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 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!
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.
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.
Making with mohair
Mohair and mohair blend yarns are a pleasure to work with—we love the fuzzy feel of it in our hands and on our needles and hooks! We turn to mohair for almost any project that you can think of. It's flawless in lace and in open crochet stitches, is a delight in hats and scarves and cowls, and adds such a pretty touch to sweaters and cardigans. Often, when we design a Churchmouse Classics pattern, we'll knit two versions of the sample—one in a classic wool and one with airy, fluffy mohair!
As with any yarn that’s new to you, we recommend that you knit a swatch to learn how the yarn behaves and feels. Before you start out on your mohair adventure, you'll want to see how your particular blend works on your choice of needles, at the asked-for gauge, and in your selected stitch pattern! You may discover that mohair yarns feel a little slippery on your needle or crochet hook—especially if the notion you're using is made of metal. If this slinkiness is affecting your knitting tension, switch to wood or bamboo needles—these materials have a bit more 'grip' to their surfaces.
You may also notice that mohair yarns, particularly those that are brushed and with a looser spin, can shed a little bit—that smooth scale strikes again! Not to worry; shedding should lessen over time as your stitches settle. Additionally, be aware that the floofier the yarn, the trickier it is to fix any knitting mistakes. The brushed nature of the strand which helps the smooth mohair fibers stick together can also mean your stitches will stick together, making it more difficult to pick them apart—or even to spot mistakes! (Of course, that fuzz is pretty forgiving, too—any little 'oopses' can be hidden by the halo. Your little secret.) One of our Mice has a trick for unknitting mohair: popping your piece in the freezer inside a plastic zippy bag for about 15 minutes can make 'frogging', not easy, but easier. The cold fibers won't stick together as much. This will also lessen shedding!
The lovely, lightweight silkiness of mohair yarns translates perfectly into just about any knitting project. They seem to particularly excel in wraps and scarves where you'd like to go lavish on the scale but not be weighed down too much. Our Color Play Mohair Scarf & Wrap and Alexandra's Airplane Scarf are great examples. Both of these projects have a generous length and double up on the mohair goodness: in the Color Play because we hold two strands of lace-weight Rowan Kidsilk Haze yarn together throughout; and the tubular knitting of Alexandra's means it's two layers of lace-weight Isager Silk Mohair. They both have a substantial fabric, yet remain ever so light!
We love mohair blends for the pretty, delicate halo they can bring to our favorite sweater projects—not to mention the warmth! In projects like our Easy Relaxed Pullover, knit in a combination Rowan Kidsilk Haze and Fine Lace or in Woolfolk Tåge, these astronomically fluffy yarns are knit at a nice, open gauge—this gives the lofty, brushed fibers room to expand and fill in the holes, keeping warm air close to you while allowing some nice breathability. These sweaters are designed with some ease, so a yarn that has a nice drape is important—these mohair blends fit the brief here, too! Mmm, isn't a super fuzzy sweater essential for a comfy, cozy wardrobe?
Mohair and mohair blend yarns bring a soft, blurry affect to most stitch patterns—we love that filmy, hazy look! However, for pieces where you'd like to see your stitches more crisply defined, perhaps pick a blend where the mohair isn't brushed fluffy and takes a more supportive role, like Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted, or Rowan Kid Classic. In these yarns, mohair still brings its delightful sheen and insulating warmth, while letting stitch patterns be more defined and pronounced.
Finally, we love to hold our mohair blends together with other yarns. Some of our favorite pairings include Rowan Kidsilk Haze and Rowan Felted Tweed (a go-to in the Churchmouse canon), Isager Silk Mohair and Alpaca 1 (oooh, that cohesive color palette), Shibui Silk Cloud and any number of Shibui's other yarns (Pebble, Reed, Haven, oh my!). The mohair yarns never fail to bring a gentle glow, soft halo, and additional warmth without any additional weight. Matches made in heaven!
A note to mohair alternatives
Some knitters may find mohair yarns to be a tad prickly. The mid-range micron count, long staple length, and brushed halo means that lots of fiber ends can stick out and feel a wee bit pokey to those with more sensitive skin. If you love the fluffy, haloed look but would like to skip the mohair content, there are a few alternatives out there!
We find that some alpaca blend yarns echo the halo of mohair, with a less tickly touch. Try Lang Alpaca Superlight (a lace-weight blend of superfine alpaca, fine merino, and nylon) in patterns that ask for a lace-weight silk-and-mohair yarn for a slightly less sheer alternative. Example: our Churchmouse Classics Color Play Mohair Scarf is a gorgeous, engaging piece knit in both the original Rowan Kidsilk Haze and Alpaca Superlight. For patterns that call for a heavier gauge, Rauma Alpakka Lin (a worsted-weight blend of brushed baby alpaca, linen, and wool) is a fluffy treat! Example: we love the airy fuzz of our Easy Relaxed Pullover knit in a combination of Rowan Kidsilk Haze and Fine Lace; the version in Alpakka Lin has a comfy, lived-in look that's perfectly at home in any wardrobe.
P.S. Do these alpaca blends pique your interest? Check out our blog post, 'The Touch of Alpaca'!
How to care for mohair
We always, always recommend that you read your yarn's label for care instructions. The yarn maker will best know how to keep your mohair pieces nice for a long, long time. In most cases, handwashing in room-temperature or cool water with a no-rinse detergent (try Eucalan or Soak Wool Wash) and then drying on a blocking board is a safe bet. Mohair doesn't felt like wool (unless it's blended with a wool: see Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted), but it is sensitive to water temperature and agitation. It can shrink a bit if not treated properly! So, be sure to complete your care routine on your mohair swatch first. This way, you'll know how the finished fabric will behave before you take the plunge with your actual piece.
Though not quite as robust as wool, mohair nevertheless is fairly resilient and elastic. This means it stores well (be sure to fold your pieces, as hanging can weaken the fibers!) and resists creasing. Clean your pieces before storing them in cotton or linen with a cedar or lavender sachet to keep the pests away. (Check out our Eastern Red Cedar Shavings and Cedar Balls!)
When you pull your garments and accessories out to wear, a little bit of mild steam can go a long way to perk them up. Never press the hot iron onto your fabric—this will crush and flatten that oh, so beautiful halo. Just use the steam feature, holding the iron about an inch or so away from the fabric. Mohair generally doesn't pill—the fibers are too long and slinky for that—but you may see some of those little fuzzballs depending on the blend.
You can keep the mohair halo fluffed to the max by giving your piece a gentle, gentle brush. Using a small bristle hair brush or little hand carder, you can use short, feather-light upward strokes to lift the fibers without catching the underlying fabric. Before you attempt this on your precious sweater or wrap, test it out on your swatch!
In reviewing our yarn collection (using our handy-dandy Yarn Finder) for this post, we had a lot of fun revisiting our favorite mohair blend yarns—we're already yearning to pick up our needles and cast on something lightweight and fuzzy! Here are a few of our favorites: