26 February 2008



This includes Silk produced by silk moths of various species - It differs from other animal fibres in that it isn't a type of hair and doesn't have scales. It's a smooth tube - hence the sheen - it's produced to create a safe cocoon in which the grub can transform into a moth.


There are two main Alpaca groups - the suri is the one I am most familiar with. I don't really know a lot about the differences between the two groups (except one looks cuter than the other!).

I've spun Alpaca in several different colours - Black, Grey, Caramel, White and Brown - interestingly they have all been different in texture. I'm sure this is not down to the colour but to individual breeding. Only one has been fairly coarse - the others have been varying degrees of lovely. Not the easiest fibre to spin but not too difficult either and well worth the effort of getting it right.

My first Alpaca was from a beast by the name of Lily living in Cambridgeshire (a really pretty grey). More recently I've been spinning the fuzz of Charlie who lives in a small herd in Essex - Charlie's was the dirtiest fuzz (and the smelliest) that I've ever encountered! However, once washed, it magically transformed into a pristine white that spins into a soft fluffy yarn - so nice - but I don't know what I want to do with it yet! when I find a project for it I will share it with you.


This is the fuzz from the Angora Rabbit - a pretty cloud of fluff with a face poking out at one end! (Angora goats provide us with Mohair).

Angora is wonderful - quite difficult to spin - but I manage by carefully carding on my fine cotton carders and then spinning with a slow draw (so it doesn't pull into the machine too quickly) and I put a fair amount of twist in. Once spun and washed it fluffs up with a halo - in fact if you want to knit or crochet it can be helpful not to wash until after working up, so that the halo doesn't get in the way of working - all a matter of preference.

Like Alpaca there are many different colours of Angora Rabbit - but you are most likely to be able to buy white only as this is most freely available. Quite often you will find Angora in a mix e.g. Alpaca, Silk and Angora.This is helpful as all the hard work in preparation is done for you and if you want to you can spin straight from the "top".


I'm sure anyone reading this doesn't need to be told what a camel looks like! Scruffy, lumpy, moody beasts. Their down is marvellous though and is the stuff of camel hair coats. In fact camel down comes in a variety of colours from almost white, through caramel to brown, but is most frequently only sold in typical camel colour - a sort of warm caramel. It's one of many fibres that has to have the guard hairs removed before spinning, though, like the others, the guard hairs can be spun in their own right to a coarse hairy thread or string.

I've spun camel - it was the first fibre that I practised long draw style spinning with and it was really lovely. I feel that it's really not suitable for a worsted style of spinning as the fibres are very short and downy. The results were very pleasing and I look forward to spinning camel fibre again in the future.


The most expensive of fibres this one - I handled a small sample once but I've never spun it. It's harvested from Cashmere goats and I believe the expense has a lot to do with the time consuming removal of guard hairs.

Cashmere is very fine and soft and I hope one day to be able to afford to work with it to create a special project.


The fur from long coated cats e.g. Persians can be spun very effectively. Long coated cats need regular grooming and the fuzz that's collected in the comb or brush can be saved for spinning. It is very similar in texture to angora fur and spins up into a yarn with a similar halo. It's nicer to spin than dog fur as it doesn't smell at all.


Many species of dog have fur that can be spun. Probably the best is Samoyed, but I've seen wonderful results from German Shepherd which was also lovely warm colours (see pic below) - this was spun by one of our guild members who tells me that she's just finished spinning some Spanish Water Dog fur. I've only spun Poodle fur myself - it spun up quite easily and made a nice, if very slightly hairy yarn. It's biggest drawback for me is that it began to smell quite doggy when my hands got warm. I would still very much like to try a few other species to see what they are like.

The following picture is a little treasure bag made from poodle fur - spun into a singles yarn then crocheted & fulled.


These animals are closely related to Alpacas - the difference being that llamas are more frequently mainly pack animals and consequently their fleece contains more guard hairs which need to be removed for spinning. Like Alpacas they are members of the camelid family.

The fleece is not dissimilar to alpaca if a little coarser in the main. I have recently spun a mix containing llama, silk and wool - it was a little hairy but spun quite nicely - I'd dyed it prior to spinning with a mix of colours - using acid dyes and food colouring in my slow cooker. I then spun a dyed singles and an undyed singles which I plied together.


This is another goat fibre - it not the hair of a Mo it is, in fact, the fuzz from the Angora Goat. It's quite different from cashmere in that it's not so fine - instead mohair is quite lustrous and is particularly known for the halo it gives a finished fabric.

I don't particularly like mohair garments and consequently haven't got around to trying it for spinning.


This is the fibre obtained from the musk ox and spinners who've worked with it rave about it - so I look forward one day to finding a source and buying some to play with. It is brown in colour and quite downy - once again it is one of those fibres that has guard hairs which need to be removed before spinning. The finished items made with quiviut are supposed to be very warm to wear.


