Wool: not just shorn from sheep anymore! These 7 amazing, exotic & unusual wools offer a wealth of advantages over traditional woven fleece. Best of all, they’re sourced from farmed animals repaid for their renewable resources with good treatment and lifelong care.
Yak Down Wool
(images via: Aaron Pattillo/Post Independent)
Yak down… not a Sherpa distress call but a very cool fiber! Yak down clothing and accessories are more easily available these days now that the kinks, so to speak, have been worked out of the supply chain. Imagine a fiber as soft and luxurious as cashmere but with several times its insulating power, and you’ve got something worth yakking about!
(image via: DaWanda)
Companies such as Wobabybasics are playing the environmental card to promote their products, made from pure yak down fiber hand-combed from domesticated yaks. Wobabybasics sources their yak fiber directly from Tibetan herders who are thus able to enjoy a sustainable source of employment and income while preserving their traditional lifestyle.
Angora Rabbit Wool
Angora Rabbits (not to be confused with Angora Goats that produce Mohair) come in many different breeds, each boasting its own set of colors and textures. The rabbits are raised on farms and moult naturally four times a year. The best quality Angora Rabbit wool is sourced from moulting rabbits that are hand-plucked as only the soft underfur or down is collected. Shearing is much less time-consuming but the wool is of lower quality as the coarser outer guard hairs are mixed in.
(image via: ETSY/Tenneysangoras)
Generally speaking, the softness of wool is a function of the width of its individual fibers. Cashmere is held in popular esteem as the benchmark for softness yet its fibers are slightly wider on average compared to those of Angora Rabbit wool: 15-19 micrometers vs 12-16 micrometers, respectively. Seven times warmer than sheep’s wool, Angora Rabbit wool is typically used for accents and trim due to its exceptional lightness and fluffy “halo”, a unique property that results from the hollow cores of individual Angora Wool fibers.
The Vicuña is a small member of the camel family that lives on the upper plains and slopes of the Andes mountains in western South America. Declared a “sacred animal” by the Incas, only members of royalty were allowed to wear items woven from its fur. Threatened with extinction in the 1960s, a concerted effort to protect the Vicuña and return to traditional methods of harvesting its fur (an animal is shorn every four years) has seen their numbers recover to the point where they are no longer considered endangered.
(image via: AlpaLuxe)
Vicuña wool fibers are the narrowest of all, measuring under 12 micrometers in width. The fibers are also covered in tiny scales that help them stick together, preserving warmth. Officially sanctioned and labeled Vicuña cloth and clothing fetches extremely high prices: about $1,800 for a scarf and up to $20,000 for a full-length coat! Ensuring the native herders at the bottom of the supply chain are fairly compensated for their efforts ensures a better future, both for them and for the Vicuña.
Qiviut (Musk Ox) Wool
Qiviut is the downy undercoat of the Musk Oxen, a bison-sized ungulate native to the northernmost, high-arctic tundra of Canada and Greenland though it’s been introduced to northern Alaska. The creatures shed this fine, light, insulating fur with the spring moult and traditionally it was gathered from rocks and shrubs the oxen had rubbed against. Qiviut differs from sheep’s wool in that it does not shrink when wet, a property that has the side-effect of not being amenable to felting.
(image via: Buy-a-Thread)
Prices for Qiviut yarn range between $40 and $80 per ounce (28 g); a well-made scarf can cost up to $300 but with care it will last a good 20 years. The narrowness of Qiviut fibers, 11 to 13 micrometers, ranks it with the finest Merino and Alpaca wools and it’s often left un-tinted as the natural smoky hue is quite appealing. These days, most commercial Qiviut is sourced from farms in Canada and Alaska.