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In theory everything that has two ends and is fine enough can be spun - from cotton wool to horses' tails. In practice it is advisable to use only fibres that
Cotton wool, horses' tails, musk ox down (quiviut) and gold thread are therefore not the right choice for most spinners and projects. But don't worry, there's enough left:
I think that the term wool, if used correctly, refers only to sheep's wool - not to the hair from other animals. In any case, that is how I will use it.
So, wool comes from sheep which are generally shorn once a year (some breeds are shorn twice a year, and there's some sheep that shed their hair naturally like other animals). Important wool characteristics are:
These characteristics are more important to me than the breed. The breed allows to draw general conclusions as to wool quality (Merino is generally short and fine, English Leicester is coarse and long). But in the end it's the quality of the individual fleece that counts. Especially in the case of meat breeds the quality varies a lot from one animal to the next. You can find first class wool on meat sheep - you just need to pick and choose!
Angora comes from Angora rabbits. Angora is finer than most sheep's wool, has smaller scales and no crimp. That makes Angora wonderfully soft to wear but difficult to spin because the fibres are slippery. The short length doesn't facilitate spinning either. Therefore Angora is not a fibre for beginning spinners. Another important point: Angora felts very easily. Therefore the loose fibre should neither be washed nor dyed (washing isn't necessary, either, because the fibre is generally very clean and not at all greasy). But once the yarn is spun and plied, it can be treated rather roughly (temperature shocks hot/cold, rubbing it) so that it will felt a bit and the individual hairs won't get lost during wearing.
There's different types of angora rabbits with different fur characteristics:
On my Angora rabbit page you can see pictures of my rabbits.
Mohair is the hair from the Angora goat. Mohair is very glossy, very strong, has practically no crimp (it's supposed to form locks in the fleece), very smooth and very long - even though Angora goats are shorn twice a year. As the fibres are so slippery, they are pretty difficult to spin, in spite of the nice length. Mohair is also heavier than wool. It is therefore recommended to blend Mohair with wool to get a more light-weight garment and fibres that are easier to spin.
Silk is created by the caterpillars of two asian butterfly species when they form their cocoon to become butterflies. If the caterpillar is killed in the cocoon, the silk filament can be reeled off (in general from several cocoons at the same time to receive a "thicker" thread). This results in a thread up to 3 km long. But it's also possible to stretch out the cocoons which the caterpillars have left - that results in bells or hankies. Or one can spin directly from a degummed cocoon.
Very white, diameter 13 micron. Cultivated silk from Bombyx mori caterpillars. This species has been cultivated for thousands of years, is unable to fly and eats only mulberry leaves.
Slightly yellow, a bit thicker. Tussah silk comes from Antheraea paphia butterflies, which have functioning wings and eat different kinds of leaves. The exact shade of Tussah silk varies with the caterpillar's food - therefore you should buy all the silk for a project at once.
White but the texture is irregular. This is waste from industrial mulberry silk processing, which is therefore not very expensive. The silk is fairly easy to spin, but don't try for a smooth, regular yarn. You will get a textured yarn.
All protein fibres come from animals (the classification is important for dyeing - the procedure is different for protein fibres and cellulose fibres). Well-known fibres for handspinners are: Alpaca, llama, camel, dog, yak, cashmere (the cashmere goat's undercoat), the musk oxen's undercoat (generally called Quiviut, but that's a trademark registered by an Inuit coop in Alaska).... You could also try the hair from your Persian cat when it sheds in spring, or your neighbour's long-haired guinea pig.
Cellulose fibres come from plants. Used for spinning are, amongst others
Very short fibres (approx. 2 to 3 cm) which surround the seeds from the cotton plant. Cotton is spun into very fine threads. This works best with a Charkha, because there's never a problem with too much take-up.
This is the fibre from the stems of the flax plant (which also furnishes linseed). The best fibres are very long and are tied to a distaff before spinning. But there's also short-fibred flax (tow) in roving form that can be spun like wool.
Ramie is an Asian nettle which furnishes a very smooth and very strong, very white (at least in its commercial form) fibre. Bamboo comes from the bamboo plant, Ingeo is won from corn (mais) by an industrial process. In the past (but attempts are made to revive the process) fibres from the stems of stinging nettles were used in Europe and especially Germany - harvest and processing is said to be the same as for flax.
Page updated: 21 April 2007