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Animal-based fibers provide great insulation, keeping you warm when it's cold outside and cool when it's hot. They are also very absorbent. Some animal fibers are warmer than others, but even a light mohair yarn can knit into a warm sweater.

SIDE NOTE on WOOL:  The most widespread as far as use is Wool and the best known is Merino Wool, which takes up 40% of the total wool yarn produced.  The longer the fiber the better the yarn and it is called "worsted" wool.  There has been a Wool Products Labeling Act in place since 1939 and the manufacturer must let you know what kind of wool you are buying since the quality can vary greatly.  More information about "Worsted Wool" later in this section as it can mean different things in different countries, so be careful when this term is used.  As far as the care of wool, use only warm water to hand wash and rinse your item and then shape and lie flat to dry.  If you use cold water to rinse, the softness of the yarn will be impaired and never use detergents, Woolite is best or Eucalan Wash.

WOOL

TYPES of WOOL:
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New or Virgin Wool has never been used in manufacturing that I know of.
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Reprocessed or Reclaimed Wool is made from mill ends or scraps from the cutting room.
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Lambswool is from baby sheep less than 7 months old.
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Reused is fiber recovered from used garments and then re-spun, like the Sari Silk Yarn out of India.

All wool comes from sheep but can range from very rough and scratchy (from Icelandic sheep) to superfine fleece as soft as cotton (from Merino sheep). Merino yarn is fairly inexpensive versus all other types of animal based yarns in the luxury category, and feels great against your body. Wool is the most common fiber to knit with.  The thing about Wool is that it can be worn in both cold and hot climates, as it will insulate and keep you warm in cold climates and cool in hot climates.  Kind of strange I know, but it actually does work that way since it is "insulating".

Merino Wool:Merino Wool comes from the "Merino" sheep.  It is a very high end wool and more expensive than other types of wool, but still very affordable and one of my favorites.  When I make anything out of wool, it is 99% of the time out of Merino Wool.  It is very soft and smooth and feels great against the skin.  It does have a tendency to pill though, and care should be taken when you hand wash items made from this wool.  I love this type of wool as it is warm, so very soft and cozy.

Super Wash Wool: Specially treated wool so that you can throw it in the wash and dry in the dryer.  Great for children clothing.  This wool does not felt at all.

Mohair:  Mohair comes from the fleece of an Angora goat. It is fuzzy and glamorous but can be itchy when worn directly against your skin and it sheds like crazy.  Kid Mohair is softer but not as lustrous as hair from adult goats.  This type of yarn is especially pretty with lace work and in lace shawls as the distance between the stitches allows the yarn to fluff out.







Cashmere: This is the most wonderful soft, fluffy yarn and is a Wool Yarn. Cashmere is combed from the belly of cashmere goats, the back of the legs and throat during molting season.  It is VERY expensive so if you want the feel of cashmere without the huge expense you can buy a yarn that blends cashmere with something else (like wool), or try Merino Wool, very lovely to the touch.  Also in my opinion, Soy Silk and Bamboo yarn are great substitutes for this yarn as far as softness only, as they knit up differently and have more stretch.  Cashmere also pills easily and is loosely spun, so best for items worn for special occasions, unless off course you are independently wealthy, then you can even have socks made out of cashmere. LOL.






ALPACA

Alpaca fibers come from a llama-like animal and when used in clothing it is very, very warm. Useful for hats and scarves but potentially too hot for a sweater.  Alpaca yarn typically comes in earthy, natural tones and is considered a "luxury fiber".  You can also purchase blends of this yarn.  This yarn fiber comes mainly from South America in Bolivia and Peru.  It stretches quite a bit so mainly used for light garments.

"Suri" Alpaca: Only 3% of Alpacas as "Suri" hence making this a luxury yarn and is usually blended with wool.  Usually is not dyed. It is the HARDEST yarn to find and is usually blended with another yarn otherwise it would be too costly to make and no one would buy buy it, but you can find 100% Suri Alpaca yarn.

SIDE NOTE on ALPACAS:  Alpaca fiber has softness like no other natural fiber. Huacaya alpaca is crimpy and soft. Suri alpaca is silky and lustrous. It is also very lightweight, yet warmer than wool. Each individual strand of fiber is hollow or some have said semi-hollow.  This gives alpaca a tremendous thermal capacity that allows for a breathable fiber with an insulating nature.  Alpacas come naturally in 22 color variations; the spectrum includes white, fawn, brown, gray and black, with all the natural shades in between. Most of the Alpacas in the USA are sheared once a year. The fiber is sorted from blanket, leg and neck and belly, and many Alpaca raisers are sorting the blankets for grades as well.

