We all know the most common fibers: sheep, goat, Alpaca, Llama and Bunny. But there is a whole wide world out there offering some fabulous fibers. Considered exotic of luxury, they can be hard to find, but they are so worth the effort. The next time you are in the mood from something different, check around to see if you can find one of the following.
Camel – They are in the same family as alpaca and llama and come in two varieties: dromedary and Bactrian. On both, their outer coat is tough and coarse and provides fiber for cords, rope, tents and carpet. The undercoat is used for clothing and blankets. Think of the oh so luxurious camel hair coats. Most fiber comes from the Bactrian breeds.
Vicuna – These rare animals exist in the high grasslands of the Andes Mountains. Due to their environment, they have developed a dense, fine coat. The fiber is highly prized due to its softness. Unfortunately, these animals are very nervous and do not easily domesticate. Their fibers were banned from export for many years. Today, with some difficulty, it is possible to obtain this exquisite fiber. There is a new breed in the U.S. crossing the vicuna and the alpaca called the Paco-Vicuma.
Guanaco – Another breed hard to domesticate. They spent many years on the endangered list, but have made a comeback. Their fiber is still very difficult to find. Similar to the Vicuna, they have a fine undercoat, although it is sparse.
Bison – Around 600,000 years ago, the bison crossed paths with the camels coming from Siberia to North America. After being hunted to near extinction, they have made a slow comeback. Bison have five fiber types: a long outer coat which protects the animal from water. Just under this coat is a coarse fiber with air pockets for insulation. There are three layers of undercoat, each one shorter and softer than the one before. It is this fiber that is used to spin. They shed all their coats at once in the spring making it easy to gather and sort.
Yak – Native to the Himalayan Mountains, the yak is more commonly thought of as a means of transportation. The yak can be milked like a cow and provides oil for lamps. They have a strong outer coat used for making tents. The undercoat is used for textiles. Their coats are combed in the spring which allows you to collect the fiber. The yak is becoming popular in the Unites States today.
Qiviut or Musk Ox – Some of the oldest herbivores on the earth, like the bixon, the ox were nearly hunted to extinction. They also have five layers of fiber. In the spring, they shed their undercoats which is collected and spun into various textiles.
Tibetan Antelope – Native to Tibet, their fiber is highly prized for its softness. It is used to create shawls that are a symbol of wealth in Tibet. Unfortunately, the animal is killed in order to harvest the fiber.
Silk – Here is a term that brings to mind luxury, sensuality and even romance. Silk is produced by a variety of insects including the spider, ants and moths. The Chinese changed the industry when they began to cultivate silk worms. Silk is the only natural fiber that isn’t spun to make thread. Instead silk is reeled right off the cocoon. Silk is sliccified as either Bombyx or Tussah. Bombyx moths are smaller and the silk is finer, but they depend on human cultivation as they cannot survive without white mulberry leaves. Tussah can be found all over the world. It can be collected in the wild or raised commercially.
Spider Silk – Composed of fibroin much like the silk worm, spiders produce five different types of silk used for different purposes. It is the gossamer silk that is used for textiles. This is the long strands they use to get to their web. Spider silk is considered the strongest and finest natural fiber.
Byssus or Mussel – Their fibroins can be spun with the appearance of gold thread. It is carded and spun into “silk of the sea”. Although it has been used in Britain, France and the Mediterranean, today it can be found only in limited quantities in Italy.