she did at the American Museum of Natural history where she had special access to real big cat pelts.  “I really want people to understand how beautiful these animals are, and I also want them to understand how endangerment and violence is part of the display.  It’s a double-edged sword,” said the Australian-born artist.  This exhibit wants us to be aware that only 3,200 tigers exist in the wild.  She hopes that viewers will be encouraged to learn more about saving big cats from extinction and make a donation to further the work.


Below is a video clip of the exhibit.





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From the Andes Comes the Most Expensive Wool



The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) or vicugna is one of two wild South American camelids, and is a relative of the llama and alpaca.  They are native to Peru, northwest Argentina, Bolivia and north Chile, and in central Ecuador. Vicuñas live in the high alpine areas of the Andes at an altitude of 10,500 to 15,700 ft (3,200 to 4,800 m).

The vicuña wool is popular due to its warmth, owing to the hollow fibers which have tiny interlocking scales that trap insulated air. It is finer than any other wool in the world, measuring 12.8 micrometers in diameter, compared to merino wool at 16-18 microns. Vicuña wool is also the finest fiber capable of being spun and about eight times finer than human hair. It looks like very fine wool but feels like a luxurious blend of mohair and silk. It is sensitive to chemical treatment, so it is usually left in its natural color.

Vicuña wool has been prized since the time of the Incas who named it “the fabric of the gods” and was reserved for the exclusive use by members of the royal family. The rulers only wore clothing made from the wool of the vicuña, and they only wore the clothing item once.  As the Incas were forbidden to kill vicuña, they captured them alive through previously laid funnel traps leading to stone corrals and then releasing them after being sheared.  This traditional communal effort of wool gathering is called chaccu (meaning “round up” in Quechua).  Today vicuña wool is harvested the way the Incas did.  The trapped animal is checked over and sheared, with just 7 oz ( 200 g) being taken from each.  This process is repeated every three to five years.

With the coming of the Spanish conquistadors who took over the Inca territory and referred to the fiber as “the silk of the New World, the vicuña was hunted for both its wool and its meat.  As a result its numbers dropped over the centuries from more than a million at the time of the Incas, to an estimated 5,000 by the mid 1960s when controls on the trade in vicuña wool were first introduced.

In 1976, the United Nations agency which monitors trade in endangered animals and plants, categorized the vicuña as a species in which any kind of trade was forbidden.  Since that time the remarkable conservation efforts of the four South American nations has seen vicuña numbers stabilize and then grow substantially, with Peru alone now having a population of over 160,000.

The international trade in vicuña fabric sourced from living animals is again allowed, but the vicuña’s relatively low numbers, their unsuitability for domestication, their low yield of wool each year and the remarkable material’s unique combination of softness, lightness, and warmth ensures that vicuña remains the world’s most expensive fabric.  To produce one overcoat in vicuña the fleece of 25 to 30 animals are needed.  As of June 2007, prices for vicuña yarns and fabrics can range from $1,800 to $3,000 per yard.  A scarf costs around $1500 while a man’s coat can cost up to $20,000.


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Hemp as a Source of Highly Sustainable Fiber

Hemp is a term commonly used for the low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) strains of the plant Cannabis sativa (subsp. sativa) which is grown for industrial use.  It is to be distinguished from C. sativa subsp. indica which has a poor fiber quality and is primarily grown for the production of recreational and medicinal drugs which can contain from 2% to over 20% THC.  Oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis approved for industrial production contain only minute amounts of THC which is below 0.3%, not enough for any physical or psychological effects.

Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants known.  Its first uses date back to the Chinese, in the 28th Century B.C.  Industrial hemp has been grown in the U.S. since the first European settlers arrived in early 1600’s.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all grew hemp and actively advocated for commercial hemp production.  In the 1800’s, hemp was a staple crop of American agriculture and was handled by the U.S. government like any other agricultural crop.  More than 150,000 acres of hemp were cultivated as a part of the USDA’s “Hemp for Victory” program during WWII.

The tides would soon change for hemp in the U.S.  The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act defined hemp as a narcotic drug, requiring that farmers growing hemp hold a federal registration and special tax stamp, effectively limiting further production expansion.  Then the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) adopted the same definition of Cannabis sativa that appeared in the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.  To date, more hemp is exported to the United States than to any other country, as the United States Government does not consistently distinguish between marijuana and the non-psychoactive Cannabis used for industrial and commercial purposes.

As a crop, hemp is one of the faster growing bio-masses known, producing up to 25 metric tonnes (1 metric tone = 1,000 kg) of dry matter per hectare (10,000 sq. m) per year compared to a normal average yield in a large scale modern agriculture which is about 2.5–3.5 t/ac.  It grows very quickly in very diverse soil conditions, making it a highly sustainable and renewable commodity.  It is also very environmentally friendly as it requires few pesticides and no herbicides.