There are different uses for the fiber based on the animals microns.
- ULTRAFINE : 20 microns and under, very soft
- Superfine : 20-23 microns - Gently used items such as shawls and specialty baby items.        
- Fine : 23-25 microns - Most versatile and the microns we see most.        
- Medium : 26-30 microns - Socks, throws, outer wear and felt if little guard hairs, rugs. This is also the average micron for the American Alpacas.
- Coarser : 30+ microns - Batt's, insulation and rugs some people like this yarn to make purses and outerwear, felt for slippers, etc.


OTHER ANIMAL FIBERS

Lama: You can buy pure Lama wool but it is VERY expensive.  The great thing about Lama is that it is hypoallergenic, it is lighter and warmer than Alpaca and is stronger than wool.  The Lama hair is dehaired, or the course hair is removed, and what is left is the soft and fluffy stuff and this yarn rivals cashmere to the touch.  Because it is in high demand but hard to come by, it is usually mixed with other fibers.

Vicuna: This is an animal from the camel family and their hair is warmer, more insulating and softer than any other animal.  At one point the Vicuna were on the Endangered Species List, but now are slowly coming back into numbers that hopefully, one day will take them off this list.  Since they can be shorn only once every three years, this is a precious and very expensive commodity.  They live only in very high altitudes.

Guanaco:  This is from the same family as Vicuna and are also endangered, but have been classified as threatened.  Along the same lines as Vicuna, it is a very expensive fiber to use and it's softer than cashmere.

Camel: Finally to the actual camel!  This yarn is made from the under coast of the Asian or Bacterian Camel.  Because there is a high demand but limited in quantity annually, it is very expensive and considered a luxury yarn.  It is not usually dyed and comes in it's natural color.

Angora: Angora yarn is very fine and fluffy and comes from the Angora Rabbit.  It sheds very badly so it's best used for accents rather than an entire item of clothing.  It is very pretty with lace work since the stitches are far apart and allows this yarn to fluff out.





                                        


Quivet: This comes from a Musk Ox and is a lot warmer than wool, is very soft and very expensive.  It does not felt. I have not tried it yet.

Possum:  As per the name this yarn is made from Possum hairs that are hollow and as such is thermo regulating.  I have not used this yarn yet.  Possum is usually mixed with another yarn, such as merino which produces a hard wearing yarn with superior heat retaining qualities.  In knitwear, possum fur, unlike angora, resists pilling and is a lot fluffier.  Possum is now a National Pest in New Zealand, it was introduced to the environment and is not a native animal.  Since 1936 Possums have and are causing a lot of damage in their forests.  Also, possum hair is hand plucked and not machine plucked as the fiber is destroyed by the machine and makes for a much inferior yarn, so make sure you know how this yarn is made before you buy it.

Mink:  Mink yarn is a very expensive, on the market as of 2010 in the USA.  From what I can gather this yarn had been introduced in the market in Europe in the 1970's, but evidently without much success and today is a hard yarn to find.  Do not expect it to look like "mink", as it looks like a wool type yarn.  Mink Yarn DOES NOT look like mink, if it does it is NOT Mink Yarn. It is very pretty and very warm.  As far as I know  Great Northern Yarns  which is now called "THE CASHMERE CO-OP" is the only manufacturer of this yarn and make a 70%/30% and a 90%/10% mink and cashmere blend.  You cannot have 100% mink yarn as it is impossible to spin without using a stabilizing fiber, such as cashmere, if it says 100% mink IT IS NOT MINK YARN. The mink fibers are just long enough when blended with a slightly longer stabilizing fiber like cashmere for these two luxury fibers to be spun and plied into an extremely soft and lightweight knitting yarn. The mink and cashmere fibers have similar micron thicknesses and are wonderfully compatible.  The resulting yarn has been compared to the finest luxury knitting yarns in the world.  Great Northern Yarns also sell other types of hard to find luxury yarn such as Camel, Yak and Cashmere, and a Mulberry Silk/Merino blend.  No animals are harmed in the way Great Northern Yarns produce their yarn and also are in a stress free environment.
             

​UPDATED 11/2016

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