Qualities of Natural Fibres

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Have you ever found it confusing to know the differences between the many types of wools? I know I have, I didn’t know the difference between Merino and Mohair to begin with. I just knew they both came from animals.

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There are also cellulose fibres that I do know the differences between and I can tell the different qualities from them all just by looking or feeling, but I wanted to take a closer look at the qualities are as far as insulation and fibre length for spinning goes. For example I didn’t know that cotton was considered a good insulator, I thought of it more as something that was just breathable and keeps you cool in summer. Enough of my ramblings and discoveries let’s get on with the guide.

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Read this with a wearing/spinning/raising type of mind (What it is like to wear these fibres, what it is like to spin with these fibres, and what it is like to grow/raise/extract these fibres), here is the list:

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Cotton –  a cellulose fibre that is breathable, absorbent and soft. The fibres are strong, and long. It keeps the body warm in winter and cool in summer. Tease cotton fibres before spinning. Pima cotton is easier and more luxurious to spin and use than staple cotton.

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Linen –  a cellulose fibre made of flax. Its fibres are twice as strong as cotton and are more lustrous. The fabric made of linen is absorbent, cool, but wrinkles very easily, and has a loose weave. The fibres are extremely long which makes it easier to spin and you can spin very thinly. If the yarn is thin the fabric will be softer but if it is thicker it will be rougher (but may soften over time and use). Not ideal for pleats. You do not necessarily need to set the twist when spinning but you can if desired.

Hemp – a cellulose fibre made from the hemp plant. It is very strong, long fibre but semi-lustrous. The fabric softens with washings but remains relatively stiff and durable. Wrinkles easily but is breathable. Has often been compared to linen but can be more durable. Spinning hemp is much like spinning flax, it drafts easily as it slides like silk if it is good hemp.

Bamboo – is a cellulose fibre made from the processing of the bamboo plant. The fibres are soft, light, and silky. It is breathable and cool to wear. The un-spun fibre is just as silky as silk and makes smooth yarn. The bamboo is made into a pulp and then made into fibre. It is a sustainable resource.

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Soy silk – a by-product of the soy industry and a cellulose fibre. It is made of the soy proteins, this extruded long fibres that are then cut and processed like normal. It is comparable to silk in the way it drapes. It is soft, durable, and can be warmer than wool if thick. It is difficult to spin as raw fibre, blends work better as the soy fibres are not very long but on its own it makes a very silky product. The roving is very floppy and soft.

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Merino wool – soft, elastic, absorbent, durable, and fine wool. The sheep are very fluffy, and the wool has a good crimp. It is the softest and finest wool that you can buy and ideal for starting to spin. It can be used to learn to spin with, as it is fine so it sticks to itself, the fibres are long. It is insulating warm wool.

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Alpaca wool – a naturally warm fibre that is good for clothing or bedding. The fibres are durable yet lightweight (as the hairs are fine). Alpaca wools are at a comparable softness to cashmere however available for a better price. The fibre is more silky than wool-like.

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Cashmere – wool from the undercoat of Asiatic goat breeds. Brushing the goat and removing only the softest and finest hairs is how the wool is harvested, the undercoat of the neck hair is the longest and finest  of the goats. The wool is processed to separate the topcoat from the undercoat by hand after it is cleaned. The wool is known for its soft, warm, and lustre from the fine silky smooth fibres. Annually 150 grams of wool is taken from each goat. Due to its luxurious nature cashmere is expensive. It is slippery to spin; in addition to the cost it is more ideal for experienced spinners.

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Mohair – wool that comes from an Angora goat. The hair grows in uniform locks on the goat and they get sheered twice annually. The hairs are not as fine as fine wools but they are long, have lustre, strong, and resilient. It isn’t as soft as fine wools but it is often used for outerwear or upholstery, as it is does not crease, but it does not take chemical dyes as easily. It does not felt easily.

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Angora – the wool taken from rabbits when it is three inches long. The wool is very durable, blends well (to extend its use and to make spinning easier), soft and is luxurious. It is too soft to weave and the yarn can break easily. For spinning it is difficult as it is short slippery fibres, and if it has been made into roving it is difficult to draft. It is ideal for knitted accessories and small garments.

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Silk – is the fibre of the cocoon of silk worms making it a protein fibre. It is a smooth luxurious fibre that is strong, soft, and lustrous. Some silks, like silk noil are rougher and rustic, but then there are also smooth and shiny silk too. To form the fibre the cocoons are processed with a series of hot and cold baths to soften them and begin the unwinding of the fibre (each cocoon is one continuous thread). Tussah silk is a wild silk and produces a honey coloured fibre and is coarser than cultivated (bombyx mori) silk which is fine and white. Silk fibres are the thinnest natural fibres and are delicate and lightweight, however strong. When spinning with silk it sticks to everything, it is slippery, can take a lot of twist.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and found it useful.

Cheers,

L . C. Cariou

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