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Traditionally, hemp fiber has been a very coarse fiber when raw, which made it well suited for rope production.  Advances in breeding of the plants and treatment/processing of the fibers have resulted in a much finer, softer hemp fiber, which is ideal for weaving into hemp clothing and fabrics.  It improves and softens with age and is also mildew resistant, making it an excellent yarn for towels, bath linens and carpet warp as well as in fine table linens and clothing.  Hemp is over twice as strong as cotton and is the most durable of all natural textile fibers.  Furthermore, it also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fiber.  This prevents hemp garments from stretching out or becoming distorted with use.  With this in mind, hemp yarns would also make ideal crocheted or knitted re-useable grocery bags.  For free patterns visit: (scroll down).

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Arctic Musk Ox and its Qiviut



These large, long-haired, horned mammals may look like oxen, but the Arctic musk ox is closely related to sheep and goats.  The musk ox live in the frozen tundra of the Arctic circle and are the only hoofed animals that live this far north.  With hunting as the cause of its near extermination in the late 19th and early 20th century, the musk ox in Alaska survives today owing to a population that was introduced from Greenland in 1934.  From this Alaskan stock, small groups of musk ox were then used to establish populations in Norway and Russia.

The musk ox has a two-layered coat– a longer outer wool and a soft-downy underwool that is shed every spring.  This latter layer is called “qiviut” (pronounced “kiv-ee-ute”), Inuit for “down,” which is combed out or plucked from the coat of the musk ox or off the ground and other objects that the animal may have brushed against, since unlike sheep, these animals are not sheared.  The cleaned qiviut is then spun into yarn which is then washed in warm water.

As a fiber, qiviut is finer and softer than cashmere in fact, it is said to be the finest natural fiber known to man.  It is eight times warmer than wool and unlike wool, qiviut is stronger, hypoallergenic, and non-irritating to the skin.  It will not shrink in any temperature of water, does not shed, is odorless, retains warmth even when wet and yet lightweight.

Though not used for felting, it is commonly used for making hats and scarves which will last for over 20 years with care.  Qiviut is very expensive; a small, 1-oz ball of yarn costs almost $100 USD.


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Meet the World’s Most Expensive Sheep



It all started with China’s economic boom.  The Dolan sheep, recognized for its distinctive curved face, twin tails, and long floppy ears, which was originally bred for its meat from sheep in Kashgar has since become one of the most sought-after collectible for the country’s wealthiest.  Certain desired features of each sheep set the price.  For instance, darker fleece, bigger ears, more pronounced curving of the face make a sheep costlier than others.

The most expensive Dolan sheep is owned by Majid Abdul Reyim, a breeder in Kashgar, who claims to have received an offer of $2.2M.  He turned it down in favor of bragging rights and of maintaining a lucrative breeding service.



Other breeders often have to partner up to buy a specimen and split the breeding charge.  Why, a dose of semen from the best-looking Dolan sheep can cost up to $47,000.  Mr. Liu, a sheep breeder from Aksu sold 320 of his non-Dolan sheep and started breeding Dolans in 2009 from a pair that cost $4,000.  The following year, the pair cost $40,000 and with only 1,000 of them in existence the price is still going higher.



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First Rare Cashmere Goat Cloned by Scientists



In an effort to increase the dwindling population of these rare Himalayan goats, Kashmir scientists resort to cloning.  The animal biotechnology center of Sher-e-Kashmir University lead by project scientist Dr. Riaz Ahmad Shah saw the birth of  the world’s first ever cloned female kid, “Noori,” which means “light” in Arabic on March 9, 2012.  This opens the possibility of establishing breeding programs which will, in turn, bolster the production of the soft, high-priced wool for which these goats are renowned.

Though Cashmere wool fibers are fine and light, they are able to retain heat without the bulk.  They are mostly made into shawls, which is the major source of income, generating $80M a year for the 10.2 million people of Kashmir.  The supply have not kept up with the demand for these expensive shawls that in recent years Kashmir had to import cashmere from China.

The seven-scientist team took two years to clone Noori using the relatively new “handmade” cloning technique involving only a manual method using a microscope.  They have since standardized the procedure to “the cheapest, easier and less time-consuming” method and can now produce a clone in six months.




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Merino Fabrics Biodegrade Rapidly According to Researchers



For ages, the Merino sheep has been prized for its fleece which is the finest and softest over any other wool, so much so that before 18th century Spain only the nobility and the church owned most of the flocks and that export of these was punishable by death.  After the Napoleonic Wars, the breed has spread to Germany, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Merino wool is noted for its excellence at regulating body temperatures and though it absorbs water, it retains its warmth when wet making it ideal for athletic clothing.  Unlike synthetic fabrics, the Merino is superior in that its fibers biodegrade rapidly according to New Zealand researchers.  When completely buried in soil for intervals of 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 months, merino samples lost 36% of their mass at two months and 76-99% at nine months.  Compared to its synthetic counterpart, which did not degrade when buried after nine months, merino has a superior advantage of being sustainable and eco-friendly.






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