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The Touch of Mohair

Posted by Churchmouse Yarns & Teas on

Mohair is sometimes called the 'diamond' fiber. And with its brilliant luster, gorgeous sheen, and so-soft touch, the descriptor is very fitting indeed! An indisputably brilliant, multi-talented fiber, we adore knitting with mohair blend yarns here at Churchmouse. We seem to collect silk-and-mohairs particularly—we've had as many as seven lace-weight blends gracing our shelves at one time! What is it that we find so irresistible about mohair? Well, let's start from the beginning . . .

WHAT IS MOHAIR?

Rather like cashmere, the silky, lustrous mohair fiber is grown by a special goat—the Angora (not to be confused with the Angora rabbit, which grows angora wool). Thought to have originated in the Himalayan mountains, the Angora goats we know today (and their precious hair) were popularized in the 16th century in Ankara, Turkey. Since that time, the center of the mohair industry has shifted around the world—popping up in Victorian Yorkshire, spreading to the southern United States, and settling down in South Africa. While Ankara, in the Anatolian region of Turkey, still has a prominent role in today's mohair production, South Africa is currently the world's leading producer of mohair. The United States takes second place, with most American mohair produced in Texas.

The shorn locks of an Angora goat. (Credit: The Mohair Council of America)

The Angora goat is distinguished from other wool-producing animals by its status as a single-coat breed. This means its hair grows in uniform, silky locks all along the goat's body. For comparison, animals like alpaca and the cashmere goat have a double coat—a coarser, longer outer coat protects them from the elements, while a downier undercoat provides an extra layer of warmth. When the fleece of double-coat animals is processed, the two hair types are separated, with the precious undercoat fibers saved for yarn. There's no need to do this with the glossy, shorn locks of the Angora goat!

Once shorn, the curly mohair fiber has a typical staple length of four to six inches (about 10 to 15 cm) and can measure from 22 to 45 microns in diameter (a sumptuously soft cashmere can measure between 15 and 19 microns; the lower the number, the finer the fiber, the softer the touch). The finer, lower micron mohair fiber comes from Angora kids (young goats!). As they grow, their hair also matures, becoming thicker and more coarse. Thus, most soft and floaty mohair yarn is created with kid mohair fiber. The adult mohair is saved for more utilitarian products, like carpets, outerwear, and upholstery.

Mohair also has little to no 'scale'—the surface of the fiber is smooth! In fact, it's one of the smoother fibers out there, outshining (literally: it's got good sheen) most wools, alpaca, and cashmere. Another fun fact: the cortex (or middle) of the hair contains air pockets. This means mohair is nearly weightless and a very good insulator.

While different varieties of Angora goat can grow brown, grey, or black coats, those with white coats are most common. This pale, white fiber has such great color talent! It takes dye exceptionally well—the colors can be deeply saturated with a rich jewel-like luster, or can emerge in a soft, nuanced way. (Just see Rowan Kidsilk Haze's incredible 81-color palette—every hue you could possibly think of, beautifully rendered!)

Mohair is fairly elastic and resists creasing. It's also moisture-wicking, so perfect for multi-season projects. Goodness, diamond fiber, indeed!

Churchmouse Classics English Mesh Lace Scarf using Rowan Kidsilk Haze.

SPUN MOHAIR

Mohair's smooth, silky disposition means it's a little more challenging to spin into yarn in its natural state. Generally, it needs to be tightly spun so that the fibers won't just slip apart. Mohair yarns are often brushed so that they have that iconic, fuzzy halo—this brushing helps the individual mohair fibers stick together. Pure mohair yarns are fairly rare—most of the time, mohair is spun together with another, 'scalier' fiber that can support its slipperyness. The brushed-fluffy fiber will be spun into and around the core of a 'binder' fiber—frequently wool, silk, or nylon.

Mohair and wool is a classic combination. Mohair brings its gentle sheen and even more insulating warmth to bouncy, springy wools. Because wool is quite scaly, its 'stickiness' is a perfect counter to mohair's 'slinkiness.' And all the captured air in the strand means wool-and-mohair blends can hold lots of warm air—like a puffy down jacket.

As we mentioned earlier, mohair and silk are one of our very favorite fiber pairings. When these two strong, glowy, flowy fibers are twisted together, they bring out each other's strengths. The mohair will float, cloud-like, around the shimmering silk core—dreamy, airy, and irresistible! Depending on the tightness of the spin or the ratio of mohair to silk, lace-weight silk/mohair blends can have different characteristics from one another—that's why we have so many on our shelves! For example, ostensibly both Shibui Silk Cloud and Rowan Kidsilk Haze are lace-weight blends of silk and mohair. However, Silk Cloud weighs less than Kidsilk Haze: one skein of Silk Cloud weighs 25 grams to its 330yds (300m); one skein of Kidsilk Haze weighs 25 grams to its 229yds (210m). This is because of a difference in how these two yarns are made. The fiber is distributed more finely along the strand in Silk Cloud; it also has a higher silk content than Kidsilk Haze. So we choose Silk Cloud when we'd like a more subtle touch of fuzz, or a more sheer fabric. We choose Kidsilk Haze when we'd like our fabric to have a bit more oomph.

TO ILLUSTRATE


Let's take a closer look at two beloved yarns where mohair fiber takes a starring role. We'll compare Rowan Kidsilk Haze (a lace-weight 70% super kid mohair/30% mulberry silk yarn) and Rowan Kid Classic (a worsted-weight 70% lambswool/22% kid mohair/8% nylon yarn).

In Rowan Kidsilk Haze, the mohair fiber fuzzes out around a tightly spun strand of mulberry silk. With a fluffy halo, and silk shimmering at the center of its strand, this yarn is wonderfully talented at a range of gauges. We love to open it up on larger needles—the mohair fluff fills in any 'holes' and keeps stitch patterns nice and open—it doubles and triples and quadruples perfectly with itself, and beautifully enhances any other yarn with which we hold it. We've used Kidsilk Haze in over twenty of our Churchmouse Classics designs—it's just that versatile!

Rowan Kid Classic uses mohair fiber in a less prominant manner than Kidsilk Haze. It lends its luster and strength to soft and downy lambswool and a supportive touch of nylon. Unlike many yarns that contain mohair, this blend isn't brushed to high fluffiness. Its little hint of fuzz is just right for everything from cozy, everyday sweaters like our Better-Than-Basic Pullover and Modern Wrapper to homey projects like hot water bottle and teapot cozies. Kid Classic's reliability makes it . . . well, a classic go-to for our cool weather wardrobes and beyond.

Churchmouse Classics Quintessential Cardigan using Rowan Kidsilk Haze held double.

Churchmouse Classics