Les fibres naturelles — Partie 1

Natural fibers — Part 1

NOW THAT YOU KNOW HOW TO CHOOSE YARN BASED ON ITS SIZE . Do you know how to find equivalent wool based on its composition?

The world of natural fibers is extremely rich and fascinating.

To begin with, chemically speaking, natural fibers are categorized into two large groups: Protein fibers of animal origin and fibers composed of cellulose of vegetable origin.

Today we are going to talk about protein fibers made up of keratin of animal origin such as:

– Mohair
– The Alpaca
– Angora
– Kashmir
– The Yak
– Musk Ox

But what exactly is wool? Wool is a long polymer made up of 19 amino acids having keratin as its main protein, covered with scales of cuticles and very similar to human hair.

– Sheep wool fiber

The use of animal fibers in textiles dates from 8500 to 6500 BC. J.-C. with the domestication of sheep, one of the first animals domesticated by humans for their milk, their meat and of course for their wool!

And it's so easy to understand why. Sheep wool is an extremely versatile fiber with some quite unique and ingenious properties:

1. The fiber can be twisted, turned, twisted more than 20,000 times without breaking (cotton can only withstand about 3,000 times).

2. Wool has very high tensile strength and a lot of elasticity. The fiber can extend up to 30% of its length and then return to its initial shape.

3. Wool has hygroscopic properties. It can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture before the wearer feels wet. This is why wool sweaters keep us warm and dry when it snows, for example. The wool will absorb moisture in the air releasing heat.

4. Thanks to its ability to retain moisture, wool conducts very little static electricity, so it does not retain dust (attracted by the static charge) and gets little dirty.


6. Wool is a renewable raw material. It grows back after mowing.

It is thanks to its fantastic properties that sheep's wool is the recommended fiber for beginners to knitting. It is a very tolerant fiber that can forgive many mistakes. Its qualities cannot be found among other natural fibres.

Wool sweaters, it stings you said, do you know why?

The size of the cuticles covering the hair will determine the softness of the fiber. Wools considered softer and noble like cashmere and merino will have really small and very close cuticles. The longer and further apart the cuticles are, the less soft the wool will be to the touch.

When someone says that wool stings or scratches, it means the cuticles that rub against the skin and tickle the nerve endings. This degree of sensitivity varies from person to person and some areas of our body like the neck and wrists are more sensitive than others. Washing wool with EUCALAN helps soften it and make the fabric more comfortable to wear.

Some people may also be allergic to lanolin, the fat secreted by sheep to moisturize and lubricate the coat. Fibers of vegetable origin, but also alpaca and cashmere (they do not have lanolin), are therefore good substitutes.

– Goat wool fiber

1. The Angora goat: a small, very hardy and ancient goat originating from Tibet and later introduced to Turkey. The dress is entirely white with long, silky and lustrous locks which are used to make mohair wool.

Although chemically its composition is similar to sheep's wool, mohair has specific characteristics. It has great lightness and finesse as well as great insulating power. mohair fiber has a natural sheen which, combined with mohair's exceptional ability to take dye, results in shiny, shimmering colors that are difficult to achieve with wool. Mohair is also naturally flame retardant (it does not burn easily, does not ignite, and stops burning as soon as the heat source is removed). Mohair felts very little, which makes it particularly durable.

If we are looking for lightness with a lot of flexibility and drape, mohair is the perfect fiber for us. It can be mixed with wool to make a warmer fabric without being denser. Mohair is much less elastic than wool, which can pose difficulties for beginner knitters. It also tolerates errors less well, as the fiber tends to snag, making unraveling difficult.

2. Cashmere: fine and very soft fiber from the goats of the province of Kashmir, mountainous region of the Himalayas. Cashmere is called the dense down of fine and soft hairs which doubles the summer coat of goats in winter to protect them from wind and cold. China is the world's leading producer of cashmere followed by Mongolia.

Softness and delicacy are the characteristics of cashmere. He needs to be treated with kindness and he does not tolerate abrasion and rubbing too much.

– Camelids

1. Alpaca was considered at the time as the fiber of the gods by the Incas, only members of royalty could wear clothes made from the fleece of camelids originating from the Andes of South America. It has its particular characteristics; more resistant and warmer than wool, it has a softness similar to cashmere and mohair. It falls into the range of luxurious fibers. The range of natural colors is very rich between white, gray and a wide variety of browns. Alpaca has very little elasticity but a lot of drape and softness, on the other hand it loses memory.

In the camelid family we also find the fiber of the camel and the llama with characteristics very similar to the alpaca.

– Angora: Angora rabbits are rabbits that are characterized by very long hair. This characteristic is linked to a genetic mutation. Angora is categorized among the finest textile fibers, such as cashmere. It is tender, light, supple and extremely warm. Angora is very delicate and does not tolerate too much friction. It has no elasticity and tends to pill a lot because of its long fibers. It needs to be knitted very loosely as the fiber has a large halo and requires space to open up.

Great luxury!

– The yak: large species of ruminant with long fleece from the Himalayas. Its wool is used to make clothing, felt and rope. Its down produces a fiber that is soft like cashmere and warmer than wool. It is a good substitute for people who are allergic to sheep's wool.

– Muskox: Originally from the Arctic, the muskox is protected by a long, very insulating fleece. Its wool, called Qiviut, is finer and softer than cashmere and is very light. This fiber is among the rarest in the world, it is used by the Inuit for its warmth and great softness.

The subject of fibers is really very broad and this guide is just an overview of the different characteristics of each fiber. There is a whole world to discover. If you want to deepen your reading I recommend the book “THE KNITTER'S BOOK OF WOOL” by Clara Parkes and “THE FLEECE & FIBER SOURCEBOOK” .

We continue on the fibers of vegetable origin in the next article!

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