There are so many species of sheep that I plan to do a separate post with an overview of as many different varieties as I can find out about - so look out for that soon.


Yaks are members of the bovine family and are said to be quite bad tempered - I've never met one so I can't vouch for this! The wild ones are black in appearance with a long black outer coat of coarse guard hair and a rich brown downy undercoat. This undercoat is wonderful to spin - it behaves a lot like camel and other downy fibres. Once spun and washed it fluffs up nicely in a woolly way as opposed to, for instance, angora which is very fluffy.

24 February 2008


So where do you start when you're looking for fibre to work with? Firstly you need to think about what you're going to do with it.........Plant fibres and synthetics won't felt so if you're thinking of a felt making project you will need animal fibres. If you're spinning you can choose whatever you like - depending on your ability level. When demonstrating at shows I've had people say "Oh I couldn't do that - I'm allergic to wool" - not a problem, most people who are allergic to animal fibres can live with silk (yes it's an 'animal' fibre) and there is an amazing range of plant fibres and synthetics to work with.



Bamboo fibre comes in different forms - I've spun Bamboo Tops which were very slippy - definitely not for the beginner spinner! The end product was not dissimilar to perle cotton - I tried dying mine with Dylon dyes in a deep purple (in the same bath as some silk and some wool which came out beautifully purple) the bamboo doesn't take dye that well - however it did come out a delightful lilac which I was ultimately very pleased with. It's not a fibre that I'd leap to work with again as it was quite difficult - but the end product was nice.

I've since won in a raffle some bamboo fibre that is quite different. The tops had a staple length of about 3 or 4 inches this has a very short staple and is finer and fluffier. I haven't yet tried spinning it on my spinning wheel or on my drop spindle - will keep you posted on this one. I have, though, had a go with a primitive spinning method which uses no tools except the human hand - will do a post on this method ASAP - it "spins" well with this method into a strong, attractive yarn - with a bit of a slub. UPDATE: I've now spun some of this fibre - I carded it with cotton carders into a rolag and I spun it on my wheel and plyed it - it was really nice to spin easier than the other stuff - a nice result too, I think - would recommend this - give it a go.

There is now a source of pre-dyed bamboo fibre - in lovely strong, warm shades - will try to find a link for this.


I've not yet tried to spin cotton. I have looked at all the different naturally coloured cottons available but haven't succumbed to temptation and bought any - yet!

FLAX (linen)

In case you don't know flax is the plant and the fibre - the finished fabric is linen.

My local guild did a project with this a few years ago. We were each given some seeds from which we grew some flax plants, harvested them and retted them (a bit like rotted - allowing the outer layers to break down). Then one of our brave members ran a workshop and showed us how to prepare the fibres using hackles (seriously vicious equipment this!) until we had wonderful golden strands ready for spinning. We then spun our fibres and used the guild Rigid Heddle Looms to weave a wall hanging. (photo to follow)

The really fabulous thing about flax is that you can grow your own! It's very easy to grow and quite pretty too. You can also by the fibre as tops. It's not difficult to spin - but at the same time it's not easy to spin really well. It's quite satisfying to work with and if you weave as well can produce some gorgeous end products.


This is not that easy to get hold of but it is out there. I have not spun it myself but I imagine it's pretty similar to Flax (except you can't grow it yourself as you need a license to grow it!).


This is fibre produced from corn and is not that freely available in England although I've seen American websites advertising it. I would very much like to try this and as soon as I do I'll let you know what I think about it.


I have an experiment in progress - will update you as it goes along. Obviously you can grow your own or as it's so common there is probably a local hedgerow that you can raid without causing harm (I got mine from a verge on a local farm). It's supposed to be a lot like flax and I've seen a finished shawl made from nettle yarn which was lovely - darker in colour than flax and slightly softer.


I don't know a lot about this - I will find out more and add some information later.


This is, unusually for a plant fibre, a protein fibre and not a cellulose fibre like all of the above. I believe that it is extruded from a liquid form. It comes as tops in a beautiful golden caramel colour and it does feel very similar to silk - with a gorgeous lustre. It's not easy to spin but is very satisfying - I enjoyed the experience and was delighted with the results - again very similar to perle cotton.

23 February 2008

Newbie Blogger

Wow - I've got a blog - I thought it would be really complicated but here it is (and it's not). I hope that sometime soon this will be a really exciting textiles blog with lots of tutorials, tips, articles and masses of colourful photos.

I want to share tips about working with fibre - whether it be to spin or to felt - and then to take it to the next phase and CREATE A THING - a bag, a cushion, a scarf, for yourself, for the love of your life, for a friend..... you get the idea!

So tomorrow watch this space for tips on choosing fibre for your project.