As I started to write this, it quickly became larger than I expected so I am breaking it down into sections. Part one will be about types of fiber. Part two will be dedicated to quality of the fiber. Part three will be processing fiber. Part four will be using the fiber. I never really knew there was so much to fiber. We are in no way experts, we are just sharing what we have learned along the way.
For someone who isn’t into spinning, fiber, and the wool world understanding what the differences are can be daunting. We were in this boat about five years ago. We assumed all animals you shear provide wool. Not the case. Sheep provide wool. So what do you call the material from llama, alpaca, or better silk worms? A friend who has now become family started educating us. It is all called fiber. There are different types of fiber, from different sources, different qualities and that also goes for natural vs man made fiber. For the most part we want to focus on natural fibers. We will try and break down some of the lessons we have learned, and point you to places so you can learn more.
Fiber can come from many sources, not just animals. Take the silk worm for instance. The fiber comes from the cocoon of the silk worm moth. Wee aka Jr. Farm Boss and I found one on the farm one day but had no idea what we had. Using the Insect Identification Page on Facebook we were able to tell we had in fact found a native Indiana silk moth. Antheraea polyphemus. These native species are not great at producing usable silk for working with like you would think of for a silk scarf. But still pretty cool.
We tried our hand at raising production silk worms as you can feed them native mulberry leaves here in Indiana. They are ravenous little creatures. Sadly we never made it to the cocoon stage. They only like fresh leaves, and are very fragile. We may try it again someday but at the time had way too many projects going on to properly care for them. If you are interested in raising some check out Worm Spit. I would suggest wait until the warmer months, when you can have access to fresh mulberry leaves. Be prepared, they eat a lot, and you may run out of branches you can reach quickly.
There is a whole magnitude of fiber that comes from plants. Most people immediately think of cotton. We have some local friends here in Indiana at Stillwater Farms who grew cotton this year (2017) on their farm. We were always under the impression that it was a southern state crop. Learn something new all the time. Their cotton wasn’t a large scale production, but more an experiment to see if it could be done, and have the experience. Cotton production on a large scale takes specialized and expensive equipment.
Have you ever seen a cotton blossom? We haven’t. Thanks to Yvonne at Stillwater Farms for the picture.
In addition to cotton there is hemp which is far more sustainable and ecologically better than commercial cotton. Unfortunately the Indiana legislature still considers hemp, which has by law less than 0.3% THC (the active compound in getting people high associated with marijuana), A Schedule I narcotic. A Schedule I is said to have no medicinal value and Indiana and Federal legislature group marijuana with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, Locally Indiana Hemp Industries Association has been on the forefront of getting hemp legalized here in Indiana. Hemp can replace many synthetic products or materials from ecologically damaging practices from fuel, to animal feed, to toilet paper, to fiber used in clothing. The IHIA has more information on their website and how you can help if interested. Up until the 1938 hemp was grown as a crop here in Indiana.
Yucca is another fiber product you can grow here in Indiana. While not suited for clothing it can be used for rope and crafts. Did you also know the roots of the yucca can be eaten, made into a flour for baking. and even a shampoo and soap?
We have several different animal sources of fiber on our farm. Contrary to what PETA or other animal rights groups you DO NOT KILL an animal for fiber. Many times shearing the animal improves the animals health and comfort. Imagine, a typical Indiana summer, and you are wearing your heaviest winter coat, two layers of pants, and a hat. You would be hot, right? These animals are too. We only shear in early spring for sheep (helps with lambing) and late in spring for alpaca and llama. Why the difference? Ewes (female sheep) won’t feel the chill of early morning spring air with a heavy coat on. They will give birth in the field and not realize the lamb is cold. If they are shorn they will want to move into the barn, so the lamb and ewe will have a similar experience of temperature. We bread later in the season so that outside temps are warmer, and try to isolate ewes ready to give birth in the barn, but sometimes they surprise us.
You can learn more about individual animals or their breeds at the Our Animals page.
We have Sheep
We have a variety of pure sheep and several crosses. Each fiber has different qualities which we will discuss in part two.
Initially the llamas were here to help keep the pastures mowed and protect some of the other animals. Shearing for fiber was just a bonus.
Yes goat….Many people don’t know that the expensive angora (although typically associated with rabbits), cashmere, and mohair sweaters and clothing comes from GOATS. Here are all the goat fiber breeds. We have “Token” aka Norman a Pygora goat. While he wasn’t initially brought to the farm for fiber, we have grown to like it.
We will soon be adding rabbits to our fiber animals. Initially as a pet, but possibly production animal as well. Angora rabbits are another source of super soft fiber. Want to learn more about Angoras? Friends at Treen Acres has some info and pictures.
Surprisingly you can also use dog and cat hair as fiber. Jack and Freyja our LGD/Farm Dogs have a dual coats and they “blow them out” each spring. Blowing out a coat means the thick fluffy layer underneath that keeps them warm over the winter falls out and they regrow it again in the fall. Major, well, not much to say about Major other than “He’s so FLUFFY!!!”
In the distant future we hope to add Scottish Highland cattle which has fiber you can use in fiber works. At this time we cannot speak to the quality of the fiber. Aren’t they fluffy looking. Adults have long locks of fiber.
There is a type of wooly pig that also has fiber. The Mangalica is a wooly pig said to have fiber similar to some sheep.
So hopefully now you know a little more about fiber vs wool. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.