Wool and Other Animal Fibers

Wool and Other Animal Fibers

Most animal fiber will felt but some felt much better than others. Sheep’s wool is one of the more versatile types of fiber to use in a felting project. Other types of fiber that felt fairly easily are Alpaca, Angora, Mohair, and Llama. There are many different breeds of sheep and the wool from each breed has different qualities and characteristics. Learning about the various differences will be a great help when determining which type of wool should be used for which individual project.

Fibre from Alpacas and Angora goats is softer the younger the animal. Alpaca fibre described as ‘cria’ – the name for baby camelids, will be the softest fibre. The softness of the fibre also depends where on the animal it was sheared from. The ‘blanket’ is the best part, it is soft and long. Fibre from the neck and upper legs is soft, but shorter, this is usually called ‘seconds’ and fibres from the lower legs and belly has lots of guard hair, and is coarser and usually quite dirty. Alpaca fibre is very soft and has a silky feel. Because it doesn’t have scales like sheep wool, it is less likely to cause the ‘itchy’ feeling some people get from wool.”

Fibre from Angora goats is known as Mohair. Kid mohair is from the youngest goats and is softer and more curly. Fibre from slightly older goats known as ‘Yearling’ is courser and more wavy than curly, and fleece from older animals is known as Adult mohair’ or ‘grown mohair’. Mohair is very shiny. The micron count for cria alpaca and kid mohair is around 20 for both, increasing with the age of the animal.

Other micron counts are Cashmere 14-19, Angora rabbit 10-16, Vicuna 10-13, Camel 15-23.
Sheep’s wool is a renewable resource and a multipurpose fiber. Wool has characteristics that have made it a desirable fiber for many thousands of years.

  • Wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture. Therefore, when worn as clothing, it can wick sweat from the body and enhance the body’s own cooling system. It  prevents the clammy, cold feeling found when wearing synthetic clothing.
  • Wool is an insulator as opposed to trapping heat. As an insulator, it keeps you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather.
  • The moisture in each wool fiber means that it is fire resistant. Wool will char in an open flame but is self extinguishing and stops burning after being removed from the flame.
  • The waviness or crimp of wool fiber gives it a natural elasticity. This elastic quality allows the wool to retain its shape better and makes it very durable as the fiber can be bent multiple times without breaking.
  • Wool is resistant to dirt because the small scales on the surface of the fiber hold the dirt near the surface, making the dirt easier to remove. Wool also repels odors.
  • Like most fabrics, wool is a good sound absorber.
  • Due to its moisture content, wool is resistant to static electricity.
  • Saving the best for last, wool has the ability to felt. Due to the small scales on the surface of the wool fiber as well as other factors such as the crimp, wool when combined with warm water, soap and a little agitation will matt together in an irreversible process called felting.

Wool is graded to determine its quality. The quality can be determined by fiber diameter, crimp, color, staple length, staple strength, yield and remaining vegetable matter. The most important factor though is the fiber diameter. The fineness or coarseness of the wool will determine its end use. The diameter is measured either by the Bradford System or by microns.

The Bradford System is a way to measure the fineness of a wool breed. The Bradford Count is the number of hanks of yarn (a hank being 560 yards long) that can be spun from a pound of wool tops. The finer the wool, the more hanks could be spun. Wool with higher Bradford counts are finer and therefore can be spun into longer yarn.

Micron count is the diameter of the fibre in microns, a micron is 1,000th of a millimetre. The lower the micron count the finer the wool.

The link below is a PDF file of a list of common sheep breeds with average Bradford and micron diameter measurements. Feel free to print out the list for your personal use.

Wool Basics

Please have a browse around our gallery of fibre photos.

6 thoughts on “Wool and Other Animal Fibers

  1. My wife passed away and I have two pounds of Vicuna fiber. Do you know of someplace I can get this verified or authenticated?

    1. Sorry, I have no idea. You might try contacting a local weavers and spinners guild or if you have a small fiber mill, they might have an idea.

  2. I just wet felted an alpaca shawl today, sandwiching a layer of mohair between two layers of alpaca. Having heard that alpaca is resistant to wet felting I was amazed to see the alpaca felt very quickly. The mohair layer is another story, however! This beautiful alpaca shawl is shedding mohair like crazy! The shawl is a gift and I don’t know if I can gift it the way it is shedding. I wet felted it like crazy-if the mohair was going to felt, it would have felted. Has anyone had this experience with mohair? I’m wondering if needle felting it a bit would help?

    1. I think that the mohair will always shed as it has such different qualities as the alpaca. Needle felting will not help at this point. Yes, I have seen mohair shed.

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